Monday, December 5, 2016

Thoughts on Using Twitter for Good

I have been a Twitter user and fan since 2007. I use it primarily as a key component of my personal learning network (PLN). I follow mostly people who tweet insights that can improve my work as a teacher librarian and school library advocate.  For several years now, I have even been doing presentations about Twitter and teaching mini-courses on how to use it as part of a PLN.

I am well aware, though, that there are people who don’t see the value of Twitter.  In fact, I usually start my presentations and course introductions off by saying that a lot of people don’t get Twitter; they think it is used primarily by celebrities to share what they had for breakfast. And, alas, with the recent election and aftermath, we are seeing it more and more as a vehicle for rants and even fake news. Anyone who isn’t already a keen Twitter user has quite likely been put off the idea that it has any value at all.

Just the other day, I found myself wondering if, with all this misinformation and anger clogging the Twitter feed, I should still be promoting it as a valuable tool. Well, after some pondering, I concluded that yes, I should. I reminded myself of the advice I have always given new Tweeters: Twitter is all about how you use it. Let’s not let a tool that has value for keeping educators be better informed and helping students be co-opted by people using it to spread negativity.

So, please:

  • Don’t let sensationalist ranters clog your feed. You can unfollow people who rant, and when/if rants or misinformation sneaks in, just scroll on, or reply and correct it. 
  • Contribute good to Twitter by sharing your own good ideas, links to good ideas you’ve read, and positive thinking. Remember that positive thinking is contagious!

“Evaluating Information: the Cornerstone of Civic OnlineReasoning,” a study just issued by the Stanford History Research Education Group, found that 6-12 and college students’ ability to judge the credibility of online information was disturbingly poor.  We clearly need to be teaching students these skills. If you are a teacher librarian or classroom teacher, also consider including Twitter in these lessons. You can share sample tweets with your students and have them determine the source and whether, in the case of celebrity accounts, the tweeter account is verified; whether the source has credentials to be trusted for information shared; and whether facts shared can be triangulated (i.e., are they in sync with other sources). The Stanford study shares tasks that can be used with students and both as formative assessments and the basis for lessons on all forms of social media, including Twitter.

If you aren’t on Twitter yet, or you haven’t been taking advantage of it to enrich your personal learning network, don't let the negative stuff you hear about keep you away. And, consider attending my concurrent session on Twitter at the CSLA Conference February 3, or my four-week Twitter class for AASL member starting March 6.

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