Why we should be wary of twitter and how to properly integrate it in schools

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As we embark into the new world of Web 3.0 there are an ever growing number of social media tools at our disposal to access and utilize for educational purposes. There is an increasing amount of literature regarding these human-object relationships and how they are transforming our current culture, and in turn, how that is affecting the new “learning ecology.”

Twitter is one of many social media platforms that is part of Web 3.0 and is transforming the internet from a network of computers into a medium where real identities are generating massive amounts of data (Keen, 2012). This new platform offers many learning opportunities, however, educators and school districts have been slow to adopt this tool and utilize it to its full potential.

I will contend that although there are numerous political barriers to this, it is not policies and administrators that are holding this back, but a lack of clearly defined dialogue and concrete methodologies for how this application can be appropriately integrated that is its biggest barrier.

“Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” This quote by Marhsall McLuhan (1962) states how important it is to be weary of new forms of media and the effect they can have. It is imperative that we assess social media tools like Twitter and understand them before we begin to use them in the classroom.

There is growing appetite for change in teaching methodologies, and many are looking to Web 3.0 tools as a platform to make students more involved in the learning process. Whether it be for micro-blogging, discussion, or collaboration it offers a variety of options for educators and their students.

Traditional forms of teaching have revolved around Broadcast Learning, where the focus is teacher directed and therefore is more of a one size fits all model. Although there has been countless literature stating the contrary, it seems there is a resistance to a more Deweyian approach that focuses on problem solving, goal-seeking projects that encourage more experimental trial and error learning experiences (Kahn & Kellner, 2007). The “sage on the stage” model was created for an industrial based work force that worked well when that was the basis of the Western economy. Now that we have entered the Knowledge Age there is push by many educators to move to different model of teaching and learning.

As Don Tapscott wrote in Growing up digital, this is a generation that is “bathed in bits” a generation that doesn’t want to just be passive consumers, but prosumers. They want to be involved in the process of the digital content and items they purchase; and oddly enough they feel entitled to do so. This may have something to do with a new trend that is emerging.

“For once in our civilization, children are educating older people. Adults are looking to children for information and help with computers and other computer related knowledge.” This quote by fifteen year- old Austin Locke speaks to that trend and how it is altering the adult – child relationship (Tapscott, 2009).

Therefore this sense of entitlement is almost warranted as they have become used to having authoritative figures come to them for help in regards to these items. Educators have noticed this, and in doing so, have begun to try and transform their teaching methodologies to meet the needs of this generation. They are trying to develop more student directed learning processes that offers them more choice.

Not only does Twitter let them direct their learning it also provides them with avenues to cross pollinate ideas with those in local communities, as well as global ones. It also offers both synchronous and asynchronous forms of dialogue for hashing out ideas and discussing topics on a broader level; creating a new fabric for learning.

Ecologies are more powerful and adaptive when they are more diverse. This is also true of new learning ecologies that incorporate Twitter to facilitate greater diversity of opinions and ideas. In addition this platform offers greater access to information and expertise. This enriches the user on numerous levels and promotes intellectual density, as well as a model of learning that can be anytime and anywhere (Brown, 2002).

This shift to a new learning ecology has promoted the use of technology not just as a tool for an individual, but as an instrument for creating and supporting relationships that can benefit the user. In doing so, it stimulates the notion of life-long learning by nurturing relationships that encourage the transfer of information, experiences and culture.

This new form of media truly offers social learning opportunities. Unlike traditional media such as Television, where the content was pushed out to the users, Twitter offers a push and pull model where the users are engaged in the process. When students are brought inside the learning process, they feel more in control and therefore take ownership of it; gaining more from the experience.

At the turn of the century the internet was accumulating new sites and platforms that transformed the way we viewed the web and new media. With the advent of Web 2.0, sites like Google, Youtube and Wikipedia gathered and catalogued vast amounts of data and information on a globally accessible platform. This however still followed the more traditional model of pushing content out to users, where the owners of these sites were the ones who decided what information was posted. Sites such as Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and Google + are all a part of Web 3.0 and are now transforming the internet to a place where, as Andrew Keen (2012) states “real identities are generating massive amounts of data.”

When we create an online profile the information we include and post about ourselves becomes data. This data is then shared and is accessible on a global level. An individual’s Twitter handle and the entity presented online is an extension of one’s self. This is the embodiment of that individual online; another identity that is purportedly managed by the user. However, these instruments are not docile and have their own design and purpose that alters the image perceived by the rest of the online community (Dall’Alba & Barnacle, 2005).

This adds another level of complexity to the user’s real identity, and removes a certain amount of control in the process. Many would indicate that this is a shift away from a Psychoanalytic culture and a move to a computer culture; that we all are becoming “bathed in bits” (Turkle, 2004). This however, is not the case, and only furthers the need for a deeper understanding of this new culture shift and stresses the importance of psychoanalysis that includes our online identities.

We need to be cognoscente of these new mediums we choose to interact on. We are in a transformational phase that is taking the mystery and secrecy out of our lives; removing privacy and altering our identities (Brown, 2002). As McLuhan (1962) states “… any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of Narcissus trance.”

We are constantly in the search for creating a perfect identity, pursuing in vain the notion that we can formulate an entity that we envision as the perfect version of ourselves. In my own experience I’ve found that I’ve fallen into the trap of trying too hard to create a perfect online identity myself. When an individual begins to frame an identity online it is easy to become obsessed with an eternally elusive vision of ones ideal self. Being cautious and aware of maintaining an image is important; however, when the efforts are overly vigilant it can have a negative effect. In the end the online self becomes a shell of the person’s true image and can be off-putting; becoming a misrepresentation of that person’s true identity.

Marshall McLuhn (1962) references man’s illusion of a “private point of view.” We believe that our views are solely that of our own, not influenced by the media we consume. This however, is almost impossible to obtain, and only exists due to the Narcissistic fixations we have of ourselves. We have confidence in the fact that we have complete control over it, unaware of the fact that we inevitably become what we behold. We are ignorant to the notion that what we view and consume permeates our consciousness, formulating our opinions and beliefs.

In this narcissistic culture, we have moved into a world of permanent self-exhibition. Much like the Utilitarian philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, we are constantly in search to permanently immortalize ourselves and our reputations. Whereas Jeremy Bentham donated his body to be on display for the world to see, we are also searching for ways to display our identities to the public in perpetuity.

Bentham’s body is currently in place in a glass coffin in the hallways at London’s University College. Forever, he will remain in the case he named the “Auto Icon,” the term which he defined as a man in his own image. However, his goal to remain forever on display is a perfect analogy for every user that has taken to the online community and created a profile on twitter. The new status symbol is being the most visible. Whoever has the most followers, or gets the most retweets, or mentions on twitter is the most powerful in our society.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The more we put online, the more we splinter our identity, and the more and more we become less visible. It creates a form of hyper-visibility, where we are everywhere and nowhere at the same time (Keen, 2012). When we start using these online communities to exhibit this elusive version of ourselves we lose our real identities and replace it with one made of bytes.

As we constantly update our location, meals, likes, dislikes, what we are doing, and what is “on our minds,” we inevitably become caught up in process and lose sight of ourselves. Privacy and solitude are slowly fading from our society and leaving us perpetually on display to the online community.

“I update, therefore I am not,” is a tweet from Andrew Keen after he viewed the corpse of Jeremy Bentham in person. This tweet speaks to the fact that when we begin to search to immortalize ourselves and our identities, we inevitably lose control.

This notion of hyper-visibility and loss of identity is dangerous, and is the rationale behind numerous policy decisions to withhold the integration of applications such as twitter from the classroom. It is easy to blame management at the varying levels of Education Departments; however, this should not be the case. They are right to be cautious. However, as earlier stated, there are countless benefits to incorporating online tools such as twitter into the classroom.

In order to ensure the safety of our students and teachers we must educate them of its proper use. It is imperative that we define the process in which identity can be lost, and how we can ensure that the development of our student’s personality remains intact. We need to put safeguards in place to ensure a certain amount of privacy and solitude are maintained.

The main issue that commonly happens is when educators try to use online environments to replicate real life social or cultural contexts (Dall’Alba & Barnacle, 2005). When we approach them with the understanding that these applications have their own design and intentions we can frame the learning in ways that will best utilize it. There needs to be acknowledgement of the fact that this human – technology relationship presents different challenges, and that awareness of this will allow for more authentic learning experiences.

The key to this is to first develop sentience within teachers of how technologies and their embodiment on them affects how they learn on these platforms. It is pertinent that they understand that learning in these environments can be messy, as students and their identities intermingle with the technologies they are learning on. Even certain behaviours can be influenced when using tools such as twitter and we need to be prepared for this.

The anonymity offered by this platform has led to dangerous interactions and behaviours in the past. There have been many cases where students have used the site as a platform for saying things and attacking people they otherwise might avoid in a face to face interaction. Many teachers have had to deal with the aftermath of cyber-bullying and the results can be devastating.

Nevertheless, this more than ever proves the necessity of teaching the proper use of these tools. As much as we try to monitor it and prevent them from making these mistakes, it is inevitable. If we chose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore it, we will be forever stuck in a cyclical phase of reactive responses to issues surrounding social media.

We are in a technological and social crisis and need to look at this as moment for a drastic reconstruction. If we chose to be proactive and develop proper language and online etiquette we can prevent some of these issues from arising and in doing so prepare them for life as digital citizens.

As Paulo Friere (2001) stated, we need to be aware of the potential that technologies have as a tool of oppression. Once we grasp this concept we can then begin to instruct how these tools can be used for empowerment. If we incorporate media literacy in the classroom in a framework that focuses on reading, writing, self-reflection, cultural identity, and political agency, we will be empowering our next generation to use these tools for good (Kahn & Kellner, 2007). This will establish critical consciousness within the next generation, better preparing them for further integration of technology into society, as well as providing a level playing ground for the current inequities in our current education system.

If our students are critical media viewers with an understanding of bias, they will be able to use tools like Twitter to humanize man once again. Twitter can become one of Illich’s (1973) “tools of conviviality,” by promoting learning, sociality, community and autonomous and creative relationships between students and their environment. If we don’t teach them how to master this tool and others like it, it will begin to master them.

“Every Roman was surrounded by slaves. The slave and his psychology flooded ancient Italy, and every Roman became inwardly, and of course unwittingly, a slave. Because living constantly in the atmosphere of slaves he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology. No one can shield himself from such an influence.” This quote by C. G. Jung speaks directly to the importance of defining our relationship with these artifacts (McLuhan, 1962).

Twitter is not a neutral tool and through its design and function specifically promotes certain interactions and relationships via an extension of one’s self. Management and awareness of how this extension is perceived is an important aspect that must be defined along with a specific language and methodologies to frame it as a proper learning platform.

The move to this new informational fabric demands we take a closer look into the dangers of integrating tools such as twitter to ensure that we are preparing them for its use in the new “learning ecology.”

References:

Brown, J. S. (2002) Growing up Digital: How the web changes work, education, and the way people learn. United States Distance Education Learning Journal, 16(2) 15-28

Dall’Alba, G., & Branacle, R. (2005). Embodiment knowing in online environments. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(5), 719-744

Friere, P. (2001) Pedagogy of Oppressed. New York. Continuum.

Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007). Paulo Friere and Ivan Illich: technology, politics and the reconstruction of education. Policy Futures in Education, 5(4), 431-448

Keen, A. J. (2012). Digital Vertigo: How today’s online Social Revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us. New York. St. Martin’s Press

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Medium is the Message. The New Media Reader, 203-209

Tapscott, D. (2009). Grown up digital: How the Net Generation is changing your world. New York. McGraw Hill.

Turkle, S. (2004). Whither Psychoanalysis in computer culture? Psychoanalysis Psychology, 21(1), 16-30

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