Last week, I participated in my first Tweet Chat. This was a four-hour, pre-arranged Twitter session using the hashtag #wowochat to link tweets together in a virtual conversation. Fellow Walk Out Walk On-er Aerin Dunford and I decided to co-host an inquiry among Walk Outs involved in learning and education. Our invitation was this:
Many educators unsatisfied with our current school systems are walking out of institutions and limiting beliefs about what’s possible. These brave folks are walking on to create new learning spaces outside of formal educational infrastructure; to challenge attachment to grades, diplomas and degrees; and to convene breakthrough conversations.
During this Tweet Chat, we’ll explore questions like:
- What has compelled you to walk out of mainstream education?
- How do you integrate your fears as you step into the unknown?
- What are you called to walk on to now in your life?
- Is it possible to create the new without engaging dominant institutions?
We started at 4 PM Eastern on Wednesday, August 15. Four hours later, there had been 592 tweets posted by 44 contributors which went out to more than 38,000 Twitter accounts. (Click here to read the Tweet Chat log.) Here’s what I learned:
Making meaning is not the point.
I went into this experiment with a high degree of skepticism. My own relationship to social media is somewhat flaky—some days I check in on Twitter and Facebook with schoolgirlish delight; other days I turn my back on it all with supreme ennui. Twitter in particular suffers from my lack of commitment—I’m only fully engaged when something hot is happening (like when I was in Ireland while the Occupy site near my home was being taken down by police). So my expectations of this Tweet Chat were that I’d cross it off my checklist of Social Media Experiments and move on.
But after a week of reflecting on the experience, I find myself unable to write it off. Despite the lack of depth, labyrinthine threads, and disruptive re-tweets, I did pick up a few insights along the way. I learned that it’s essential to embrace divergence and dissonance as we create collective learning spaces. I learned that while the current education system isn’t working, it holds a massive—and valuable—bank of social capital (@happyseaurchin). I learned that the people who break the rules best are the ones who understand them intimately (@brunogirin). And I learned that whether on the street or online, real relationships can’t occur where power relationships prevent authentic behavior (@schoolingworld).
I also was reminded how hungry Walk Outs are to connect with other Walk Outs. As @blueathena14 told us “I’ve been following [the chat] and suddenly don’t feel crazy. Nice to have others say what you think!” And @trescolumnae confirmed, “Yes, loneliness is pervasive in the process, isn’t it? Speaks to importance of finding/building community.”
So is that what we’re up to? Does exchanging 140 characters with people you’ve never met but who are asking similar questions count as building community? Or creating collective intelligence? Or advancing a practice?
My instinct is to say no. Communities are created among people who share a commitment to one another, live in the same place or have a common sense of ownership—none of that is present among us on Twitter. Collective intelligence emerges as we create greater wisdom than the sum of our individual perspectives—but Twitter engages individuals in broadcasting their thoughts, more often than not without listening to one another. And we hardly have a shared practice to advance.
And yet, something did get created in that four-hour session. It feels incredibly subtle to me, but it’s there—a sense of presence, companionship, acknowledgement, camaraderie. I “met” and reconnected with some fellow Walk Outs. I know that if I were to convene an in-person gathering to deepen my learning about how to walk on to create enriching learning spaces, I’d want to invite @yeyoenoax, @hackofalltrades, @acuginotti, @complexified,
@monk51295, @lexschroeder, and many others.
I’m still a luddite when it comes to creating meaningful learning through social media. But I’m beginning to accept there is at least one set of conditions that calls for this kind of connecting—conditions that most Walk Outs find themselves in. When it’s hard to find our peers, when we feel like we’re pioneering something our own community doesn’t understand, it’s critical to look further afield to find others who are walking a similar path. That companionship reinvigorates our commitment and courage to persevere, to continue experimenting, even when we face failure after failure. It makes us yearn to be together—and perhaps even to find a way to make that happen.
So Aerin (@aerindunford) and I (@dfrieze) came away with two thoughts. First, we’re up for hosting another Tweet Chat. And second, we think it might be time to call Walk Outs together to gather in person.
Beware, social media skeptics: All that online interaction just might roll off the internet and into the world.