There was a single moment when I realized that Twitter was no longer the greatest thing to happen in my personal professional growth: I was sitting in the Newbie Lounge at ISTE in 2013. I was not a newbie, but it was the only plug near comfortable seating I could find. While sitting there I overheard a veteran teacher who was new to edtech and trying to understand Twitter. She deserved to be supported for stepping outside her comfort zone, but the Tweets with #ISTE13 in this hour were not representative of learning. Instead, they were inside jokes, sarcastic comments, complaints about the temperature, and a range of other distractors. They were not about learning and connecting with other educators from around the world. It was such a missed opportunity.
I have taken a few breaks from Social Media, but it has not fixed my disappointed feelings. The world continued to spin and I continued to learn. I missed some of the people who supported by struggles or challenged my comfort, but overall there was no sense of loss for my PLN. I thought that this was my personal perspective and issue, but recently I have read other blogs with a similar tone. The three that have captured my attention most are from Bonnie Stewart, Joe Mazza, and Lyn Hilt. Stewart wrote something is rotten in the state of … Twitter. The language and voice captured my attention and really drove home the message. The decline of Twitter can be linked to the decline of a passionate participatory culture. Mazza breaks down the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of current PLNs. This is the post that really helped me formulate my disenchantment into words. He posted some good questions: What makes some educators worthy of the fame and larger audience? How has our online AND offline behavior evolved since we became ‘connected’? I miss the good old days of 2009 when I joined Twitter. Hilt had a more positive spin on the topic with Why do I need to reinvent my PLN? But she still points out that most of our PLNs no longer function efficiently. We need to refresh those we follow to find new ideas. Twitter might not be the best platform for developing more meaningful connections. So what are the issues I see with Twitter? Self Promotion, Cliques, Inside Jokes, and Safe Conversations.
#1: Insane Self-Promotion. We should be proud of the things we accomplish and the reflections we blog about. There is no harm in tweeting that. It is the incessant auto tweeting that clogs up Twitter feeds. There is harm in tweeting links to old blog posts every few hours. I also don’t like teacher entrepreneurs who constantly hawk their products they want us purchase or courses they want to convince us to enroll in so they get paid. The same thing goes for blogging and promoting items you create/teach – an occasional tweet is informative, but a barrage takes away from the value of the forum.
#2: Cliques. This was a topic mentioned by Joe Mazza. Initially Twitter was a space where all educators were created newly equal. Everyone had a voice and could contribute to the conversation. However, cliques and social hierarchies have developed. It’s worse than being in middle school, and I would know, since I teach in one. Teachers can get sucked into the social order with the humble brag photo along with a education rock start. I’m guilty of this. To someone trying to create a PLN, this is a visual barrier between those in the circle and those outside. What makes a teacher worthy of thousands of followers? At one point I was accepted into the inner circle of Twitter power teachers, but I don’t think I learned as much. I also was uncomfortable with the relationships that developed within the clique. It seemed acceptable to have virtual flirtatious affairs, which would play out in real life at conferences. This is not role model worthy behavior. There are so many lists of Top <insert number> Teachers on Twitter, but this does not create a valuable PLN. Chasing a number of followers will not create a better PLN either. No one thinks being promiscuous and sleeping with more people will create a better relationship, so why would the number of Twitter followers make the connection better?
#3: Inside Jokes, Sarcasm, or Snark. This is yet another thing I am guilty of. Also defended with the middle school excuse of ‘we were just joking.’ To someone who is new, these type of joking comments would be confusing and sometimes insulting. Every conference has them. Sometimes they are a self-defense method for dealing with conference proposal rejection. Sometimes they are mocking a failure. Sometimes they are the result of too many free drinks from vendor parties. Many times they are funny, but that does not mean everyone will understand the joke and feel welcome in the space. Edchats also have an abundance of insider jokes and sarcastic comments. Normally the group is familiar with each other and the comments help them bond from a distance. However, it prevents people new to the environment from feeling included. When I respond using sarcasm or snark I try to avoid the real chat hashtag. But it still will shape the opinion of me that of my followers have.
#4: Safe Conversations. This flaw seems out of place. Safe is normally associated with warm, fuzzy, positive feelings. Yet, when it comes to discussions of education, the same conversations being played over-and-over again are safe, boring, and unproductive. You do not try new things from being safe. Have you ever played devil’s advocate in an edchat? It is risky. Immediately you feel like you are being verbally attacked by a mob because you threatened the safety of the group. What if an outsider had a sincere question? How would the chat group react? No one’s classroom is perfect, yet we spend so much time describing the Pinterest versions of our classroom. We don’t seek feedback or suggestions for improvement because that would require admitting a flaw first. I believe it is a ‘we’ thing and not just a ‘me’ thing. When I first joined Twitter it was about gaining knowledge about everything I did not know. I was willing to try new things all the time, but that sometimes resulted in failure, and my PLN helped me back to my feet and gave me advice and confidence to try again. I don’t know exactly when the safety mode kicked in, but it has restricted the new ideas flowing into my classroom.
Self-Reflection: Am I a positive member of other teacher’s PLNs? Would I follow myself? (which sounds egotistical and links back to issue #1). I am not ready to deactivate my Twitter account, but I am willing to actively purge those who do not make me a better teacher or global citizen. I pledge to tweet with purpose. This means less re-tweets and more enriching tweets, and by more, I probably mean fewer in number. Take time to reflect on your own Social Media contributions. Would you inspire a new teacher? Is your online behavior a positive role model for students? How are you contributing to your PLN?