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Could twitter unite students who love to learn to change the world?

August 23, 2011

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  • Reading historical documents just for fun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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2011 12:11 am

    Closer indeed. They have their own blogs. They write books. I doubt there’s any medium that can’t be used for this purpose…

  2. Tara permalink
    August 24, 2011 6:09 am

    I think that a student change network would be a really cool place for similar minded people to bounce off dead and connect… I personally like twitter for the fact that it can be used to generate thoughtful discussion with people uve never met

  3. August 24, 2011 10:13 am

    Thanks for your inspirational futuristic post for curious scholars! I’ll share with my son to plant the seed of this idea.

    I agree that the use of social media to share could be a very powerful idea generating machine & a great way to nurture the spirits of isolated tweens, teens and young adults with big ideas.

    I will, of course, share the idea with my son that he can start his own community but if you know of any vibrant communities already in the making — please share!

  4. August 24, 2011 6:52 pm

    There are the Scratch forums, the esolang wiki, the conlang wiki, to mention a few my son has read and participated in. I think that the wikis provide for a more extended discussion than Twitter.

    • August 26, 2011 10:25 pm

      Yes absolutely, and those are great places to connect. I’m just thinking that some of the conversations between students I’ve seen on twitter are a bit more spontaneous and intrigue me as a possibly new virtual salon.

  5. August 25, 2011 1:07 pm

    My son posts to SCRATCH and also in NaNoWriMo. These are great venues for starters. Will have to check out Wiki thing a ma bobs — which we/he obviously have not tried.

    SCRATCH & NaNoWriMo forums were a great intro into this type of tool for my son but, at this point, he has not made any permanent connections with like-minded souls nor has he moved forward on collaborative projects… Could be his age… Could be he has not found his one true obsession. But, I can see how social networks could be powerful once one does make that connection. My younger sister, who had been house bound due to chronic disability, was able to share her poetry with others using social network “poetry” sites. She made several great on-line friends. Without this forum she would have been very lonely and would not have had a chance to share her work & grow from the sharing.

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