Twitter is a Public Library!

Earlier today, I read a post on the importance of the language we use when we talk about education.  It  made me think about some of the listening I have done this year when I ask educators why they are not using social media for their professional learning.

At the OPC/CPCO/ADFO Symposium in November, many school leaders at my table told me that they had not really found any value in using Twitter until they heard George Couros talk about it.

In December, I was honoured to be asked to spend a few hours with the Lakehead Public Schools Inspire Program, leading a session for educators on the use of social media in the classroom.  While I loved working with teachers, I still felt I was not really hitting the mark in demonstrating the value of Twitter for professional learning.

Just before Christmas, I was asked to work with another group of educators who needed to learn more about how to use Twitter.  This time, I really thought about the language I was going to use.  I knew from my earlier experiences that I needed to demonstrate value in order to get my point across and have the educators own the learning.

I wondered if the words “Twitter” and “social media” had so many other connotations that it was turning people off the idea of using them professionally.  Language is deeply connected to attitudes and beliefs.  If social media is considered to be “unprofessional” or Twitter is known as a “waste of time”, it’s challenging to reverse that way of thinking

I happened to read a post by George Couros that compared You Tube to a library.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.48.17 PMEducators value and understand libraries as places where you go to find information.  When you think about it, that is all Twitter really is – a place where you go to find information.

Just like in a library, we need the skills to find what we are looking for.

If we think of Twitter as just a huge stream of information being sent out from people all over the world all the time, the value comes in understanding how to search Twitter to find what you are looking for.

Since I had only a few minutes to try to demonstrate how Twitter could be of value, I focused on thinking of Twitter as a library that is available to everyone 24/7.  I demonstrated how to use Twitter without creating a personal account.  I did this to save time, but also to address many fears associated with social media and digital footprints.  We were using Twitter while remaining completely anonymous.

We used the Twitter search page, and we learned the difference between searching for any topic (such as “Thunder Bay”, and searching using a hashtag (such as #TBay).

I compared using hashtags to learning to use the card catalog in a library.  You need to learn specific skills to find the information you need, and learning what hashtags to search is a valuable way to find out what is happening.

We learned a number of different hashtags that would be helpful in their work in Ontario education, such as:







Using language associated with something that is valued (“library”) instead of feared (“social media”), and focusing on using Twitter as an open resource (rather than moving directly to connected, participatory learning) allowed me to quickly demonstrate that social media had value to educators.

While I am committed to the importance of connected learning and sharing, we do have to meet learners where they are right now.  The strategy of comparing Twitter to something that was already valued and understood (a library) helped several educators see that social media can indeed be a valuable resource for professional learning.




11 thoughts on “Twitter is a Public Library!

  1. Hi Donna,

    I love you analogy! I often try to explain the power of Twitter to folks as well, and haven’t always been successful. I think this will help many to have a better grasp on what Twitter can be! Thanks.

  2. Fantastic idea! I too am finding resistance when I use the terms “twitter” and “social media.”

    I have also adopted the term “professional learning network” as well – rather than “followers/following” – it seems safer to many of my hesitant colleagues.

  3. Some great thoughts. Nothing could be more important than the language we use. I wonder why the teachers were reluctant to embrace Twitter? Did they say? I love Twitter, but I know I sometimes turn it off because, as a colleague said, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. And sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s a little too shiny. The picture painted by educators who aren’t in the classroom is often intimidating to those of us that are. It’s a library for sure, but a lot of the info seems disconnected from the work we do in the actual classroom, esp. when you look at some of those hashtags. I wonder if they might be more receptive if you asked them why they didn’t use social media. If you asked them what they were working on in their classrooms, and what they were wondering about, and then showed them some of the info that could be found to specifically help them, I think you might find it works even better. If you could show them how to connect with other classrooms doing similar things, other teachers who teach the same things… Like you said, it’s all in how you frame it.

    1. Hi Alicia;

      Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts here. I really appreciate your contributions to the discussion.

      I agree that there is a lot of noise on Twitter. There are people who promote themselves more than student learning, but it is a public forum, so if it is to be useful for our learning, we need to learn to funnel what we need from the noise.

      Learning to build an effective Twitter stream is critical.

      I use lists extensively to sort the voices out of the stream that I want to listen to, though I do work hard not to put myself into a bubble by following a diverse range of people and spending a bit of time – 10 minutes – in the full flow each day.

      Twitter is a tool. Learning to use the tool in a way that is effective for your learning is most important. Learning to find the people who can help teach you to do that is also important.

      In fact, I would say that being online and developing those extensive digital literacies is most important of all.

      It takes time to really build those literacies, and you make some very valid points that help us think about how to support our colleagues in getting there.

      Thank you for being part of the conversation.

  4. Great analogy! I think people resist because they think Twitter & Facebook & all the others are the same. They don’t realize Twitter offers a very specific kind of social media experience. I love my Twitter #PLN!

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