Twitter Chats: A 10km Run For Your Brain

In Connected Authentic Learning Communities, Voice Matters


In early January I wrote a post outing myself as a ‘Twit’ and reflecting on my status as a ‘Twitter Newb’. I’d taken part in several chats and was reflecting on how these, and the people involved in them, were having a positive impact on my own professional learning. I was watching, with curiosity, as the education community on Twitter related and grew. Grateful for opportunities to learn from people like Tom Whitby and Angela Maiers, I was also amazed by the number of great educators who were willing to talk to me, answer my questions and even ask me some of their own. Chastened, because I’d always thought Twitter to be banal, I wrote the post in response to someone participating in #Satchat who had chided me that when we remain silent the learning of others is impaired. This idea, my own experience of ‘finding my voice’, a Twitter chat with the staff at school and Bruce Arcurio’s blog post about that chat, have me thinking very deeply… and when I think, I write.

Voice Matters

I hosted my very first Twitter chat (#BCCchat) last week… a conversation about Will Richardson’s book, ‘Why School?’. My Principal and I had asked the staff to read it just a couple of days beforehand and I was very interested to know how it was impacting their thinking. Aware that sometimes people are reluctant to share in staff meetings, and aware too that these can occasionally be droll ‘person out the front’ affairs, I wondered who might ‘speak up’ if Twitter provided the platform to be heard.

I was amazed by what happened. It was not just that Will Richardson and other international educators joined the chat (I may have sqealed when that happened), it was also that some of my quieter colleagues found their voice and this was publicly (even internationally) affirmed. They shared deeply profound insights and asked questions which revealed considerable wisdom and confirmed what I already knew. They are a quality bunch of educators.

After the 1 hour chat (it seemed like 5 mins) several of these people remarked that it had been wonderful to be able to say something, to be heard and taken seriously and to connect authentically with educators from around the world. Listen to these comments (some tweeted and some spoken) which were made in the days following the chat;

“This is the best professional learning experience we’ve had!”

“I have rediscovered my love of teaching. Thank you!”

“Struggling with the duality of feeling so connected with people in different places whist loving the energy of people in the room.” (How’s that for a beauty!)

“Thank you @willrich45 for inspiring us to have these conversations and asking the questions that will direct the way we offer education.”

“I found it really encouraging to be able to join in. It switched my brain into drive, which I’ve been missing.”

This last comment is pertinent for any educator who is thinking about the value Twitter might add to their professional learning. Because educators around the world use the platform so well, the quality of the observations and questions offered in the educational space really do force you to engage your brain and to think. A Twitter chat is invigorating but also tiring because it demands such high levels of engagement, participation and concentration. It’s like a 10km run for your brain.

Just as our doctors, spouses, bosses and friends encourage us to exercise our bodies to keep them working well, can I encourage you that a really well-hosted and well-directed Twitter chat can do the same thing for your brain? At a time when reform is at the forefront of our educational dialogue, engaged, authentic, connected learning communities and professional learning networks are precisely what we need.

I’m a Twit: Reflections of a Twitter Newb

6721376969_ca96361c89_bUntil September 2012, my experience of Twitter went something like this;

“Have just finished hanging nappies on line. Time for tea. Winky face.”

“1D tickets for my birthday! OMG!!! Totes #AWESOME! Best parents eva @mum&dad.”

“Btwn u & me desp 4 #followers.Pls retweet #ff #fb #somerandomhastag. @theentireglobalpopulation.Thx”

… and here in Australia we endured a week long news story about a minor celebrity who had been hounded into a mental health unit by some despicable trolls to whom she’d made the mistake of responding. Frankly, I believed the ‘Twitterverse’ was populated by ‘twits’ contributing banality (or cruelty) to a crowded ‘Twittersphere’.

And then my friend Anne came over.

We were talking education, as we do, and I was lamenting the current preoccupation with summative assessment when deep learning often happens in the formative. I was grappling with the idea of finding valid ways to measure that.

“I think I’m going to write a paper. I think I’ll send it to [insert a range of educational bodies]. Something has to be done!”

Her response? “Don’t. No-one will read it. Start a blog.”

She introduced me to a news aggregator and then talked a bit about Twitter and the educational community that exists there. When she left, I went to my defunct Twitter account, stared blankly at my egghead, my mainly family followers and the blue bird thinking, “I really don’t get this”.

My husband tweeted ‘Welcome’ and Miss 16 tweeted something obnoxious (that I accidentally ‘favourited’)  to which I responded ‘Well at least I’m trying!’. And I was. Over the next hour, both teenagers gave me a crash course in the use of hastags (LOL Mum just made a super long hashtag & used punctuation #facepalm), explained why I should put a * before @ and showed me how to ‘discover’ chats.

This is what has happened since.

1. I have met and talked to some extraordinary educators nationally and internationally. They have actually cared to answer my questions and surprisingly, have asked a few of me.

2. I have discovered a world of creative, informative, relevant blogs and websites that feed me intellectually and challenge my preconceived ideas

3. I have experienced the buzz of live chats (likened by someone, somewhere, to ‘drinking from a fire hydrant’) that have caused me to think very deeply… and sometimes for days afterwards

4. I have read several outstanding books I did not previously know about

5. I am finding my voice because I am encouraged to share my ideas

When I look back over these past 4 months I recognise I have been blessed to encounter only positive, encouraging people (the education community is like this). I realise I have been on an extraordinary learning journey… and that I have been a terrible snob. In my thinking at least, my responses to what I had previously labelled banal would now be a bit different.

To the nappy hanging tweeter: while I might not follow you because I’m not using Twitter for the same reasons as you, thank you for sharing your day with me and I hope your tea was nice. When ‘junior’ starts school, let’s chat.

To the 1D fan: You’re welcome. Shucks. I feel loved. Will try to use less punctuation in future #soz

To @Desperate4Follows: Join a chat, follow an interesting person, share your great idea… give me a reason to follow you and I just might.

And to those who have chatted, followed, retweeted, ‘favourited’ and responded, thanks. I enjoy your company. You enrich my learning.

Photo Credit: Justinvl via Compfight cc

BYOD: How Is The Learning Different?

Connected Learning

BYOD: How Is The Learning Different?

I was asked recently how the learning with ‘Bring Your Own Device’ [BYOD] is ‘different’ and because I was embarking on the long trip home from Queensland to the ACT (1,500km or 935 miles), there was plenty of time to think. It would be easy to give flippant responses or worse, to speak in clichés, when discussing the difference that easy, frequent and equal access to the digital world brings to the classroom. That’s not helpful, so instead you will find here a collection of thoughts that ‘stuck’ between those pleasant half-states of dozing and daydreaming which occur on long car trips. It was challenging to write this, because each section could really be a whole post in itself and I wonder if this will raise more questions than provide answers. I think that’s okay. Perhaps then the conversation will continue.

Devices are just tools and learning is just learning.

We would all agree that where possible, students should have access to those tools which will help them to learn. We regularly advocate for this. Truthfully, a laptop, a smart phone or a tablet device is a tool, just as books and pens (once emerging technologies) are tools. These influence the way we learn and the way we produce evidence of our learning. Apart from stronger engagement, opportunities for connection and collaboration (there are those clichés), devices facilitate learning and the depth to which we learn, more than they make it different. After all, learning is just learning, as skipping is just skipping or reading is just reading… bear with me here.

I would argue there are degrees to which we skip and read, different reasons for doing these things, different people with whom we do or don’t do them on different occasions and sometimes, there are different outcomes – sadly, when some of us skip we end up in a tangle of arms and legs. We also learn differently with different people, in different places and via different means… all the time. We always have. So if good, rich learning is happening prior to the introduction to a BYOD program, what changes afterwards? What is different?

The Role of the Teacher

There has been lots of discussion in recent years about teachers in the digital age becoming ‘facilitators of learning’. I appreciate the view but disagree with it somewhat. Teaching and learning is a sacred exchange based on learning relationships between people. To reduce teachers to facilitators places them on equal standing with devices; it’s a utilitarian view of their personhood. However, in a BYOD environment, the role of the teacher must be different because if it is not, devices simply become very expensive replacements for pen and paper. Why bother?

Teachers at our school are becoming more aware that they are no longer the sole curators of content in their rooms. It has been a long time since some teachers asked students a question which could be answered with a simple Internet search. They are, however, beginning to teach students how to find the information, how to discern its merit and how to respond to it with wisdom and integrity. This has forced us all to think very carefully and to ask really good, complex questions. Loosed from the constraint of being information providores, teachers are able to get on with the business of teaching, guiding, mentoring and learning alongside. It’s a challenging way to teach but it is better.

The Role of the Student

In a BYOD environment the opportunity exists for students to become more than sometimes passive recipients of information which they later reproduce to prove they are chugging nicely along the conveyor belt of the education system. Under the mentoring of a clever teacher, devices enable students to explore content along their lines of interest and to pursue their learning to deeper levels… to let ideas brew and percolate in ways not previously possible. Students are also beginning to see themselves not just as consumers but also as producers of quality content. They participate in online conversations, write blogs, make film, create podcasts and vodcasts and along the way better learn to challenge, debate, think, focus and solve problems.


Where once students published their thinking mostly for teachers, sometimes for themselves and occasionally for their parents, they now have the capacity to publish thought and work product in local, national and global forums. They do this. They love the feedback. They are becoming quite reflective about their own work and see it as valuable beyond a grade or a rank. It is also placing courage in their hearts as they ‘dare to share’. Some students are growing their digital footprints through the creation of personal blogs, web sites and digital work portfolios. They want to be found online because they recognise this is where much if their audience lies. Here the role of families and teachers is crucial in helping them to do this safely and with wisdom.

Location and time

Where and when we learn is different too. This year a young man of 15 Skyped into his Maths lesson because he couldn’t be at school and didn’t want to miss out on the class. His teacher ‘propped him up’ so he could see his peers and participate in whole class discussion. She then moved him so he could join in small group work and sometimes, she turned him towards the board where she walked him through worked examples of what he wanted explained. How clever was that?

My own class often spills out of the room depending on what we are doing. Sometimes they ‘abandon me’ for the digital collection at the National Library or even the Globe Theatre in London… we may be in the same geographical location but they’ve gone on a digital excursion!

I have also been completely surprised at the amount of time students are willing to spend on projects they are truly engaged in beyond the classroom and beyond the school gate. This is not about encroaching on family time nor forcing students to do copious amounts of homework. This is self-directed learning which happens when school is seen as part of life rather than separate to it. Some students work this way because they want to. They find it meaningful and they like it. That is refreshing.

How are we all doing?

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the learning in our College is always stupendous and that everyone is managing this brilliantly every day. We’re on a journey. Sometimes we get the line and length just right and other times… well, these are learning experiences in themselves! It is an incredibly exciting age in which to teach and to learn and I am thankful that my own children have the opportunities currently available to them. I do know that with my students wonder is again alive, conversations are rich, learning is good… and this warms my heart. Are we learning differently? Perhaps. Are we learning ‘better’? For sure.