Teaching After Twitter
Elon Musk has purchased Twitter and is, right now, I have every reason to believe, obsessing about how best to support Twitter’s most important constituency: teachers.
In the unlikely case that he is not at this second worrying about our community, in the unlikely case that he is instead considering a raft of changes that will make Twitter less democratic, more oligarchic, and more crowded with junk, I want to ask a couple of questions:
What has made Twitter work so well for teachers to date?
If you’re a teacher who is leaving Twitter, then where are you off to next? TikTok? Mastodon? Club Penguin? Blogs? Message boards? Real life?? Why?
My take on why Twitter has worked:
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Twitter features low barriers on both consumption and production and lots of ways to participate. On the consumption side, you can read tweets without an account. You can get an account and follow a hashtag or a set of users. You can then start producing in simple ways—liking or retweeting a tweet for example. You can dial up your production by replying, quote tweeting, and then sending out your own tweets. Your tweets can also include a variety of media (images and videos, for example) that have helped us represent our teaching practices in interesting and useful ways.
Twitter also features a delicate and important balance between producers and consumers. Quote tweets and replies often receive more engagement than the tweets getting quoted (d/b/a “getting ratio’d”). A new conversation might spin up in the replies of a tweet that the original tweeter didn’t intend or even want. People with huge followings put ideas out into the ether and they are often taken in entirely new directions by the crowd. Twitter is the closest we have had to a digital commons.
Every day on Twitter, you can watch that community produce knowledge in real time.
Math education research:
I am interested here as someone who realizes how much a) community, b) professional learning, and especially c) knowledge production arose from the particular context (including technological, political, personal, epidemiological, generational factors, etc) of 2005 to 2015. And I’m wondering where teachers–especially new teachers–will get that next.
Is it TikTok?
Heck if I know. I mean I know that’s where you’ll find young teachers these days.
What I don’t know is how that platform supports community, professional learning, or knowledge production.
I asked a couple of people who are active in both communities to describe how life would change for them if Twitter were to disappear.
Howie Hua (48,000 followers on TikTok) said, “I would miss the deep conversations. There can be conversations in the comments section on TikTok but it doesn't compare to what it's like on Twitter. I would also miss the Twitter community.”
Tim Ricchuiti (144,000 followers on TikTok) said, “I’d feel fine as a content creator,” he said, “but much less fine as a math educator.”
Ricchuiti is the only math teacher at his school in his grade and has found community on Twitter in ways he hasn’t on TikTok. “On Twitter, I feel like I have the world's greatest professional development,” he said. “I can see other teachers posing questions, citing research, developing lesson plans, sharing warm-ups, and, perhaps most importantly, talking about what hasn't worked. There may be the equivalent to that on TikTok, but if so, I haven't found my way to that part of TikTok yet.”
The generation of teachers immediately before mine experienced community, professional learning, and idea generation, in large part, because of a few key federal grants into curriculum and professional learning. Without those grants, their story changes entirely—maybe for the better but also maybe for the worse!
The current teaching generation is writing their story right now, including how they learn about teaching, form community, and create new ideas. I’d love to know that it ends as well for them as it has for many of us from earlier generations.
Undoubtedly the educational community's use of Twitter has been one of the brightest stars of the Twitterverse. I assume there are some other communities where Twitter has similarly been fruitful.
But that is not the Twitter known to most people. I neither approve nor disapprove of the plans that Musk has for Twitter (nor do I really know what his plans are), but there is little doubt in my mind that the current Twitter environment that most people are familiar with is not healthy for a functioning democracy. I reserve my judgement until I see what he does.
My hope for all of us is that he leaves the education community alone.
Do you remember the good old days when we used to read each others blogs and comment, then post them on twitter? Now I almost never write a post and rarely read them.
I've dropped almost all of my social media. The good communities have grown impersonal and the bad communities are very bad.
I signed up for a new account on twitter a couple of months ago to start something new, but before tweeting anything all the people they suggested I follow were extreme right wing politicians and "news" corporations. Not mainstream anything. I've noticed youtube has started feeding me similar garbage as I have started watching more of their shorts. (It certainly isn't as if any of my likes or interests would lead to that).
I have to assume the social media landscape is flailing around looking for ways to make money and so far the funding sources are not good.