Could twitter unite students who love to learn to change the world?
Go to any average high school, and find the people who love to learn. This is no easy task, and it’s going to take some doing to separate those who say they love to learn from those who really love to learn. So signs might include:
- Reading historical documents just for fun
- Conducting your own science experiments in your garage
- designing a reading tour of a particular genre, and maybe even trying to dig into some criticism
- Reading philosophy (particularly original works) at the high school level
- Taking apart and rebuilding a gasoline engine (certainly all learning isn’t about books and equations)
I don’t think this is a particularly satisfying list, and I’m sure you can think of some better measures. But I think most of the time, we can all agree on who those students are, and more importantly, we can agree that in most high schools, these students are as rare as 5’3” basketball centers.
I can also say that as a teacher who has encountered more than my fair share of these students in my lifetime, it is a joy and pleasure to work with these students outside the classroom. But I don’t think they have an easy life. In most high schools, learning just isn’t cool. Heck, it’s often true that even at the most elite of colleges, learning—truly geeking out to a physics problem, an obscure poem, an ancient language or an economics paper isn’t seen as cool (though it is often much better than the typical high school experience).
Recently, I’ve been pretty amazed by sparks of something very interesting happening in the world-o-twitter. I’ve officially lifted my prohibition against following students, and I’ve started to see some conversations take place between students across the country, who have never met before and whose conversations exude a love of learning. These students, in all levels of high school and college carry themselves with a maturity that makes them very hard to distinguish from many of the other teachers and professors I follow (and they engage them in very thoughtful conversations). Sometimes these conversations seem to go on for hours, far longer than I ever would have sustained a conversation about an idea at that age.
This gets me thinking—what if twitter, or more generally, the internet could be a way for students to link up and share ideas? I’m not talking about adding social networking to Khan Academy, or some new super-duper cramster, I’m talking about students sharing their love of learning with each other, not for a grade, not for a badge, simply for the joy of understanding a really cool idea. And here’s another twist—what if this site could also connect students who want to change the world? It could literally be a network of students dedicated to supporting each other in a sort of y-combinator innovation incubator fashion. I’m imagining a place to gather online to present ideas and get feedback, to hear/see/read stories from students who have made a difference or mastered particularly complex idea describe the steps they took from disinterested middle schooler to worldchanging sophomore, so that others might attempt the same transformation.
Here’s the truly awesome thing—what if these students built this space themselves? I think this idea may be closer to realization than you think.