Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is anybody listening – oh, oh / No reply at all…

The Math Forum (@themathforum) sent out a tweet the other day about You Tube’s search for the Next EDU Gurus.  I did a decent amount of work with vodcasting while a student in Drexel’s Master of Science in Mathematics Learning and Teaching Program so I was excited to see what the contest was all about.  Unfortunately, after reading the details my excitement grew into frustration.  Despite being popular, flipped classrooms that introduce content at home to allow more in-class interaction do not always actively engage students in problem solving or critical thinking.  While the examples that YouTube provided (setting historical events to music, doodling geometry, and singing Shakespeare) might be as they say “compelling” I don’t see how they provide students with rich and authentic out-of-class learning experiences.  What does this have to do with Twitter you might be asking?  I remember watching an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians  last year (go ahead and pass judgment, but – as Matt Labash observed – even the most intellectual television shows aren’t much more intellectual than the middle schoolers I used to teach) where Kim got into a Twitter war with her friend Jonathan Cheban and I was afraid of starting my own battle.

I personally do not feel that Sal Khan is an EDU Guru.  There is no doubt that he is a business guru – in six years he grew his “classroom” from a few hundred students to more than 4 million per month – and even a technology guru – his videos are at the heart of the online education trend (which I am a big proponent of considering that I completed my entire master’s degree online).  However, in my opinion, the Khan Academy videos promote what a former colleague of mine referred to as memorizing for the moment instead of learning for a lifetime.  It just took me over 500 characters to say that.  On Twitter, I would have written “@themathforum It’s unfortunate that Khan is a judge-his videos are nothing more than tech-enhanced versions of the lectures I got in school”.  While both versions boil down to the same thing, the second is far more inflammatory because I am able to give my opinion but not explain it.  Not yet sure of many of Twitter’s social norms (which I hope people will help me learn by commenting on this blog) I was afraid that I might make enemies before people really knew anything about me.  So instead I wrote, “@themathforum Wondering what others think of YouTube’s examples of ‘great educational content’”.

In the end, it didn’t matter what I wrote because I got no replies.  At first I was extremely disappointed.  I believed that I had posed a thoughtful question that people would want to share their opinions on, but not fight about.  Perhaps I was wrong, but I think the larger issue is that my tweet was only seen by four people.  It turns out that when you start a tweet with a username only that person and people who are following both you and that person see it.  Notwithstanding sending a direct message, a reply is the most “private” form of tweeting aside from actually making your tweets private.  If you want to reach users that aren’t following you, but received the tweet that you are commenting on you need to reference it instead of replying to it.  There are several ways to do this:
  • Put a period in front of the username you are replying to (.@themathforum Wondering what others think of YouTube’s examples of “great educational content”)
  • Place the username you are replying to somewhere in the tweet other than at the beginning (Wondering what others @themathforum think of YouTube’s examples of “great educational content”)


  1. I wrote this lovely comment but my phone ate it... next time I'll comment from a computer! But I'll try to re-create it.

    First of all, thanks for explaining about the @ vs. .@ -- I'd always wondered about that and had no idea that @ replies were so private. Thanks!

    Also, one Twitter tip I know of is that tweets are very short-lived. Supposedly ~67% are not seen by any human except their poster. I know that I am on Twitter about every other day, and there's no way I can go back and read all the Tweets I missed in 48 hours. So, if at first, you don't hear from anyone, Tweet, Tweet again. There's a different crowd online during the day vs. in the evening, for example. Try different times of day to see what happens!

    I'll confess, though, I did see the Tweet you're referring to about the Google Education videos. I didn't reply because I was also hesitant about expressing my thoughts in 140 characters. I wanted to value the videos and the way they sparked my interest and made me look at things in a different way, and acknowledge that without some sort of structured learning environment or community, I was highly unlikely to pursue any of those topics to the depth required for beyond cocktail-party learning. The one set of online videos that I do occasionally pursue on my own and really think hard about are James Tanton's (for example:

    Speaking of flipping a classroom, I was just discussing that on Twitter the other day. I posted a blog post from a teacher about her flipped classroom, which I really valued as I read it: I liked the window she gave into how she was making instructional decisions, what she wanted her students to do independently and what she wanted them doing in a learning community. Then I saw this article, about some of the pros and cons of flipping: It seems like the value really depends on the students and teachers -- just like everything in education, it's not "the" solution!

    1. Thanks for sharing the blog post and the article, Max. I participated in another #21stedchat Tweet Chat last night and flipping was the topic. A number of teachers said that they also utilize QR codes to allow students to work at their own pace. Students who are simultaneously on the same assignment get to discuss and collaborate. I worry, though, that this sets up tracks by default and that the "slower" students will never get the opportunity to interact with the more "advanced" students. Of course, any student-to-student interaction is better than none (which is why I believe that flipping is so popular) but for classrooms that previously had whole-class discussions only involving a subpopulation of the class in the conversation now seems like a step backwards.

  2. Private is actually relative. I think in your case, Max, with as many followers as you have, if you respond with @ starting your response to a follower, then it is more likely to be seen by more than a handful of folks since according to:

    this is the rule: "If you start a tweet with @username, it’s a reply. And will only be seen by the person you replied to and people who are following both of you. Nobody else will see it in their stream (although it will show up on your profile page and in Twitter search)."

    What I recently learned is this:
    You can only send a direct message to somebody if they are following you. And vice versa. (Note: you don’t have to both be following each other. Direct messages can be very one-way, i.e., celebrities and their millions of fans.) This is done to protect people from being bombarded with spam. If somebody is bugging you via direct message, unfollow them. Problem solved.

    1. Max and I only share 9 of his 888 followers so if he responded to me using @, about 1% of his followers would see it. On the other hand, if he responded to me using .@ 100% of his followers would see it. Unless it is something very specific to me that he doesn't think others would benefit from seeing, doesn't it make more sense to use .@?