@nstearns do you have a pencil?

I am a technologically ept guy. My dad used to work on those big Wang mainframes that required punch cards to be force fed through in order to enter data. I programmed games in BASIC. Bill Gates had nothing to fear from me, but I come to technology young and it’s second nature much of the time. Now of course, we live in a Golden Age of Nerdocity.

Still, Twitter is a mystery to me (nstearns).

If you don’t know what Twitter is…the basic idea is that Twitter is a micro-blogging program that looks a lot like a party line Instant Messaging board. You have 140 characters to write what you want and then anyone who decided to ‘follow’ you can see what you’ve written. For some people Twitter is like fried, sugary manna from Top Pots Doughnuts. They love it; they rave, they gnash their teeth when it’s down (which is approximately 42.3% of the time).

Why would you want to do that? For me, the Internets are like a big stack of newspapers. I surf and link to find out stuff. I check out Slate magazine or my Google Reader or the New York Times. When my kids tell me, “I spent 6 hours on Facebook last night,” I’m not horrified, I’m mystified. What do you do for 6 hours on Facebook. Do you just write “Whasssup” on 1000 friend walls? That sounds like my version of Hell.

Apparently, even on the Web, I’m not a people person.

But in the classroom, I could see Twitter working. A number of edubloggers have talked about backchannels and how they relieve the tedium associated with paying attention in a lecture. When I watched some of the uStream or CoveritLive NECC conference, I noticed the accompanying chat was pretty off topic, irrelevant, messy, and human. People were responding sincerely to what they were hearing. Even if what people were saying wasn’t always enlightening, it was an improvement to being glued to a chair and having no contact with the people around you beyond passing notes.

If kids were able to chat with each other using one of those tools, would it enhance the classroom experience? Let’s say I were to do a class discussion on Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Normally, people would take turns responding to my provocations or leading discussions in certain areas. In a Twitter-ed class, they could be discussing what’s going on on an entirely different level. I could even shoot the chat conversation behind me as we discussed. I’m worried that this violates an important Brain Rule (#4 Attention), but it might be worth it if I’m not able to maintain Attention anyway in a 30 minute discussion.

Anyone ever tried this in the classroom?

Image Credit: Screenshot from TwitterBlocks

One thought on “@nstearns do you have a pencil?”

  1. I use it in the classroom and have found that it is excellent for test reviews, group notetaking, and when I’m sharing a lot of links or starting a new online web technology (sharing the links helps a lot.) I wouldn’t use it in all cases, but it is great for posing questions and including beginners or quieter people in the conversation.

    I’ve seen many people that don’t talk emerge into the class conversation because of amazing contribution in the backchannel. There is a time and place for this (aka attention) — but if the focus is on the material — then it is focusing. I teach my students how to focus on the material and we talk about being a “professional student” in our classroom spaces. If they go way off on a tangent – they aren’t paying attention and the backchannel moderator (I always appoint one AND a google jockey) is to pull it back to the topic at hand.

    Done right, a backchannel is a great addition. Done wrong, it is just another distraction.

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