#engchat: Twitter Chat with Purpose?

So I’ll be hosting #engchat on Monday, June 27th.  For the last few months, I’ve been wondering about Twitter chats in general, and their effectiveness.  Of course, to determine their effectiveness, one has to have a sense of their purpose.  And I can’t aways seem to tell the purpose of Twitter chats in general other than to say that they’re topical conversations.  Folks get together and talk at one another, presumably about a particular topic.  Then we run off to the next thing.

I’m sure there’s purpose in topical conversation.  But I wonder about Twitter as the place for purposeful conversation.  Things move so quickly.  So briefly.  Does useful discourse occur via Twitter? ((Or, at least, does the purposeful sort that one would hope to emerge from a topical conversation emerge from Twitter? I’m not saying Twitter can’t be purposeful.  But do Twitter chats foster learning?  Or are the the 21st Century version of drive-by PD?))

More important – in the race for folks to talk, talk, talk, might it be possible that we’re forgetting to listen, listen, listen?  Or, worse still,  are we skipping the thinking, thinking, thinking?

Seems to me that’s worth exploring.  So, on Monday at 7pm Eastern, we’ll do just that, or at least make an honest attempt. #engchat will happen both at a physical location ((The details are still being worked out, but I’ll let you know when I know.)) as well as via Twitter.  In addition, there’ll be pauses for writing together, as well as reading what we write.  The conversation will be punctuated by pauses.

That might be a useful thing.  It might not.  Here’s a page where I’m compiling a prompt or two and a rough schedule for the hour.  Would love your feedback in the comments or, if you’re feeling brave, as comments on the Google Doc itself ((If you’ve never made a comment on a Google Doc, then highlight the text you’d like to comment on, then go to the Insert menu and select “Comment.”)).

And, of course, I’d love to have you join us to consider the place of pauses in digital writing.  See you there?

19 thoughts on “#engchat: Twitter Chat with Purpose?

  1. Karl Fisch says:

    I wonder how this conversation intersects with the idea of “productive eavesdropping” here and here.

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      Say more, Karl.

      1. Karl Fisch says:

        Well, I’m not exactly sure where this #engchat conversation is heading, but my overall sense of it is that some folks may be concerned that there’s a whole lot of talking around the various chats on Twitter (and outside the chats), but that perhaps it’s not all that useful because the talk isn’t very purposeful and doesn’t translate into change. That made me think of your earlier musings around “productive eavesdropping” and perhaps how that has a role to play in this conversation.

        I think we need to be careful about insisting on everything having a clear purpose. I’m in favor of purposefulness as much as the next guy, and I agree that sometimes we engage in non-productive behavior (whether in meetings at school or online). But I also think we can learn a lot in situations that don’t have a well-defined purpose; that learning (especially online) can occur serendipitously and often without a fixed, defined plan going in.

        It’s awfully hard to tease out what effects my online experiences have had on my own practice, so let me use my wife as an example (with her permission). She got on Twitter about two years ago, initially very much as a lurker but more recently as more of a participant. Twitter, in turn, hooked her up to conversations on blogs and she’s now a very active user of Google Reader and just started her own professional blog. It has definitely impacted her practice and it’s fascinating to watch as she now is helping bring other staff members in her building into these spaces. The conversations, at least among many in her building, have definitely changed, and they’ve changed at least somewhat due to my wife’s “unpurposeful” (at least initially) use of Twitter. As an even more concrete example, her very experienced Building Resource Teacher decided to attend ISTE this year for the first time (she did not attend last year . . . when it was in Denver), at least partially as the result of these conversations.

        I guess I think we need to be careful of dismissing the usefulness of “idle” chatter on Twitter and in other spaces. I think for many of us, we may not always be using it purposefully, yet the accumulated effect of the conversations ends up changing our practices (for the better), sometimes in small ways and sometimes in larger ones. I think that simply being involved in conversations, sometimes as active participants and sometimes as more passive observers, is an important part of the ongoing learning process, even when it doesn’t have a clearly defined purpose. That’s not to say that conversations with purpose are bad; they’re not. But it is to say that we need to be very careful about dismissing the usefulness of things that may not appear to have a purpose to us (in the learning place we’re currently occupying), but may very much have a useful purpose for someone else.

  2. Paul Oh says:

    I’m looking forward to this event, not just because I know your facilitation will be fun to witness, Bud, and because of the questions you raise in this post. But also because I think it will be fascinating to see how the face-to-face part conversation “works” in relation to what happens online.

    By the way, if any of your readers are in Philly and able to attend, the face-to-face event will happen on the second floor of Fergie’s Pub at 1214 Sansom Street (http://www.fergies.com/). All are welcome!


  3. Renee Howell says:

    I serve on a school board,I am not an educator – I follow and use many #edu posts for my discovery learning/research. What is the conversation? What are the opinions? Similar to a townhall meeting – but MUCH wider – this is good for leading conversations. Helps me form questions for my district leaders, other BOE members and state leaders. I do reflect on your tweets. thank you.

  4. I think there are a number of factors here that touch on both purpose and effectiveness. To say that something is effective, you imply that you have a goal in mind. However I would say that for the participants, the goals vary widely. So effectiveness is going to be very hard to “prove.”

    How about collegiality vs. community? Is a collegial relationship more or less important than having a true community (where people are working towards a communal goal, or at least a vision of themselves as a group.)

    I also think that the ideals of community of practice come into play – where all levels of expertise and experience are valued and valuable. Is a twitter chat simply valuable as a hook, but not valuable as a long-term place to solve real problems? In many online “places” there are lots of newcomers and very few long term users. People drift away, but some turn into guides. It’s the nature of online communities that long term users either find their happiness in the role of guides or they get tired of it all and drop out.

    Perhaps twitter chat is simply an on-ramp to more robust forms of participation that are deeper and hopefully have more impact.

  5. Bud,
    I have had similar thoughts when participating in various #chats on Twitter. For the most part, I pull very little theory/pedagogy/deep thinking out of them. Their popularity, coupled with the 140 characters result in a rapid successful of very quick, often incomplete thoughts. It is not the time or place for real deep learning and thinking. Most of the time I feel as though they become a contest of who can create the tweet that gets retweeted the most.

    However, I return to them on a somewhat regular basis. Why? Because while the content isn’t deep, the relationships can be. I can point to several folks in my twitter lists that I met during these #chats and now consider trusted members of my PLN. Because of the speed of these #chats, I often end up having side conversations with a couple of other folks in the space. These are conversations that originate from a tweet and continue through a number of back and forth mentions. Through these, we do go deep, but we have limited the conversation to just the two of us (albeit publicly on Twitter.) Some of these side conversations (much like whispering to person sitting next to you in a physical classroom) have evolved into both professional and personal relationships. Because of that, I go back to these #chats every once in a while, not to gain perspective, but to gain a relationship.

    1. Terri Reh says:

      Tony, I agree with you. I am a third grade teacher and my class and I follow a rather broad cross section of hashtags. (Yes, my class likes to participate in this process). We have done this to find like minded people i.e., classrooms that want to collaborate in virtual projects, to develop relationships with educators who like to share lesson ideas, and to find folks willing to engage my class in discussions about their work (#comments4kids). All has made the world a smaller place for us, and diversified my rather homogeneous classroom.

      In the process of tweeting, I come across educators blogs that promote “theory/pedagogy/deep thinking.”

      I suppose all of this might depend where you are in the educational food chain, if Twitter is purposeful for you.

  6. It took me a year of “lurking” on Twitter to join in the discussion, but I am glad I did. I would categorize the purpose of #engchat, etc discussions as part of my reflective process. It also feels good to connect, to see experience through another’s eyes, and in my case, have someone to talk to about the issues and ideas I have when no one in my building in on the same page at the moment. Building relationships happens too, but i am still a fan of face-to-face friends.

  7. Laura says:

    I had this conversation with some folks at EduCon. I think the problem is not the nature of the chat itself but the venue. IRC would be a much better venue for these chats. Of course, the technical aspects of IRC might scare some people away.

    1. Julia Fallon says:

      Exactly my sentiments. Don’t feel like Twitter is best place for real time chat. This is one of the reasons why we host #shiftedlearning on IRC when we do our live broadcasts.

  8. The most effective twitter chat using hashtags I have seen after watching them evolve over a period of time has been #edchat which has two sessions on Tuesdays. They prepare a survey based on possible topics submitted and go with the one that receives the most votes. They also have several moderators who seed the groups sessions with follow-up questions as well as making sure to re-tweet relevant responses that may need to be looked at a second time during the sessions. Afterwards the transcript for the session is saved and posted for further processing. Using these sessions as a starting point they now have a Ning, wiki, and several leaders with delegated responsibilities.

    The use of this as a PD/learning tool has evolved to where some folks have already dealt with and processed the weaknesses and challenges. A more casual approach and experiment such as you are taking was first explored in my experience by @cleversheep over two years ago and as his sessions got more popular the volume of response and tracking seemed to be difficult to follow. With the volume of responses/tweets you may get for your session you might want to do more planning to have a successful session such as prepare a group of volunteers/moderators to help out and try and direct the conversation so it doesn’t go too far off topic, miss important points some folks make, and creates more of a dialogue between participants.

    Following the conversation at that volume can also be a challenge if the posts come in too quickly. A Tweetdeck column can certainly handle the volume but a tool that allows resizing of the window so that the tweets take up a single line as well as the ability to pause the stream also make it easier to followup on tweets that need a response.

    Don’t know if I’m adding anything to what you already know, but this approach to learning seems to have created sub-groups that seem to have not merged into what I would consider the edtech mainstream. I was just thinking about this based on a post from Lee Kolbert in which she recommends a list of who to follow on Twitter for ISTE and yet a commenter felt she left out an important group who are what I would consider leaders as edtech hashtag participants. http://www.leekolbert.com/2011/06/no-iste-attendee-left-behind.html

    Hope your session goes well!

  9. CBethM says:

    After nearly a year of being part of #engchat week after week and archiving each discussion, I want to scream YES! In the past year, I have been exposed to so many other thinkers & educators, so many different strategies and ideas, countless book titles and links, that I think I have to say there is purpose. I think there is give and take on my part – but there are plenty of lurkers out there. On both counts, I think we’re looking to be part of a larger discussion about what is going on in English education and attempting to get ideas about what works and what does not, to be challenged by the philosophies of others.
    Am I absorbing all of this information in the span of one hour? Certainly not, but if I get a link or title recommendation that I had not yet seen or a brilliant idea that I could add to my repertoire in my classroom that meets my needs and my students, I think I’ve gained something useful and purposeful.
    Even if I don’t come away with anything like that, if I have managed to come across even one lonely tweet that is still rolling around in my head days and weeks later, that hour I spent was useful.
    Does everyone get this from Twitter chats? Maybe not. But the same is true of conferences and face to face discussions.
    I’m with Karl. There is a certain amount of “productive eavesdropping” that happens in Twitter and Twitter chats can offer a condensed, scheduled time to do some of that “productive eavesdropping.”
    I don’t doubt that tomorrow night’s experiment – which I’m really looking forward to participating in – will be any different.
    Thank you, as always, Bud, for giving me something to think about. 🙂

  10. Debbie Greco says:

    I was dragged into Twitter by an enthusiastic colleague and I have since convinced a few more colleagues to connect into the stream of ideas. I am still quite new, but I found the ideas and thoughts on Twitter to be inspiring and exciting. Because of Twitter, I started a small blog and I follow links to numerous professional blogs that I would never have discovered on my own. I have read professional books and books of fiction that were recommended in Tweets. Twitter has been a catalyst towards thinking and ideas for me. I pulled a number of ideas directly into my classroom which I have written about on my blog. http://teacherbydesign.weebly.com/lessons-from-twitter-blog.html So is there purpose in the tweets that we send and read? There is the potential for purpose – depending upon who is on either end of the tweet. As with any conversation or endeavor, we decide what meaning we do or do not take away with us.

  11. Bud Hunt says:

    Lots of thoughtful comments here, y’all. Thanks and my apologies for the delay in getting back to this conversation. I guess I should clarify a bit – I’m thinking that there are plenty of purposes that folks might have for these sorts of conversations, and sometimes lurking and listening is one, or sharing a link is another, or seeking a resource is a third, and I could go on and on and on –
    But what I worry and wonder about is if they also promote “too much dessert” at the expense of the main courses and vegetables that are essential to healthy learning and growth. And, yeah, I’m probably biased – but I think feeling good at the end of a Twitter chat is like feeling good about being six miles into a marathon. Take a deep breath, and be proud of the six miles you’ve come – but grab a drink and keep going. Lots of ground still to cover.

    So maybe a good Twitter chat is a water station. A place to grab something as you keep moving – I just hope that it doesn’t look like a good place to stop and quit the race.

  12. #Edchat was the inspiration that led me to launch New Teacher Chat #ntchat. I had spent much time participating in #edchat. As an experienced educator, it was difficult at times for me to follow, but I soon got the hang of it. It was also a great way for me to begin to build collaborations and my PLN. However, I felt that it would be very intimidating for a new teacher who wanted to join the convo.
    As I reflected on my participation in #edchat, I asked my new PLN peeps, specifically Shelly Terrell if there was a chat for new teachers? She was surprised, herself, to share with me that there wasn’t. (Something was started in the UK way back, but was not continued.) I asked others, and found the same response. As my passion is to mentor and support new/pre-service teachers, I knew that this was a commitment that I had to make. To create a small, practioner focused and supportive chat for new teachers. A chat where they could feel safe receiving support and sharing their concerns. I spent many hours, weeks and months preparing for the launch last May 5, 2010. I even created the hashtag for it #ntchat that is now known and used globally. I also created a wiki to house the archives http://newteacherchat.wikispaces.com/
    I received the support of my close friends on #edchat as well as Edutopia in the chat launch. Steven Anderson of #edchat, is one of my big supporters!
    New Teacher Chat #ntchat has become a great success. We don’t go into the depths of pedagogy, but we offer real, authentic support such as lesson planning, classroom management, and parent conference tips, links, resources in a much smaller chat environment. I call it a “small but mighty chat”. From #ntchat,wonderful PLN connections have been formed. Not a week goes by that I don’t get many authentic comments from #ntchat peeps that they wouldn’t have made it through their first year without the support of the chat. I’m humbled by those comments. Participation by veteran educators has also increased…they are eager to share and support.
    #Ntchat has served as a tool for a launching point for other support for new teachers. A Teacher Mentoring Project was stared by myself at The EduPLN http://www.edupln.com/group/theteachermentoringproject, a growing group on Edutopia http://www.edutopia.org/groups/bridges-first-years-practice, A Reform Symposium for new teachers held in January 2011, and a 5 week New Teacher Summer Boot Camp which I will be facilitating for Edutopia starting in July http://edutopia-ntbootcamp.wikispaces.com/ Before #ntchat the idea of supporting new teachers utilizing Twitter was pretty much absent. Now, newbies have many more spaces to come to, to share and collaborate. We aren’t a corporate website, trying to sell a package…just a caring, sharing chat.
    I think the value of the chat goes back to the user, participant. I don’t think it’s fair to judge any chat that’s currently on Twitter. Rather join if you have a desire…take what you want and discard the rest. To quote a TEDxPhillyED presenter “In the end, it’s all about access.” Thanks for allowing me the space to share. Chat-on!

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