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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

We live in an incredibly exciting time. My recent visit to @jeffpulver's #140conf in San Francisco reinforced just how exciting a time it is. Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site, has quickly dominated the social media space. In a matter of six months, Twitter has doubled its tweets per month to an impressive two billion tweets. That's worth repeating: two billion tweets per month.

At Edutopia, I spend a good amount of my time on Twitter, connecting with a vibrant community of educators. I'm continually impressed and inspired by the education community of Twitter. Many times, I get asked, "What's the ROI of social media?" Jeff Pulver started out the conference with a great definition of the ROI for social media as Return on Innovation and/or Return on Inspiration. Contrary to what some believe, Twitter's not just about referring traffic to your website, increasing sales, or how many followers you have. As Jeff points out, it's so much more. Twitter truly is the one place I rely on for inspirational and innovative resources/educators in education. The relationships I form with the education community are priceless and more and more people are beginning to realize that you can't quantify this.

Despite the amount of time I spend in Twitter everyday, after attending last week's #140conf I realized much of my experience and views of Twitter tended to be solely based on the education community on Twitter. Every day I'm deep in the trenches of Twitter as it relates to education and until now, I haven't taken a breath to discover the innovative things that other industries are doing with Twitter and how those innovations may effect not only our community of educators but the world as we know it.

The Wild West Social Web

Many distinct communities around the world are using Twitter in very impressive ways. Whether it be religion, agriculture, music, social justice, hospitality, or city planning/public safety, Twitter has opened doors for communication and personalization that previously was just not there. In a world being dominated by sales and media, Twitter has made it apparent that relationships and engagement is key to success in this continually evolving Social Web.

@jefffowle, a cattle rancher, and @raylindairy, a dairy farmer, use Twitter to collaborate with other farmers and customers across the country during their regularly scheduled #agchat and #foodchat.

Virgin America revealed how their two person social media team monitors Twitter so closely that they not only ensure satisfaction of their customers but they've differentiated themselves from their competition by doing so. Some stories worth sharing: By combing tweets, Virgin noticed that an in-flight customer hadn't received their sandwich yet. Virgin's team was able to respond by quickly sending a message to the on-flight staff. The staff was able to get the sandwich to the customer and at the same time Virgin was able to demonstrate their fast response time publicly via Twitter. They've even gone as far as helping customer's celebrate notable milestones while in flight. A customer tweeted casually that they just received their PhD. By simply retweeting their comment and asking people on board to buy the customer champagne, it not only made that customer's day, it showed that a brand truly cared and collaborated with other in-flight customers to help her celebrate!

Twitter's also revolutionizing how telecommunication giants are doing customer service. By embracing the power of crowdsourcing through Twitter, they're able to reduce customer service inquiries and increase efficiencies. Hip-hop artists are also jumping on the Twitter bandwagon and engaging with their fan base with an authentic voice and creative tactics. Hip-hop artist, @quincy started migrating his fans from MySpace and managed to cultivate an engaged base of over 58,000 followers by using Ustream, YouTube, and engaging with fans daily.

Although these communities are all using Twitter in different ways, why they are successful with Twitter ultimately has to do with the same concept: engagement and authenticity. Jeff Pulver also reinforced a very powerful point about Twitter: Twitter is still the only platform where a random person can hear your voice and amplify it by retweeting it.

How Can We Make the Case for Social Media in the Classroom?

Every minute I listened to the many speakers at #140conf, I got more and more inspired but my excitement was bittersweet. My mind kept drifting to the state of our schools. Most of our schools are still using filters to block all social networking sites. Although we're living in an incredibly exciting time, we can't even demonstrate it or get our students involved with it. Many would argue that the purpose of education is to create twenty-first century learners and responsible, active community citizens. I ask you, how can we do this without exposing our youth to the tools that are revolutionizing the web and the world as we know it?

We're purposely creating a disconnect with our youth and setting them up to fail in the digital space by simply hiding social media sites because we're too afraid of misuse. Whether we like it or not, our students are already using social media sites. Seventy-three percent of American teens now use social networking websites, according to new study by Pew Internet on Social Media and Young Adults. Are we going to stand aside and watch them engage in social media with their phones and at home? What about teaching our youth about digital footprints, citizenship, and etiquette in this quickly evolving space? As educators, I can't imagine a more important role to take on. The #140conf reminded me that we all have the ability to inspire, it's just a shame that we can't guide our future generation with the tools to do so.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you tried to make the case for allowing social media sites in your school? Are you looking for resources to create policies/procedures to help navigate this new space? Please use the comments below to share. I'll be sharing some of the best resources I've found as well.

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