No One Way to Do Twitter Chats

I just finished Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton. A great book that leaves the reader with the realization that you cannot do Twitter wrong. The book tells the tale of Twitter’s birth and rise and each founder had a different view of how users should “do” Twitter. None of these visions ever came true.

So I want to push back against Molly Shields idea that we are doing Twitter chats wrong. Instead we need to envision Twitter Chats as, or as part of, affinity spaces. Yes what many were calling Problem Based Learning #PBL in the #edtechchat on 2/10/2014 does not qualify as PBL. Most of the ideas, if PBL was on a specturm would barely register as projects.

Who cares. You cannot “do” Twitter wrong. It is what Evan Williams, founder of Blogger and co-founder of Twitter, called, “Push button publishing for the people.”

In Affinity spaces the act and space itself IS the endeavor. It is the publishing for the people, not the people that make Twitter chats engaging. Yet there is no endeavor without the people. Molly took issue with those people who label themselves as gurus and asked us to follow ideas instead. I understand her concern and do encourage folks to follow knowledge and not people, but I do not take issue with others curate their online identity.

Edu Allstars??

Maybe allstars is over the top, but there is precedent. Michael Robertson, founder of mp3.com, coined the term middle class rock star. It is the idea that based on social networks and two tailed economics anyone can eek out an existence as a musician.

Twitter chats, minus the income for most, are no different.  Educators are simply trying to eek out professional development and not a living. They are the endeavor and the participants of the affinity space.

Twitter Chats as Affinity Spaces

Molly’s assumption  that the Twitter chat on PBL was void of knowledge was slightly off. #Edtechchat has seen huge growth so participants need to discover what level of rapids  in the fast moving stream they are most comfortable swimming in. Maybe you like the fleeting tweets reaffirming your beliefs. I myself try to divert into a deeper side pool and float around awhile with a few ideas.

The ability to choose your level of involvment with varying levels of knowledge transforms  Twitter chats into an affinity space. JPG in Situated Learning and Language lays out principles of affinity spaces. I simply poached them from Wikipedia.

1) The affinity in these spaces is to the endeavor, not other people. 

I spoke of this above. It it the act of engaging around content that matter most.

2) Newbies and masters share the space.

Molly is an expert on PBL. Her post is part of the affinity space. The citations and articles she read may help the majority of newbies looking to expand their knowledge.

3) Some portals are strong generators. The computer can be used to create new characters or any aspects of the game.

Gee is big on learning portals. I do not want to get to into it beyond the idea that Twitter is an entry portal for many to start to learn more about #PBL. You go to Twitter for motivation, connections, and links. These will take you to new places, like Google+, for deeper learning.

4) Content organization is transformed by interactional organization. The idea that creation can come from more than simply site designers, but from users, is a hallmark of these spaces. In affinity spaces, the way in which interactions are organized shapes the content of the game/site. Users – not just site designers – can help create, shape, and reshape the site and its content. Suggestions are welcome and encouraged, and site designers often use the suggestions of users to reform site designs and configurations.

While #edtechchat had a moderator and founders neither shapes the space. We do. My space is different than yours. I use a Tweetdeck column for #edtechchat and a second column for list of a few participants I know I often engage in.

The moderators might use the Q1/A1 format but we as users (and I don’t) do not have to abide by this practice. We customize the space.

5) Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged. Extensive knowledge is seen as broad, less specialized knowledge about many aspects of the space. Intensive knowledge is in-depth knowledge about certain aspects of the space.

So when Twitter feels like an echochamber that is okay. It does not take long for the massed for #edchat, for example, to declare Twitter the best tool they have ever known. Newbies might need the reinforcement of extensive knowledge.  Others in the space, as Molly did, may choose to point out common misconceptions. I myself like to gather in the pools of intensive knowledge.

For example, I often engage with those that I  call the #CommitteeOfSnark. Usually consisting of @nathan_stevens, @jdferries, @professorjosh, and a few others I am missing. The group usually adds a snarky hashtag. They  often provide insight in 140 characters of satire. The level of complexity of their tweets point out misconceptions while making me laugh. It is hard to be funny in 140 characters. It is even harder to do it instantansously.

I also look for others ways to engage with intensive knowledge. During the #eddtechchat I had a wonderful conversation on one of my favorite all-time poets William Blake with @ericafterschool.

 

 

— Eric Wolarsky (@EricAfterSchool) February 11, 2014

6) Individual and distributed knowledge are valued.

The fact that we are still taking about PBL and #edtechchat shows us why it is okay for the echochamber to point us towards new connections. I am in no means in expert on PBL. I did not study it and to say I use it would be a lie. In fact I often believe PBL, while a pathway to deeper learning, may not be the most efficient pedagogical choice for some domains.

7) Dispersed knowledge is encouraged.

Link and share. Use Google Scholar during Twitter chats.

8) Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored. Members do not have to lead or design; those who wish to “just play” are valued as much as those who wish to contribute more substantially to the site.

This is most important. Many in the #edtechchat are just beginning to play with Twitter and PBL. Let them.

9) Many forms and routes to participation are available.

10) Different routes to status are inherent in the game.

Status in online spaces is a strange thing. I gave up on tracking follower counts a long time ago. Yet I do look at me analytics each week to see how people engage with the content I both share and create. Some may call themselves eduall stars, or middle class rockstars. For me if we fell like we are making a difference and learning a little more each day, well that is status.

11) Leadership is porous and leaders are resources. Like the concept of “third spaces,” affinity spaces see “neither One…nor the Other…Rather, participants are something else besides, which contests the terms and territories of both

Molly is both a leader and participants. In fact I have never met her. I only know Molly through Twitter. So I am thankful she pushed my thinking.

You cannot “Do” Twitter wrong. It is just one of many portals to our Affinity Space of connected educators. If you want to learn more about PBL its okay to check in with Twitter, You will make connections and find resources. Then you can head to Google+ for real learning.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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