Recently I had an interesting online discussion about whether Twitter was a Community of Learning for educators. I think most educators would agree that the “Learning” aspect of Twitter is difficult to argue with. There are many things we can find out on Twitter, many though provoking tweets that are click bait for even more thought provoking blog posts or articles. There are learning hashtags that can be followed to glean more targeted tips and ideas about our practice as educators.
But what about the “Community” aspect of this?
Just because Twitter brings a mass of people together over one particular object, whether hashtag, debate or school, does that actually mean there is a COMMUNITY of learning online?
I want to theoretically play with the idea of deciding that the educators on Twitter are a part of a community for a few hundred words. Deciding that a group of people constitutes a community brings with it a whole host of ethical responsibilities to that group.
I think before conclusions are jumped to, consideration of what Twitter might DO if it were considered a community. I am going to use a framework I have blogged about in the past to do this; however, in my last consideration, I looked at what Twitter does to me as an individual.
I return again to Marshall McLuhan who is best known for his phrase, “The medium is the message”. McLuhan suggested that if you can work out the intent of the medium, the message broadcast on it takes on a new meaning. According to McLuhan, there are Four Effects which are common to every piece of technology that has advanced human civilisation. These effects would not be intended to simply define Twitter, rather to also work out what it DOES: how Twitter performs, is agential, is a cyborgic extension of our selves.
Using McLuhan’s theory I want to work through becoming aware of what happens when we call a group of educators online a community because I believe that assumption has become pervasive. So it is important to step back and notice what Twitter does when we overlay that assumption. McLuhans’s questions can remind us of our responsibility for making those assumptions. I might shape my Twitter usage in a certain way but it in turn it shapes me. Am I happy with this perpetual loop? And does my decision making effect that of others?
What ancient pastime or nostalgic practice has been REVIVED because of Twitter?
I believe that robust debate about education has been revived because of Twitter. Before Twitter, an educator would have struggled to immerse themselves in a educational point of view outside of their own school. The echo chamber of the lone school has been broken and now all points of view are up for grabs: debated on the timeline, through direct messaging, over beers and in staff rooms.
So does an education community embrace multiple ideas collected from virtual spaces and workshop them for best practice within their geographic spaces?
How does Twitter ENHANCE, intensify, accelerate make possible? Every tool extends our senses, body and mind. The things I make on Twitter, mimic me. I am responsible for them.
Twitter enhances a sense of community because the tools which are applied within it’s functionality bring people from disparate geographic locations and opposing ideas into a common online space. For example, the hashtag, live stream, and live tweeted thread can take people from all over the world to a single school, opening that school up for critique and praise. Groups of educators cluster around approval or disapproval of the strategies the school employs, sparking discussion and challenges that cannot usually happen in an echo chamber that comes with watching a self-selected Twitter feed.
So the question I have is: does a community allow an understanding of disparate ideas, or is a community an echo chamber?
If disparate ideas exist within a community, to what extent are the individual members responsible for the safety of others? Does being in a community mean bad behaviour is policed? Pushed back against? Or ignored?
If Twitter is to be an education COMMUNITY, these ideas need to be considered.
What has been pushed aside or OBSOLESCED by calling Twitter a community? Just as cars and fences have reduced interaction within geographic communities, have education communities lost skills or senses through using Twitter?
One community aspect I believe has gone on the wayside through educators’ use of Twitter is the othering of those educators who do not. Often I sit watching Twitter chats which have overtones of perceived unprofessionalism towards those in our profession who are not on Twitter or using technology to successfully augment their practices. Those not on Twitter are often written about as lesser educators.
When a profession (or even a society) is split along the lines of the old and the new, we tend to either lose our ability to innovate or our ability to think deeply into the ideas which anchor our profession. The wisdom of the ages cannot be replaced by the wisdom of the online masses.
If Twitter is a community of educators, what is our moral responsibility to those who are not in the in circle? Do educators want an community which actively others those unlike them? Is that community or simply collectivism?
When pushed to its limits, everything eventually turns on itself. Industrialisation was supposed to make people happier but instead it’s destroying the planet and creating hopelessness and despair. What will be the REVERSAL when Twitter reaches its limit?
I see several different groups of educators on Twitter forming collectives. The distinction I am going to make between a community and a collective is that a collective’s intention is to protect it’s members from an outside threat through battoning down the hatches, circling the wagons or taking up arms.
So if Twitter is a community, how do we deal with the tribes? Those who feel the need to evangelise an education approach? Those who block or troll to shut down criticism? These are more collective actions than community actions. In my opinion community is about making connections between the tribes and trying to find common ground.
Now whose responsibility that is opens up a debate in itself.
Maybe Twitter isn’t a place to be a community. Maybe that’s the message of this particular medium. But in conceding that, we deny two things which connect us all as educators. First, we are clever people who are committed to bettering the plight of our students and by extension society. Second, we are conceding that the data we see on our individual screens is just that – DATA – and not connected to a human. Sub-human. To join the dots, if clever people committed to social justice cannot overcome treating people on their screens as subhuman, our world is in far worse shape than I thought.