Arne’s Twitter Chat Slam Dunk

Arne’s Twitter Chat Slam Dunk


The Twitter “garden hose” metaphor no longer applied to Monday night’s #edtechchat. This, truthfully, was a tsunami.

With more than 10,000 tweets from over 1,500 unique handles, educators came to the table in full force from every state of the union to participate in a dialogue with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In fact, the #Edtechchat hashtag was trending before the chat even began.

Professional relationships take time to grow, and Duncan’s relationship with the connected community should be no different.  When educators first meet each other online, we don’t attack and ask deliberately polarizing questions. That behavior shuts down dialogue. As these relationships develop, then we begin to push each other’s thinking, asking for clarification, questioning assumptions, challenging each other to be better. This takes time and openness. Tom Whitby, co-founder of the original #EdChat, did a nice job of explaining the dilemma for high-profile figures like Secretary Duncan who want to become connected.

Though Duncan held a Twitter town hall meeting in 2011, the format of a twitter chat is quite different. Aside from managing the increased volume and preparing those new to chats, the #edtechchat team and myself wanted to showcase the power and leveling effect that Twitter can have, and so approached the chat with Secretary Duncan as we would any other guest moderator. On his end, Duncan followed the suggested format our team uses every week, inserting his own questions about what it means to be a connected educator.

Though Secretary Duncan risked criticism and attack when he committed to an hour-long live Twitter chat, the connected community honored that risk by engaging respectfully. Does this mean that all participating educators agreed with him during the chat? No, not at all, but they showed up to the conversation ready to listen, to share, and to engage. They were responsible digital citizens.

So how was the overall experience? Though some participants expressed disappointment that Duncan didn’t engage with more educators, I know from firsthand experience that there was no way to keep up--and I do this every week.. All previous guest moderators have been part of the connected educator community, and are used to either moderating or guest moderating other chat sessions. Not only has Duncan not moderated other chat sessions, but this was the first one that he has participated in, at least under his official account. And for those twenty or so educators with whom he did engage personally, their week was made. Any time anyone questions their time on Twitter, the response, “Well, it did allow me to speak with Arne Duncan,” has some power.

To continue the discussions that sprung up during the chat, Duncan’s office will analyze the Edtechchat archives (all 131 pages of it, if printed!) to identify key issues,  and perhaps even identify educators to contact for more insight.

What will Duncan and others find upon reviewing the feed? Here are some of the common themes observed by the #edtechchat team:

It’s Speed Tweeting Time!

  • Educators recognized and were appreciative of Duncan’s desire to engage and his willingness to take the hour to moderate. (Check out Molly Shields’ blog.)

  • Educators were still participating in typical conversations with each other throughout the chat, despite the high-profile guest. The chat was really multiple conversations taken place all at once and intermingled.

  • When it comes to issues, there’s a deep frustration in the connected community about a widespread lack of bandwidth and Wi-Fi. After being deluged with comments related to this issue, Duncan shared a link to his plan to increase bandwidth across the US.

  • Equally frustrating for educators are district policies that restrict access. When Brian Crosby expressed frustration that everything was banned at his schools and asked what could be done to open those districts, Duncan responded, ”Let me know who they are.”  Those schools may be getting a call!

  • Many educators also noted the need for increased professional development across the board. Teachers and administrators are being asked to shift their practices, infuse technology meaningfully, and be held accountable by new policies. They need training to be effective.  

  • And Duncan has a sense of humor. When early tweeps were commenting that the warm-up conversation was like a pre-game program, Duncan tweeted that he was “stretching, getting warmed up, practicing my speed tweeting.”

What Happens Next?

When Gerald Aungst, supervisor of gifted and elementary mathematics in Cheltenham Township, PA, asked Duncan about next steps, Duncan shared that “one immediate follow-up is that I’ll encourage other members of my team to stay connected.”

Duncan also genuinely seemed to want feedback on a Department of Education plan to create connected educator badges, so tell him what you think by tweeting @arneduncan!  If you have other ideas, share your thoughts.

The #edtechchat team will also record one of the regular podcasts for BAM! Radio to share insights from the chat.

While Secretary Duncan is a very busy man, #edtechchat co-moderators would welcome him as a moderator--or just as a drop-in tweeter anytime.  The smartest person in the room is the room--so taking advantage of the connected community could help Duncan create and implement policies that truly address the needs of teachers and students. The connected educator community will tell him what they really think and need, not just what they think he wants to hear.

So, President Obama, any interest in guest moderating #edtechchat?

*Katrina Stevens is one of the co-founders of #edtechchat.

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