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Thanks for this excellent post Bill. I recall reading Peter's comment on your post the other day, and resisting the temptation to whip up a somewhat less thoughtful and dispassionate reply than what you've done here. Kudos. Like you, I've found Twitter to act as a kind of "social RSS feed", in which the people I follow curate the fire-hydrant-like stream of information on the web. I find blogs (like yours), news stories, conferences, etc, this way and I grow from this Twitter contribution. This is indeed a kind of social learning. My own thinking is that we're developing a new social epistemology - knowledge is shared, grown, and spread through groups of people. This is easy to see through the #chats on Twitter. And you're right to point out that if we don't teach our students how to participate in this, we're doing them a disservice. More and more I'm learning how different the thinking of my colleagues is when I find their PLNs are so small. I work with very bright people, most more intelligent than me. But I find that I and others with a wide-ranging network of colleagues tend to be more "in the know", and flexible and relevant in our teaching. We're a step ahead in curriculum development, and our students are benefitting. Of course, we owe it to our students to teach them also how to be connected life-long learners. The same way many of us in the edu-PLNs really benefit in our careers needs to be replicated in them. I'm certain that people with small networks will be less effective and less relevant in the future, so we owe it to our students. This is easily as or MORE important than understanding differential equations, Shakespeare, etc. So, right now I'm deep in an inquiry about how to use Twitter with my students. Long-time followers of me and my blog know I've written about this plenty (, and I've only had very mixed results with high school students. Adults get it, but my high schoolers are much less into it. I think there are plenty of good reasons why, not the least of which is that few teachers are pushing their students in this direction so mine have a hard time making connections. Recently I've modified how I use blogs to teach these important lessons and I'm having incredibly good luck. I can tell these students are really getting this "real world learning thing" ( and it's giving me many ideas for moving forward. One of those is to develop a high school bloggers collaborative, through which we can connect students to help build their PLNs. And, importantly, they'll learn in the "social" way you and I know can be so powerful. I'll keep you in the loop on the new project. Thanks for your post, and all the work you do. Cheers.
Thanks for sharing this Bill. I've found Twitter to be useful in class, though not universally appreciated by my students. Many of those who are otherwise 'web savvy' find it plenty of fun. I've written some helpful blog posts for people looking for practical strategies to using Twitter in class: Keep up the good work. Cheers.
You nailed it Peter. The real concern is not that students will find their way to porn or spend time messaging each other (the new 'passing notes in class'), but that dubious internet sites that pass themselves off as legitimate will be readily accessible and misunderstood. I'm thinking of the notorious site that claims to be an education resource for students but is really a MLK-bashing effort run by Stormfront, a white supremacist/neo-nazi group. The fact that this site regularly appears in the top 3 results on Google should make us all take notice: we need to teach students how to navigate the open internet and how to evaluate sources. We do students a major disservice when we 'filter' the internet for inappropriate content (kids don't need us to tell them they shouldn't be looking at porn or passing notes at school) and imply that whatever the filter doesn't catch must be ok. We would be better off giving every teacher and student training in how to use the internet wisely. Thanks for the response!
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Outstanding post, Peter. For teachers concerned about helping students master the skills they'll need for life in the 21st century, your suggestions are essential. When we stop spoon-feeding students our own interpretations of historical events and instead equip them with literacy skills and the critical thinking abilities you argue for in your post, we'll be on the way to producing thoughtful citizens capable of evaluating historical claims. What else should a history teacher do besides teach students how to think like a historian? It's a no-brainer! Thank you for the reminder. I've written about this myself a bit on my blog at Mike Gwaltney
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Jan 9, 2011