I was asked this question yesterday on, not surprisingly, Twitter. I've talked quite a bit about ways to use Twitter in the classroom that maximizes participation and minimizes distractions. It's a tough balancing act and one that many teachers may not want to undertake.
That, in fact, is completely OK. We have teachers in our district who are such good classroom instructors that they can bring a group of rowdy freshmen into a circle of desks and speak in "inside voices," holding a class's attention throughout a lecture or discussion. They are engaging, promote discourse, and work well in an interactive lecture format.
We have other teachers who are equally gifted, but run a much looser classroom, with frequent group work, animated discussions, and volume levels that might worry the average principal.
Others run an incredibly tight ship, sticking more to college lecture-style formats. Many other styles emerge as teachers find their groove with classes. Those of us who have been in the classroom know how important classroom management is and how vital it is to adapt our styles to our students and to the content we're presenting.
That being said, Twitter is not for everyone. It's simply another tool that we can make available to teachers. It isn't the be-all-to-end-all of classroom tools, but it does have a lot of potential, in my opinion. So how do we show that potential to teachers so that they can decide for themselves?
Here's my plan. At the end of the school year, we're looking to build in some professional development time for teachers. If I have my way about it, a chunk of it will be spent in the computer lab looking at Google Apps so that they can use it over the summer and be ready to run with it at the beginning of the year. Before those training sessions, I will get consent from interested teachers to create a Twitter account (updates protected) for each of them and set them all up to follow each other. Yes, this will be a lot of work, but I want it to be as easy as possible at first, so we can focus on the functionality rather than the training.
During the training, I'll have TweetDeck installed in the computer labs and show them how to sign in, how to search, and explain the fundamentals of Twitter (message length, retweets, DMs, replies, hash tags, etc.). We'll then establish conventions for search terms (those items in tweets preceeded by the # symbol). Thus, #AHS could be used for Athol High School teachers. If each participant sets up a search in TweetDeck for #AHS, they can easily weed out the useful from the irrelevant.
Similarly, if we set up a tag for #DQuest (short for Dawson Questions), then I can run TweetDeck on the projection machine and answer questions as they come up if I search for that term.
Clearly, this could be an easy communication tool inside the school with teachers, even if they decide not to use it in class. Most teachers leave their computers on with a web browser open; TweetDeck could be running as well with some predefined searches: #AHSadmin (message from an administrator at the high school), #AHSquest (general question from a teacher to the school community); AHSguide (messages from guidance).
Again, this may not be for everyone, but until teachers see it in action, it's pretty hard to actually describe Twitter. If anyone else has done similar trainings or experiments, let me know.