Twitter is About Today

A writer on Medium explains Why I love Twitter and barely tolerate Facebook, starting with “Twitter put simply is fun, fantastic, and all about the here and now.” while “Facebook is mired in the past.”.

There’s no memory at Twitter: everything is fleeting. Though that concept may seem daunting to some (archivists, I feel your pain), it also means the content in my feed is an endless stream of new information, either comments on what is happening right now or thoughts about the future.

Twitter is a steady stream of mostly joy and makes my life better. Facebook is filled with people I barely know, chain-emails and disaster news about the sky falling that reminds me of my own past as well as my “friends” at every turn. The Internet is here today and all about tomorrow, and I prefer my social media to reflect that, and that’s why I love Twitter.

No matter how you feel about the two services,1 the short piece is worth a read.

  1. I also love Twitter and may have an even lower opinion of Facebook than he does.

Marketing Without Twitter

I’m not a fan of internet censorship filtering in schools (or really anywhere). I know we want to keep kids away from the really bad stuff on the web, so I’ll grant that some electronic measures are necessary.

Still I see far too many teachers relying on the technology instead of learning to manage internet use in their classrooms, and especially as an alternative to helping their students learn to responsibly navigate the web. Maybe because it’s not on the test.

Anyway, when it comes to filtering, I have to admit our overly-large school district does a pretty good job in keeping a very light touch on the process. At the top level we choose to block sites in certain categories, mostly the stuff the state requires. Staff members then have the option to request that specific sites be blocked (or unblocked) at their school, subject to approval of the principal.

Although in the past many schools chose to put resources like Facebook and YouTube on the block, very few, even at the elementary level, do so now. Blocking Pinterest is currently popular but that will probably change over time and a new boogyman will take it’s place.

However, every so often, a blocking request is submitted that I find somewhat puzzling and, in this case, rather amusing.

Last month a teacher in one of our high schools submitted a request (twice) to have Twitter blocked. It seems there had been some bullying incidents using that service and she seemed to believe that getting rid of the website would help solve the problem. It’s not an unusual approach: blame the technology. I’m guessing she didn’t realize students were likely using their phones to access Twitter, bypassing both our network and Twitter’s homepage.

What I found really odd about the request came from what this person teaches: business marketing.

How the hell do you teach about marking products and services in 2013 without addressing the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites? Every company in the US and elsewhere is scrambling to figure out how to make these tools work for them.

Of all the classes in this school, I would expect social media to be a major topic in those dealing with the modern business world.

By the way, the principal denied the request, although I don’t know if any of this was part of his reasoning.

A Few More Characters

Some of the links I tweeted this week that deserve a little more comment.

Both the Mind/Shift blog and The New Yorker took note of different studies both of which suggest that daydreaming is a natural part of being human and necessary to our mental health. Of course, many parts of American culture (school?) equate daydreamers with slackers.

From the Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning blog an explanation of Why Teachers Need Social Media Training, Not Just Rules. The New York City Department of Education recently issued a nine page set of those rules which, if they were smart, would be the starting point for some great discussions (between teachers and students as well), rather than the final word.

From Gary Stager, Throw a Few Million American Teachers on the Barbie in which he notes that American teachers, despite being “insulted, mocked, punished, shamed, blamed and threatened” for the past decade generally refuse to stand up for themselves as a profession. He’s right. Certainly we’ll never see in the US something like what educators in Victoria, Australia recently did when they walked out and shut down 150 schools in that state.

Also from Stager, a long list of things he’s tired of. As with most of what Gary says and writes, I only agree with about half of it. However, to his list I would add that I’m very tired of districts like mine who allocate increasing amounts of time, attention, and technology to the mundane task of testing and test prep rather than using all those resources “to amplify student potential”.

And finally from the Read Write Web blog, a post revealing that millennials are not so tech savvy after all. That’s a lesson many teachers need to learn. Kids certainly know how to use computers for fun and games but they need to learn how technology can be applied to their learning. That’s our job.

A Little More to Add

When it comes to Twitter, I tend to post in bursts as I find stuff worth passing along in my info flow, or when I stumble upon an conversation to which I think I can add something interesting.

Of course, 140 characters doesn’t offer much room for comment after including a title and the shortened link.  So here are some items that made it into my Twitter feed this week that deserve more attention, with a few more characters of additional thoughts.

From Ars Technica, Four signs America’s broadband policy is failing. As with way too many issues in American society, many politicians want to leave this stuff up to the phone and cable companies. And the policy becomes maximum profit for them and minimum service to those of us paying the bills.

Also from Ars Technica, 25 years of HyperCard – the missing link to the Web. I also see a connection to WordPress, which celebrated it’s ninth anniversary this week, in Bill Atkinson’s (HC creator) description of the program “Simply put, HyperCard is a software erector set that lets non-programmers put together interactive information.”. Both amazing, creative tools for their time.

From The Answer Sheet blog, Is teaching a science or an art? Daniel Willingham makes a great case for teaching being similar to architecture. Both have some “must have” conditions but also allow for some “could dos”, offering a great deal of flexibility and creativity. Or at least both should. Watch his whole presentation.

And finally, from Scientific American, NC Considers Making Sea Level Rise Illegal. When it comes to climate change and a host of other systemic problems, an increasing number of our “leaders” subscribe to a 6 year old’s philosophy of problem solving: ignoring them long enough will make them go away.

Testing The Law

The past week or so, I’ve been following an odd legal issue in the UK involving a football star who was caught having an affair with a television personality. But the tabloid details are the least interesting part of this story.

It seems the lawyers for the footballer convinced a magistrate to issue something called a “super-injunction“, a legal order that forbids anyone from publishing anything “confidential or private” about the applicant or the case, and effectively banning “reporting that the injunction itself even exists”.

That worked fine for the traditional news outlets but fell apart when someone posted his identity on Twitter.  Of course, the name was quickly re-tweeted hundreds of times and the British legal system, not to mention their media outlets, was outraged.

Websites such as Twitter have put a huge strain on the ability of the courts to enforce gagging orders and it has been widely assumed there is no legal redress against them.

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that digital media had made an ass of the law and it was hard to enforce injunctions against Twitter because it was incorporated in the United States.

Now it seems the law is about to be tested.

So, should the law (British or otherwise) consider Twitter to be a “publisher”, similar to the BBC or the Sun newspaper, and subject to a gag order from a court?

Is Twitter responsible for monitoring – and censoring – legally questionable material posted by it’s users?

This is not the first time that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites have been the focus of similar privacy controversies (Twitter is also currently involved in a British libel case), and it probably won’t be the last.

However, maybe a better question about government-enforced secrecy efforts would be… In an age of instant, ubiquitous, world-wide social media, is a gag order like this even remotely enforceable?

Guidelines for How You Must Use Social Media

As with educational institutions at all levels, our overly-large school district is trying to figure out how to handle the use of social media channels, by staff members as well as students.

So, as often happens in a large bureaucracy like this one, our administration is writing some regulations and guidelines that will cover all the bases. Every one of them!

In looking through a first draft of a set of guidelines for employees, now being passed around for comment by our public relations department, I’m not sure the people involved have a clear understanding of what social networking is all about.

It starts in the definition section where they offer examples of “social media applications”: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and… Wikipedia? Never seen that last one linked with the others but it’s in the picture below so…

Then comes an interesting section spelling out some reasons why schools might use social media.

Reinforce messages. Targeted communications. Educate stakeholders. Promote good news.

All one-way, us to them, broadcasting of information, which is pretty much how our system uses it’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, mostly as a link to press releases.

However, that’s just not the way social media works. It’s all about an exchange of ideas, encouraging feedback, and even criticism, from the people in your network.

Elsewhere the document also lays out some “best practices” for the use of social networking, which turns out to be a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the strange.

Like suggesting that negative or controversial comments not be deleted in one place while in another declaring that the school system reserves the right to remove any post for any reason in another.

Of course, that second part will be difficult to accomplish since our district doesn’t host any social media tools for us to use (outside of our closed Blackboard system) and I doubt Facebook or Twitter will pull down a nasty comment about the superintendent upon request.

For an example of the strange, the same section recommends a convention for schools to use in naming their social networking accounts: ASPS, Happy Valley ES, Mrs. Smith’s Class.*

That’s pretty clunky! And my first thought was a Twitter name like that would really discourage retweeting or @ references. The name alone would eat up a big chunk of your 140 characters.

Anyway, there’s more and much of it also needs work. It will certainly be interesting to see how this document evolves, especially to see if it really becomes a set of “guidelines” or turns into a regulation.

Stay tuned. After all, they did ask for comment.

* ASPS = AssortedStuff Public Schools :-)

Image: Social Media Landscape by Fred Cavazza, from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License

The Mythbusters’ Kindergarten

I love the way Twitter can trigger some interesting connections.

Case in point, this rant started with a tweet from this afternoon.


Clarence makes a great point since the process used by the Mythbusters is very much rooted in solid science while being very hands on. Not to mention a lot of fun.

But my warped little mind also saw a link to the work of Mitch Resnick, director of The Life Long Kindergarten Group of the MIT Media Lab.


Resnick and his team work from the premise that the “kindergarten approach to learning – characterized by a spiraling cycle of Imagine, Create, Play, Share, Reflect, and back to Imagine – is ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century”.

So, what’s that got to do with a Mythbusters?

Look closer. That cycle is exactly how they work on the program.

Imagine some unusual situation or strange claim. Then create something to test the hypothesis, play with it, share and reflect on the results (usually why things went wrong), and then start the cycle again.

Sharing also comes from extensive and intelligent feedback from their audience, some of which is incorporated into the shows.

And one more connection to kindergarten, just look at the smiles on the faces of the participants as they discover something new. It’s not just the visceral fun that comes from blowing up stuff. :-)

Yes, we should be using Mythbusters as a blueprint for teaching science – in high school as well as elementary. But also math, social studies, art, and so much more.

The Power of the Network

One day last week during the NECC conference, I was standing at the Ask Me table near the Bloggers’ Cafe, talking with a couple of colleagues from our overly-large school district.


Among other things, I was trying to explain Twitter to them (something I seem to be doing more and more of lately).

At one point a woman brought over a cellular wireless card that someone had left on one of the couches in the Cafe.

And under normal circumstances it would have gone to the conference lost and found, to sit in a box waiting for someone to figure out exactly where that office was in the huge convention center.

But… expensive wireless service, lounge area dedicated to bloggers… I figured the owner must be a Twitterer. So, I tossed a 140 character notice into the mix.

They may not follow me but, considering the people who hang out in that area of the hall, the number of degrees of separation between me and them was probably far less than six.

Anyway, it only took a few hours to get the card back to it’s owner.

Ok, I admit, as an example of the power of Twitter, that story doesn’t rise even close to the same level as the way the system is being used by the election protesters in Iran.

But it’s a nice little illustration of how this particular tool helps connect the members of one particular network in ways that were impossible even a few years ago.

Social Networking Disconnect

For my weekly dose of irony, yesterday our overly-large school district announced that we can now become a fan of the system on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.twitter-logo.png facebook-logo-2.png

Of course that’s unless you are currently in one of our schools.

Where Facebook is almost universally blocked and Twitter is being filtered out by a growing number of middle and high schools.

So, our administrators seem believe it’s important that the institution be a part of two major social networking systems.

But it’s not essential that teachers or students be a part of the conversation.

Why Tweet?

Four or five times last week I found myself trying to explain Twitter to people who had heard references to the system from somewhere in the popular media (OMG! Oprah’s twittering!) but didn’t understand it.

Mostly, they don’t get the why.

Well, when it comes to social networking tools, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to finding whys for other people.

However, to give them some idea of why Twitter has become such an essential part of my day, I simply showed them my stream.

The people I follow are teachers in Colorado, Canada and right around the corner, principals in Philadelphia and Portland, education activists in California and New Jersey, people who do what I do in Virginia, Florida and England.

And a collection of more smart folks from all over the world who constantly present me with information, new ideas, a smile or two, and make me think.

My end of the Twitter bargain is to try to do the same for the people who follow me.

We Don’t Need a Twittericulum

Recently the British Ministry of Education released a draft revision to the elementary curriculum which would require students, among other things, to “master Twitter and Wikipedia”.

As you might expect, there are some who don’t like the idea.

Like England’s “foremost neuroscientist” profiled by the London Daily Telegraph.

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying games. But don’t you think it’s strange that people are engaging in activities that have no purpose? Spending their precious time and money sitting in front of a screen in a make-believe world when they could be out there having love affairs and doing things in the real world?

“And that’s what worries me. That we are rearing a generation of kids that are in danger of becoming emotionally stunted, inarticulate, hedonists with the attention span of a gnat. Because they spend the majority of their time in front of a computer screen. A whole generation that can’t interact because their skills are limited to inhabiting a fantasy world on a screen.”


Would someone else like to comment?  I’ve been staring at the make-believe world of this blog for nearly an hour and can’t think of anything to follow that.

[Update: Sorry for leaving out the link to the Telegraph article, now corrected.]

Process Not Processor

One headline in the feed from the British newspaper The Guardian really caught my eye today: “Pupils to study Twitter and blogs in primary schools shake-up“.

That certainly sounds like an intriguing change, although the details are a little weird.

Children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. They must gain “fluency” in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a spellchecker alongside how to spell.

First of all, I wouldn’t bet on Twitter being around when elementary kids graduate, at least not in the form it is when they write the specifics of the curriculum.

But to combine this with skills in handwriting and using a spellchecker…?

I would love it if our overly-large school district would follow the British lead and at least acknowledge the instructional possibilities of these new communications tools.

However, this particular change to the curriculum seems, on the surface, to be yet another attempt to teach tools instead of concepts.

It was the same way a decade or so back when we taught word processing classes (I taught my share of AppleWorks!) instead of focusing on how to improve the writing process using a word processor.

We should be helping our kids understand how to write for the web, to present their ideas, to craft their online image, regardless of the tools.

The emphasis needs to be on the process, not the processor.

Learning From Twitter

David Weinberger offers 4.5 Things Twitter Teaches Us, in which he makes some interesting observations about the microblogging system/current-mainstream-shiny-bauble.

His basic premise is that Twitter is a simple, extensible communications tool in which users themselves determine how best to use it.

Something that’s true about every successful web 2.0 application.

After you’ve finished with this crappy summary, go read the whole thing.