The Remarkable Power of Twitter: A Water Cooler for the 21st Century

OK, so I'm a regular on Twitter, and proud of it. I guess that makes me a Tweep, and if you aren't, I've got something to tell you.
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OK, so I'm a regular on Twitter, and proud of it. I guess that makes me a Tweep, and if you aren't, I've got something to tell you.

There are lots of folks that think Twitter is where you go when you've got this intense need to broadcast to the world what you had for lunch. Mostly these are folks that stay away from Twitter 'cause they either don't understand it or its power as a social medium. But there are also a whole bunch of Tweeps out there that do think I'm interested in their lunch today--let's call them lunchies.

So to Twitter avoiders, and to the lunchies, I'd like to add my two cents. Twitter is a water cooler for the 21st century. At this cooler you can meet fellow human beings from across the planet, and share thoughts about life, our world, and our children--common thoughts that bind us all, regardless of nationality. In an age when as never before humanity faces a perfect storm of global problems, it's precisely this kind of water cooler you'd like to see, and to frequent.

Twitter allows countless users (yes, the Tweeps) to send their messages (Tweets) into the cyber aether, forming an immense Public Stream. It is a place where all messages are equal, and each is nothing more than a human thought compressed into 140 characters. From the shores of the great Public Stream, you can see the messages flow by. There goes one from a teacher who's had a tough day. I think I'll reach out to her with a link, and tell her why her job is so important. There goes a link to an article on nuclear proliferation from a Pakistani perspective. Gee, I wonder what their thinking might be. There's a thought from the President of the United States. Hey Mr. President, did you see the open letter I wrote to you on the crisis in science education? And that person over there is proposing a regular time on Twitter to have a national conversation about science education (oh that's me!) And yes, there goes a message from a guy who says he had a tuna sandwich for lunch.

But to be part of a social community, you can't just watch the messages flow by. (You could, but that passive trolling for information is the old, dark ages internet experience.) You need to wade into the stream, and find folks with whom you'd like to strike up a conversation, and Tweet your own thoughts into the Public Stream. So Twitter makes it so. You can decide to 'Follow' any of the Tweeps in the Twitterverse, and Mr. Twitter will pull all the Tweets of those that you Follow from the Public Stream, and feed them to you as your own continuous thread of human consciousness. You can also create lists of favorites, so the consciousness can be distilled as you see fit. And the sum total of all of those Tweeps you Follow make up your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Conversely, folks might think YOUR thoughts--your Tweets--are deep and insightful, maybe 'cause you are a fellow lunchie, and so they decide to Follow you--these are your 'Followers'.

The most remarkable experience I have on Twitter, and it's right up there with the very best learning experiences I've ever had over my lifetime as an educator, an astrophysicist, and a learner, is #edchat. Every Tuesday night at 7:00 pm Eastern Time, I join hundreds of educators from across the planet that get comfortable in front of their computers--a very local and personal experience--and have a global, free-for-all conversation about education. The operation of Twitter as the vehicle for communication quickly recedes into the background, and you enter into a world of rapid-paced vibrant conversations with folks as committed as you to sharing important ideas. You leave with new thoughts, new directions, a reinvigorated sense that the issues of importance to you are also important to others--providing a common bond, and you embrace friends you've never met but that you deeply understand.

I am so impressed with #edchat to address diverse topics like education reform, recipes for success and failure in the classroom, implementation of new educational technologies, and assessment, that we (the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education) have decided to launch in May 2010 our own weekly scheduled Twitter chat on Science Education. Help me gauge interest! If you think you might want to participate, let me know by leaving a comment below.

Recently I looked back at my archive of Tweets that I've sent over the months, and some (at least to me) seem funny, compelling .... why, even thought-provoking. (Feel free to disagree!) Who says you can't frame really big ideas in 140 characters. So below are a number of recent Tweets selected from conversations I've had with friends across my PLN, and as part of that truly remarkable weekly experience #edchat.

And hey, if you don't do Twitter, maybe you ought to give it a try ... and if you are already a Tweep, well cool! But regardless, I'm right here, right now, formally inviting you to Follow me on Twitter at (assuming you are not a lunchie), and I'll Follow you back!

Some Tweetisms

On the Environment:

BREAKING NEWS: Humans angry that ash from volcano interrupts their lives. Planet apologizes 4 terrible inconvenience.

Fred & Barney? Lived long ago, so must b dumb. They drove rock cars that weighed a ton ... we're smarter now.

DENIAL DAILY NEWS: Earth wanders off axis, heads 4 Sun. #Climate change deniers blame raging inferno on conspiracy by science community.

On Our Existence:

Question: Was Mr. Magoo just lucky? Or did the world conspire to move under his feet in a way that made life joyful ... at least for him?

Sometimes the issues that are in plain sight are the hardest to see.

On Education:

If we treat our learners as so many pegs to push thru holes, where is the humanity in that? Where is the joy in learning?

We are teaching to the test because it is the educational path of least resistance for results ... & a disgrace to education.

KEY IRONY - you can teach the wrong things really well, get rewarded for teaching it well, and our kids and nation will all suffer.

On Education Reform - 6 MILLION teachers in the US, 1 out of 50 Americans, need a coherent voice.

Let's test to see if all the testing has taken all the joy out of our classrooms, and if we find it hasn't, let's test 'til it does.

On Science:

ASTROLOGY DEPT NEWS: "Hey Ralph, what are the #zodiacfacts today?" "Who cares, let's use the dart board like we always do."

Why do I get the feeling there's an Anti-Science Movement? Hey followers - no more medicine, vaccines, cell phones, TV, computers.

Does anyone know where Blindfaithyland is? Can't seem to find it on Google Maps. But it must exist....lots of folks swear by it.

The Doctorjeff Funnies:

New adage: If we were meant to fly, we'd have ...... a brain that could engineer a flying machine.

TECH NEWS: Toyota engineers find Prius problem: accelerator incorrectly placed where brake pedal should be.

Help!! A Koala is holding me prisoner and won't let me go until I get a tweet from an Australian. Anybody down under that can help?
[2 folks from Australia quickly answered my plea and I got out of the Koala's clutches.]

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