Just about every week, specifically Sundays, Dr. Steve Perry, a contributor to CNN’s Education coverage and founder/principal of Capital Prep school, puts into the Twitter-sphere a question of the week. Most of the time, these questions talk about the challenges of education and race in the US. I’ve been following these conversations for a few months, and there’s something interesting that tends to happen during them – Twitter starts to almost look organized around different branches to the answers of this conversation. Thorugh my involvement in these and similar conversations, I”ve noticed a few traits which happen which might shed some light as to how we can come to conclusions towards the effectiveness of social networks to instigate change on larger scales.
The conversation starter retweets most (if not all) of the responses to the original question. There’s not an official hashtag for this Sunday discussion. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of us wouldn’t want to “waste” the characters on the hashtag and the ‘@’ mention to Dr. Perry. Therefore, this retweeting of the initial responses serves as a means to ground the answerer into the main branch of the conversation, while also allowing you to follow the discussion without following each of the individual participants.
Now, there was a chat on Twitter some time back that did have a hastag and a very vibrant following. #educhat was a very popular destination which helped to cement Twitter as a conversational experience, not just a broadcasting one. Within the archives of these chats, you can see everything from shared resources to heated discussions. Unfortunately, the level of administration needed to the talk because of a bot infestation (automated responders, activated by keywords, hashtags, and other algorithims) caused this chat to be terminated as a formal exercise. Its in this comparison to Dr. Perry’s Sunday chat that you do wonder what might the end result be (this article on hashtag-maintained threads seems to indicate that there is something to be gained or better retreivable when using the hashtag) . And at the same time, those conversations which do come forth are quite engaging.
Conversations don’t instigate many tangents or links to self-promotions. For those of us who spend a decent amount of time in forms or conversational blogs, we are familiar with a good discussion also having its share of self-promotions – whether that’s a link to a website or relevant article. There just aren’t many of these during this discussion. Again, there’s a limit to how much can go into 140 characters (- the @drsteveperry mention to ground the conversation). So, you get these shortened, specific answers, and more often than not questions for later tweets to clarify or amplify.
Lastly, there’s a refreshing of Twitter’s broadcast ears. If you will, being involved in the discussion, or simply following Dr. Perry, you begin to see the depth of personalities and perspectives which contribute to the overall atmosphere of Twitter. And even if those contributing might have a timeline full of non-educational pursuits, the Sunday conversation serves to be this ideals forum for at least pulling together a cabinet of responses. This is similar to some of the insights shared by Howard in his discussion about literracy in Twitter, and the implications to steering learning events.
I contribute to a few of these conversations on Twitter. Many of them are grouped using a hashtag, and occur during a set time (event-based, weekly, or monthly) in addition to sharing some of the above characteristics. The wealth in these is that we get to see firsthand how communities self-select and form based around passionate ideas and personalities. From these connections, gaining a sense of a broader issue, even towards the benefit of developing solutions, becomes evident.
As for these Sunday conversations, the wealth of insight towards the state of education, what’s changing/not changing, and the impact of legislation on local, regional, and national (USA) levels is enough to turn anyone’s lazy Sunday into a time or reflection, refocusing, and reinventing.
You can connect with Dr. Steve Perry’s question of the week by paying attention to his Twitter account (@drsteveperry) on Sunday’s. The question is usually posted sometime after 10AM EST. As for other self-organizing chats on Twitter, it might be good advise to simply follow the news topics most likely to generate conversation and resulting activity (PDF link).
If you have similar conversations happening on Twitter or other social networks, post about it in the comments with the relevant conersation starter or hashtag.