This past Thursday evening I took part in my first Twitter chat. Well, second actually; but the technically first one was very contained. The more recent one had more people--I remain unclear on just how many--and a few simultaneous threads. I enjoyed the experience, but I'm still figuring out what I think of it.
Overall, the experience reminded me of a great late night bull session in a dorm. It was a #isedchat, which means the participants were independent school people from around the country. So everyone was quite smart, passionate about education, and generally positive and optimistic, holding onto that youthful belief we can change the world for the better. They are committed enough to have been in this chat on a Thursday evening. Ideas and insights streamed into my feed, and I have found myself pondering many of the since then.
And I think that is where my frustration, albeit limited, may come from. Our topic was drive; several people had read an article on how being driven can lead to being disliked. The subject is a fascinating one, with myriad facets and layers. I kept wanting to dig more deeply into certain points, to explore them in ways that the medium simply doesn't allow for. So many comments were popping up in different threads related to the topic that I simply couldn't keep up, and some people seemed more able than I to move between them. (A bit of an aside: full marks to our moderators Bill Ivey, @bivey, and Kim Sivick, @ksivick, for their work in weaving those threads.)
That last notion raises a key point. I am not writing this as an anti-Twitter or anti-chat rant. In fact, I have become quite a fan of Twitter in general, particularly as I have learned how to use it better. Right now, though, I haven't figured out the whole chat deal. For example, in trying so hard to keep up, I often forgot to add the hashtag to my comments so they would appear in the right place. It may also be that a Twitter chat is simply not the best venue for me while being great for others. I also have to become more accepting of the limitations while stressing the benefits.
The experience has rekindled another one of my concerns about online life. Too often people can confuse quantity with quality. I'm not talking about the folks in this chat; I have no doubt they will reflect quite deeply on the topic. But I still find that so much of what I see in random browsing is superficial. I don't care that someone has hundreds of followers if his/her tweets don't provide quality. I try to make sure most of mine do. (And I have to admit I am proud when I gain a follower, disappointed when I lose one.) Similarly, I just don't understand how someone can follow hundreds and filter all the good stuff. I know people manage to do just that.
This raises a unique challenge for educators, one that is part of the shift taking place. We have to help young people--who, as Dana Boyd reminded us at annual convention, live public lives by default--to operate meaningfully in that realm when so many of us are just figuring it out ourselves. In many ways it necessitates that we be the adults, the ones with the aligned moral compasses, while maintaining the exploratory nature of youth. Personally, I find that a wonderful way to live.
That's why I am sure I will return for more Twitter chats, particularly those for #isedchat. Even if I never quite get it, I know I will learn other things from those folks. They prompt me to think, and that's the ultimate benefit.