Friday, January 22, 2010

A Standing Ovation for "Tweeps"

You’ve probably seen the commercial. Two exasperated teens telling their parents that all this social media use has got to stop. The parents are invading worlds formerly considered havens of youth-only interaction. Partway through the role reversal, the father sends out a “tweet” that says something like, “I am sitting on the patio right now.”

If that’s your only exposure to tools like Twitter, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s all a ridiculous waste of time. But this morning, I’m thankful that such frivolous tools exist. More importantly, I’m thankful for the individuals who make these frivolous tools incredibly valuable.

I don’t remember why I first got on Twitter. It probably resulted from frequent mentions on National Public Radio or something similar. I learned quickly about tools that would help me follow conversations on topics I had an interest in, and soon was “following” several other educators. These “tweeps” were mostly individuals I’d never met, but we had common interests and this provided a basis for conversation.

Yesterday, I held in my hands a copy of a book I’d written—a first for me, and I was overwhelmed by the experience. No, it’s not like holding your firstborn child, I realize, but I was nearly struck dumb by it anyway. (In fact, the printer interpreted my silence as dissatisfaction with the result. Nothing could be further from the truth!) I opened the book almost immediately to the Acknowledgments. There they were—individuals from my life who invested in me and had made this moment possible. I hope they understand the depth of my gratitude for what they gave and see the book as a product of the grace that flowed through them as they contributed to my life.

But a critical group is missing, and this morning I want them to know how much I value them. My “tweeps,” “Personal Learning Network,” or whatever you want to call the group of individuals with whom I interact on Twitter, deserve a standing ovation. Why?

Because they expanded your world. It’s easy to find people to validate your thinking as long as you remain in your confined world. But on Twitter, I found colleagues who would challenge my thinking, expand my thinking, and force me to consider perspectives and scenarios I had not previously. This fosters my own growth and forces me to find support for my ideas. An opinion is a fine thing, but if you want it considered seriously by others, you need to offer honest and valid support for it. My colleagues on Twitter exhort me to find such support, offer ideas of their own, and refine, strengthen, and sometimes redirect my conclusions.

Because they cheer you on. My wife often talks about the “graciousness” of the Twitter “community.” I’ve certainly had support from individuals I see on a regular basis, but my Twitter colleagues have been there almost daily. Even if they disagree with me on occasion, they support me as I take chances. I know from experience that 140 characters can be just enough to encourage a person to persevere.

Because they share their thinking. I’m astounded at the brilliance of the individuals I follow on Twitter. Their thinking about education is not trite. It’s far deeper than the conversations I typically have in faculty lounges, and I’m exhilarated by the quality of the ideas and their expression. Want to find individuals who can change education for the better? Follow the people I do on Twitter. Every aspect of education gets a full examination and the recommended diagnoses and treatment plans are almost always worth serious consideration.

I could go on. More than half of the pre-publication endorsements of my book are from individuals I “met” on Twitter. I refer to many of the people I follow as friends. In fact, if you heard me talk about them without knowing my connection to them, you’d think they were people I’d met in the “real world.” I get excited for them as they encounter life-changing events. I feel frustration when they struggle. They’ve become more than a community of colleagues connected via technology.

So, I want to acknowledge this amazing group. Thank you for running along side me as I traveled the journey to publication. Thank you for expanding my world, cheering me on, and sharing your potentially world-changing thinking. Let’s continue running together. Who knows, maybe they’ll use us in a future commercial to show the world the real value that can be found in seemingly frivolous tools. It’s not the tool itself that lifts it from the ridiculous to the remarkable. It’s the quality of the individuals who choose to join the community it creates. Please join me in a standing ovation for such individuals.

Image: 'Prelude To A Successful Career In Cultural+Production'


Shelly Terrell said...

Thank you! I love this post. I carry my PLN in my thoughts with me. They really inspire me everyday to be a better educator and person. They make me laugh when I am down and celebrate with me when sometimes others aren't around. In fact, that is what I love about them is that they are always around supporting me, cheering for me, and egging me on.

Congratulations on your book! That is incredible. I hope one day to have the same experience.

Unknown said...

Wow, this is such a great explanation on the power of Twitter and the unbelievable value that a PLN adds for individuals.

I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts and often try to articulate my feelings about my PLN to others. I struggle to put into words the depth of my appreciation for these amazing people.

The value of my "TWEEPS" far exceeds any other education/professional development experience I have had through conferences, higher ed. courses, workshops etc.

Thanks for giving me the words to explain the meaning of all this! I will be using this as a reference.

Flem said...

Great post! I learn a tremendous amount from this very focused way of learning exactly what I need from those with similar philosophies and needs. I feel that I rarely have anything to contribute that is as valuable as what I read from others so I try to pass on to my colleagues the gems I get from people like you who stay on top of current work.

Unknown said...

Wow. What a terrific post! You've rendered me nearly word-less, something that rarely happens.

David Peter said...

Even though it's easy to use 140 characters to convey a thought, ask a question, share an idea ... I value your contributions to this network of professional learners.

I guess the best I can say is "Thanks for all that you've done, and will continue to do. You have made a difference."

Anthony said...

Congratulations on the book Kevin. As an educator, you have provided me great ideas and inspiration that improve my work as an instructor. Thank you for the work you put into your blog for as David said earlier, you do make a difference.