Hello Pandora (In More Ways than One)

I have been thinking about having (but probably not making) my students use Twitter.  This releases a Pandora’s (more on her later, sort of) Box of questions: will they resent it?  Will they use it for the purpose I intend? Will it oversimplify their research?  Will it put them at risk if they are uncomfortable using their real name (that one’s kind of easy: don’t).  I see this blog as a good way of capturing how I have used Twitter over time, and I can also see having them read this to understand more about my motivation for encouraging them to use it.


One of the amazing things about Twitter is that you can see articles and images that are relevant to your interests but that you may never have seen otherwise, such as this photo essay about teenage train hitchhikers that I saw today.  It is just like a visual and literary (and two-way) Pandora station.  A friend once said that he can ask a trade-related question and get instant responses from experts all over the world.  It is super great, folks.


After looking at the photos from the link above, I read many of the comments, which on YouTube can make me fear for the future of humanity.  But here, people commented with their Facebook profiles, which are generally people’s real names and it generally means that people won’t sound like evil, bigoted jerks.  The responses to the images were fascinating:  some people saw a free, romantic life without bills and trips to the grocery store.  They saw the excitement of youth and juxtaposed that with the drudgery of their lives as adults.  Others saw grimy , endangered teens who were running from some unnamed (but imaginable) terror.  Some even directly addressed others to try to “correct” their view of the images, perhaps thinking about the effect these (often well-written) comments might have in swaying others.


This is what Twitter brought me with this one link, in the space of about ten minutes: good images provoke intense reactions; they make us wonder and worry about what we see.  There are so many narratives, many of them competing–and some people want to try to change (or at least the impact) the narrative of others.  Maybe we should do that more.  Where is line between “bossy” and confrontational and reasoned debate?  How does this relate to teaching?  Do some teachers teach that out of students?  Do the best thinkers and debaters do something more “important” with their time and $200,000 scho0ling than educating students?  That’s a narrative, too.  A recent student even just shared (through a message, but I should make it a post) this article about avoiding teaching at “elite” universities.  And there is all of this noise about MOOCs out there too, and I stumbled across this blog post by  Susan Amussen and UMW professor Allyson Poska on MOOCs and feminism and power–which is something I’ve been thinking about too.  All of these things–the power and effects of images and narratives–are true of school and of our content areas, whether it’s history or math or English or art or whatever.  I see it as our job to acknowledge these narratives, question them, and help people develop and share them.  There is a lot of noise that gets in the way.  Good teachers will tune that out.


How does this relate to students conducting action research?  Let’s imagine you, a math teacher, notice that your students are doing poorly on their assessments.  You look on Twitter and search hashtags and find this article on interventions to combat stereotype threat.  It’s not the same as a research article, but it leads the reader to some true research studies that might help form a new and related study.  Publications, writers, and organizations share articles quickly and briefly on Twitter that you MAY NOT FIND ACCESS TO IN OTHER WAYS.  Sure, the library has subscriptions to journals.  But certainly not all of them.  And by following a broad swath of people and organizations that are related to your interests, you will see far more articles, images, blogs, and conversations, spaced out over the day or whenever you are able to “dip into” the feed (props to the great Martha Burtis for that phrase!)


At the end of the day, will I give students a choice about whether to use Twitter?  Sure.  Because how could I teach them about differentiation without doing it myself?  But I do hope that Twitter helps deepen their understanding and interest in the same way it has for me.