Why teachers should tweet more? Especially if you’re an introvert

I am an introvert who has gotten a lot better at being extroverted. But that doesn’t make it easy. I know the feeling of being closed off in a classroom with students all day, and when you need help from another teacher, they are just too stressed or busy to help. But somewhere out there is an educator waiting to help. My most recent revelation has convinced me to take my twitter game up a notch.

Truth be told, this is written by an educator who has not tweeted a lot, and when he does, it is with varying frequency. This, however, is a turning point for me. You may still be reluctant to use something like twitter, whether it is your naturally quiet personality, or fear of becoming a Kardashian-watcher. From the advice of my teaching friends and the mind of of Susan Cain, not using a tool like twitter is incomprehensible. I don’t need you use twitter at all, but when you feel like you need support from another teacher, twitter could be the answer.

Recently, a friend of mine hosted a session at Edcampde called Twitter101: Twitter for Educators. He opened with this quiz, stating the questions for all of us in the group to answer.

  1. How do you say “blue” in French? ____________________________
  2. How many feet are in a mile? _______________________________
  3. How many spaces are on a chessboard? ______________________
  4. What is Elton John’s real name? _____________________________
  5. What is the distance between Earth and the Moon? ______________
  6. What is the name of the lieutenant governor of Delaware? _________ (trick question)
  7. What is the capital of Honduras?_____________________________
  8. What are Dolch words?____________________________________
  9. What is the Higgs boson particle? ____________________________
  10. Name a player from the Kansas City Royals _________________
  1. How many chickens are there in Delaware? ___________________

As he read the questions aloud, someone would call out an answer, mostly correct, and sometimes corrected by another member of the group. At least one person in the group knew the answer to almost all of the questions, but it was clear that none of us knew the answer to all of them. The score of the group would have been much higher than each individual. My friend shared a quote from David Weinberger, “The smartest person in the room is the room.”

This morning, I continued to listen to the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain on my iPod. In chapter 3, the author discusses our inherently inaccurate belief in groupthink and group brainstorming. Using data from numerous psychological studies, she proves that individuals working alone generate more, higher quality ideas than those working as a group. Not only do groups come up with fewer, worse ideas, but the larger the group, the less successful they will be. Immediately, I thought back to my friend’s presentation; he’s wrong. But then I found out that he was actually even more correct than he may have known.

Cain went on to explain that, while a group of four people in a room will come up with fewer, worse ideas than four individuals working on their own, a group of four individuals working individually (in terms of space), but connected through an online tool, will be more successful than the individuals on their own. Not only will the connected individuals be more successful, but in contrast to the previous problem of larger groups being less productive, the larger the online group, the more successful they will be.

The statement, “the smartest person in the room is the room” is inaccurate because it makes two problematic assumptions. One, we assume the person in the room with the correct answer will share it. Two, we assume the room will accept that correct answer. Cain describes an activity for incoming students at the Harvard Business School, called the Subarctic Survival Situation, highlighting the problems with these assumptions. As one group of students attempts to choose the most important items from a plane crash, one student in the group with a great deal of outdoor experience shares his ideas. Yet, he is consistently overruled by the loudest members of the group simply because he didn’t share his ideas with enough conviction, illustrating the fact that introverts are less likely to share their ideas and extroverts are more likely to have their ideas accepted, even if they are incorrect.

How does twitter help? Well, it is a tool that counters the two assumptions. It gives individuals the space to work alone and generate great thinking, at the same time allowing a group of individuals to share correct answers. It levels the playing field for introverts and extroverts to a certain degree, making it optimal for developing ideas. It allows for introverts to share a correct answer without the social fear of judgment, and makes sure that the volume of a person’s voice can’t dominate the conversation. 140 characters can only be so loud.

During the presentation, my friend described a scenario in which he needed to learn about the Higgs boson particle. All he had to do was post the question to his twitter followers, and he was soon met with a response that not only provided resources to explain the particle, but also how to teach it to students.

I don’t want to claim that Twitter is perfect, or that it will solve all of our teaching problems, but for those of us who hesitate to tweet about our teaching, or to pose questions to other teachers through twitter, I hope this is motivation to turn the corner. I know it is for me. After hearing these studies and making these connections, you can be sure that I will be more active on twitter as an educator. If you want to join me, my handle is @cloeff33. Hope to see you there.

I also know that what I have just written will have gaps and misunderstandings. My hope is that by sharing this blog, someone will point out these failings and help me learn from them. This is my first blog in a long time and failure is inevitable. Learning from those missteps, however, could be the most important part of the experience. So, thanks in advance for your support and feedback.

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