Should we take Twitter seriously?


This week I was asked to be the guest Principal on a grant driven program sponsored in part by the New Hampshire Department of Education and Technology Director Cathy Higgins. She and I decided to utilize Twitter as our avenue for members of this cohort so that they would have a chance to pick my Principal brain a bit. It also offered me an opportunity to see the frustrations of newbies to Twitter and the time it takes to respect the tool as a way to build one’s personal learning network (PLN). (My Wiki has links for Twitter beginners.) Ultimately, the conversation moved to the group’s Moodle site to allow for more blog like responses from both cohort members and me. So…Twitter’s potential has been on my mind.

At ASCD in Orlando last month I walked into the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) booth in the exhibit hall and asked if the organization is on Twitter (@ISTEglobal). The person behind the counter halted a bit and stated a weak “yes” which led me to ask how she felt about Twitter. A long pause followed and I suggested to her that, perhaps she thought Twitter isn’t a very useful tool. She reluctantly agreed and I retorted that Twitter and its ability to form a PLN has been one of the most useful professional development instruments in my 25 years in the biz. She politely nodded her head, but as I perused some ISTE materials, I heard her recount our conversation with another ISTE official who had come back to the booth and this younger woman (coincidence?) admonished her elder and went on to praise Twitter for its potential.


Perhaps potential and persistence are the keys for educators. Twitter can be a time waster without careful thought before one hits “return”. With careful posts, thoughtful following, and a bit of vision, Twitter can be a paradigm shift for teaching and learning. For example, I recently joined a book club on Wormeli’s  discourse on differentiated instruction, Fair Isn’t Always Equal. The idea was first hatched by a fellow administrator on Twitter and members were gathered and then signed up for a Google Doc where our feedback on the book is being archived.

If you caught Angela Maiers blog recently, you discovered that many of us utilized Twitter, blogs, and podcasting at the ASCD Conference in Orlando. The Web 2.0 nature of the conference, truly for the first time, made the entire experience so much richer for the participants.

Persistence is important on Twitter as well. Since this tool is an emerging technology and growing so rapidly, one has to give it a 2-3 week chance before abandoning the idea. Twitter is also but one cog in what can be a rich integration of Web 2.0 tools. A major influence for me has been Tom Barrett who writes a very smart blog from England and his Twitter advice is second to none.

Will Twitter look the same two years from now? Will Google or Microsoft be involved in a bidding war for the service? Almost certainly Twitter will not be the same tool. Regardless, the use of technology and the Internet to develop relationships with like-minded professionals who truly care about their craft and the children they teach, will endure. And that is good news indeed.

12 comments Add yours
  1. Bill, I couldn’t agree with you more. See my most recent post on my blog and you’ll see we’ve been thinking about the same things, only in different applications.

    Today, there are many, many businesses on Twitter. When Comcast (@comcastcares) first ventured into Twitterville, they spent months just listening and not posting anything. The idea was to get a lay of the land, and to understand where they could be of value. They’ve succeeded and are one of the poster children of corporate America on Twitter.

    1. Hi Laurie:

      I understand that, at least the early days of Twitter (what was that, a few months ago!) you could complain about your cable service in a random Tweet and Comcast would come to your rescue.


  2. I would have to agree that persistence is essential for early users of Twitter. When you begin it can be very quiet and your expectations may be higher than the maturity of your PLN, in terms of size.

    There is a tipping point and that moment when you get replies and suggestions from a request gathers in momentum. It is important to follow people, lots of people in my opinion who will hopefully reciprocate. If you only follow 5-15 people then you cannot expect to always get responses all of the time.

    1. Thank you Tom! You are truly one of my tech role models. Thank you for being such a good leader for the rest of us. You truly make a difference my friend.


  3. I, like your booth lady, was a little sceptical about a tool that allows only very short bursts of thought to everyone in your network. It seemed like shouting from the hills through a big megaphone with a peculiarly short battery life. I’m giving it a go for the second time, mostly listening to get a good hold of it. I wouldn’t have bothered, but for such enthusiasm from people such as yourself.
    It’s starting to grow on me like mould on cheese. Slow, sticky, but ultimately rewarding. I think your point on it being a great way to build your own personal learning network is where it’s at. There are really few tools this good that are being picked up by educators with such fervour. Thanks for a good read.

  4. In encouraging friends and colleagues to give Twitter a try, I’ve been attempting to articulate the nature of the learning curve—or at least the one I experienced. Maybe I wasn’t persistent enough at first, but I recall that it took me more like 2-3 months to really find its value, and the stages of my curve best characterized by the following descriptors: lurker/tweet reader, uncertain and occasional tweeter, avid consumer and more regular tweeter, rabid consumer (as in there are other things to be doing late at night and early in the morning), to comfortably challenged participator (look forward to reading tweets and connecting to useful resources and maintain a healthy interest in finding resources to share). I don’t know how it works for people in other professions, but the network of educators using Twitter to share, question, and challenge each other keeps me interested—and I always make time for the things I value.

    1. Hi Ann,

      I believe educators have been the model Twitter users and have brought the tool to a much higher plane. Your last line “I always make time for the things I value” is so insightful. Many Twitter skeptics cite the amount of time it takes…there are always ways to find this sort of time, even if it’s 10 minutes a day. The “value per minute” is quite high really.

  5. Any tool, technological or otherwise, is only as useful as you make it. Having an idea of what you hope to get out of your use of Twitter will be the indicator of whether to take Twitter seriously or not. I decided early on that I wanted to use it as a professional development tool. In that capacity, Twitter has proven to be invaluable- I have gained so much knowledge in such a short amount of time from such a broad range of people. Truly, it’s been an incredible tool – opening up resources from all over the world.

  6. Bill-
    The short answer to your question is YES! The longer and more important discussion to have is figuring out the answer to this question: What we are serious about gaining through the use of Twitter?

    Success with Twitter is about having a clear purpose and plan. Are you looking for resources? Professional Connections? Personal Development? Promotion? With clear purpose in mind, you can create a strategy for engagement. (Here’s my plan

    Tom is spot on about persistence. It takes time to find your place and stride. There is a lot of trial and error, self reflection, and control.

    There is no question, it is worth the work! The benefits personally and professionally are extraordinary. Best advice: Be patient, be open minded, and enjoy!

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