One week ago I was not a Twitter user. After hearing about it for years and seeing other people use it, I wasn’t convinced it was a tool for me. I personally have problems communicating in 140 characters or less (mainly because I don’t usually put a limit on myself) and I think Twitter has changed language use. We see words not being capitalized, the use of numbers where letters should be, an insane amount of shorthand, and #somanyhashtags I can’t #decipher what someone’s actually #tryingtocommunicate.
And then I heard this story on NPR, which claims that Twitter can boost literacy. And I got to thinking, am I just uncomfortable with Twitter because I haven’t fully immersed myself in the experience? Is there something to it that I’m missing? So on Monday, I created an account (@mamileham) to see how this cultural tool is used and what it means for us as researchers of free-choice learning.
Twitter is a cultural tool that’s here to stay. It allows people to connect and communicate in a way like never before. As this video says, “you wouldn’t send an email to a friend to tell them you’re having coffee. Your friend doesn’t need to know that.” But what if someone is truly interested in the little things? With people connecting (@) and mentioning (#) where they are and what they’re doing, we can follow and understand what they are experiencing and possibly how they’re evaluating and making sense of the world. With Twitter, the video says, “[people can] see life between blog posts and emails.” What if we could see the meaning making (in almost real time) between entering and exiting a museum based on an individual’s tweets?
I’m not completely sold on Twitter boosting literacy, but I do understand how we are using social media to share information, find information, think about who we are (i.e., identity formation), and that tweeting is a new language. You have to learn and then know how to use the @ and # but maybe it’s worth learning. However, think about how all those #hashtags sound when used in real life.
Last October, Lincoln County School District received news that they were awarded an Innovative Approaches to Literacy Grant to fund Project SEAL (Students Engaging in Authentic Literacy). Dr. Rowe and I, representing Oregon Sea Grant, are the evaluators for this project. What I enjoy most about working on the evaluation is that it continues to push my understanding of learning, focusing not only on museums but also on the classroom and continually thinking about bridging the gap between the two in new ways.
Project SEAL has so many components to it, including buying new ocean-related books for school libraries, stocking each library with a classroom set of handheld devices such as iPads, and family literacy nights. I am sure these will come up in future blog posts, but today I want to focus on the teacher professional development part of Project SEAL. On February 8th and 9th Project SEAL hosted a Model Classroom (modelclassroom.org) training for around 60 teachers, principals, and media assistants. The Model Classroom has “teachers participate in a set of missions that take them out into the community… [where they will] develop and document project ideas to take back to the classroom.”
We started the training at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the first mission was for teachers to go around the aquarium to look at exhibits and talk to people (anyone they could find including visitors, educators and volunteers) about a global issue that has a local impact. One group of teachers was contacting local grocery stores and talking to the aquarium gift store about plastic bags while another group was asking visitors questions like “what would you do if you found tsunami debris on the beach?” Yet another group ended up on a research vessel docked nearby. The second mission was to use their mobile devices to create a hook to draw their students into the topic, with an end goal of thinking of ways their students could use these devices to communicate ideas and projects from the field. One group of teachers used iMovie to create a trailer about picking up and properly reporting tsunami debris.
The second day of training was spent in a library of a local school. The day started with an in-depth conversation of what literacy was (when the teachers were in school) versus was literacy is now (in the 21st century). The Model Classroom leaders, project staff and I agreed this was a conversation we’d have to continually come back to because it is so BIG. For most of the rest of the day teachers divided into groups and explored the school, looking at different spaces and the learning opportunities that can occur. They took pictures, wrote descriptions and some groups came up with ideas for improvement.
Project SEAL is in its infancy but it’s such a wonderful project with so many key components. Keep your eyes out for future posts with the ongoing evaluation and tools developed. In the meantime, learn more about Project SEAL and read the teacher’s blog posts at https://sites.google.com/site/oregontestsite/home.