Last night, a few people came together to inaugurate the first #artsed chat on Twitter. Our discussion proved why and how Twitter is important, not just to our conversation, but to all conversations. Here's how it works: you have 140 characters to express your thought or send your message or update your status or build a tribe. You choose who you want to listen to, but anyone can listen to you (unless you block them). Or you can join together under a topic by identifying that topic with a hashtag (#). Then, you can follow topics, not just people. Twitter is perfect for someone like me. I am insatiably curious. I want to know everything. It's a virtual conference reception. A lot of people are moving around from one conversation to another. Some are focused on one conversation. I started the #artsed hashtag more than a year ago to try make it easier for me to learn about what the world was thinking about #artsed in 140 characters or fewer. I follow #artsed, #education, #edchat, #blacked and whatever conference is going on at the time. I tweet about all of those things and put the #topic in my tweet so that I can also let all the other people that follow that # hear what I'm saying (if they're in the virtual room at that moment). Unlike a conference, the transcript of that conversation is saved (now by the Library of Congress) so you can rewind and find what was said when you weren't in the room. And, if anyone says anything about you or liked what you said and tells their followers about it, you find out about that too. (It's instant gratification for the narcissist in all of us. "They like me. They really like me." Or, sometimes for famous people, "They hate me. Stop yelling at me.") The #artsed chat was focused pretty quickly by a rapid fire of thoughts and responses from really smart people. We learned we want a national dialogue in arts education that includes what we called the four legs of the chair: school arts specialists, arts and cultural organizations, teaching artists and classroom teachers. But did we want to make the tent larger? Shouldn't it also include the policy-makers and funders and the machinery of what keeps arts ed going? To do this we need data, but the data is not available. We don't even know how many hours of instruction kids get in the arts. Who would collect and analyze the data? Should WE start the data collection through the democratic institution that is Twitter? We have a lot to talk about that isn't discussed at conferences or in teacher lounges. Can we get enough of our community to join the crazy world of Twitter? You have to be comfortable with open-endedness. What is hard for people is that there's a learning curve for Twitter. It feels like everything is an interruption on Twitter. It really is like a reception at a conference. And, the more people there are, the harder it is to follow the train of thought, especially if you're contributing. "Who am i talking to? Now, someone else is answering me about something i said 10 minutes ago." It's messy. But inside that river of information is useful stuff that you didn't know anything about, but helps to solve the problem that you're experiencing right now in your field. You have to use a different operating system in your mind. But once the switch flips, you can find its potential for having a national dialogue. Everyone is heard by someone. (Side note: this has great potential for researchers. We want to create a movement here. We should all be doing action research on how it all goes. Let's let Twitter help us document the conversation and we can study that also.) I'm still learning how to work parts of Twitter. I've never been an Twitter organizer before. I'm researching the best way to archive the chat in a way that is useful. I promise to let you know as soon as I find out. What do you think about all this? Help us find our way. We could really do something here.
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