6 months ago I hated twitter… I have resisted it’s appeal for 99% of its 10 year existence. ( by the way, Happy 10th birthday Twitter!) The French song by Stromae- Carmen, summed up my criticism nicely.
I now realize that the song recounts the pitfalls of an uninformed approach to twitter,and certainly the dangers of an unguided use of any social media platform. Much like the song suggests, I thought it was an unhealthy tool for shameless self-promotion,used by the famous, to become more famous and the rich to become richer… I scoffed at it’s educational potential. I believed it caused its users to base their self worth and importance on their number of followers and that it reduced life to a popularity contest. I now realize it was a superficial understanding and that it has a much larger potential.
Several years ago, after hearing several colleagues jump onto the bandwagon, I decided to check it out. I created an account, I followed a few people and several news outlets. At first it was lackluster on my end, but I thought it was an interesting way to get real time news updates. I appreciated that it allowed for access to social movements such as the Arab Spring, the Idle No More movement and real time access to critical news such as social protests and natural disasters happening around the world. I never posted anything and used it only to consume news. It was great for that, I thought, but not much else. 140 characters allows for very little.
During previous professional developments I could not be sold on the idea of Twitter, and continued my criticism and fight against social media in general. A fight I was sure to lose. My students would not choose my methods of learning over theirs. Earlier this year, after reading and hearing George Couros extol the virtues of Twitter, I decided to invest some time, improve my profile and get to networking. At the very least, I thought it would help me understand my enemy.
Investing time in Twitter caused a veil to be lifted from my eyes. A new world and a new language appeared before me. I realized that many of the elements of technological literacy used by my junior high school students were a part of Twitter. From hashtags to embedded codes, from net citizenship to networking, from SMS to apps, Twitter summed up the framework for this new language; the language of social media.
Having had my head in the sand for so long, it was a steep learning curve but one that has helped me love and get excited about teaching and connecting with students again. One that has allowed me to share, encourage, ask questions, find inspiration and perhaps inspire. One that has allowed me to reconnect with students at a time where I thought humanity was doomed.
It took George Couros to show me the positive side of Twitter. His advice allowed me to maximize and enhance the use of my smartphone all the while interacting with students through this powerful device and creating genuinely engaging teachable moments about digital footprints and online ethics. I couldn’t believe I had only been using my smartphone to send the odd text message for all these years!
To learn about Twitter was to become more technologically literate at the least. At best, it summed up and made use of the most recent and important developments in social media and technology from the past 10 years. It allowed me to speak and experiment with this new language. It also meant free professional development anytime, anywhere. The upside seemed appetizing, so I dug in.
The criticism of Twitter is still strong among my colleagues, but I now I believe resistance is futile. We can struggle against it, or we can embrace the change. While living as a monk in Thailand, I was told that when facing the winds of change, it was better to bend like a flexible blade of grass then to stand rigid as a tall tree in the field of life, as the tree could too easily break or be uprooted. In this instance, in this battle, I felt the wind pulling at my roots. I now choose to be flexible. My focus has changed from opposer to embracer.
As a teacher in 2016, in a globalized world, one where communication takes place as much online as it does offline, perhaps increasingly the former, Twitter has become a force to be reckoned with. And I now stand ready for the reckoning. The wave is washing ashore, our students were born in an era of high speed internet, smartphones and speaking a language and using tools that were becoming unfamiliar to me. Their future will involve this language whether I speak it or not, whether I like it or not.
Furthering my interest in this phenomenon, I followed a student’s invitation to join Instagram. Much like Twitter, it has been a big eye opener as well. I have seen it live as a kind of Jr. Twitter. Or a Twitter for kids. Its format is simpler, and perhaps focuses on photography and visual arts which adds to its appeal for younger users. Both platforms have allowed me to reconnect with students, on a level I did not think possible. It has shrunk the generation gap that I was experiencing years before. It has given me a voice with younger learners and I do not regret moving towards this integration. School can be cool and fun and new and enticing again. Even at my age. All you need is a smartphone. Students love teaching me how to use it.
During our last session with George Couros, I was excited to see that many concepts I had learned through Twitter would be transferable and would integrate nicely with another love of mine: blogs….
The learning continues…
And in the words of my favorite rapper:“Le combat continue….”
Thank you George. Thank you #winnipegsdItll. Thank you Twitter.
M Stéphane Gautron
Enseignant – École Sacré-Coeur