Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Twitter Comes to Life at ISTE

I have written in the past about the importance that I attach to the social network Twitter, but the true importance of it was driven home to me on several occasions during last weeks conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I knew going in that there would be many people there that I knew about via Twitter, perhaps because I follow them or perhaps because they are "Twitter rock stars". However, my own personal "Twitter moments" at the conference made the event something that it would not otherwise have been.

To wit:

1) No sooner had I boarded my plane Sunday morning and settled into my seat than the woman across from me asked me if I was going to ISTE. Turns out it was Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), Principal of Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY, an avid and respected tweep, both in Jewish and general education circles. Finally putting faces to the avatars, we had some fruitful discussions, occasionally joined by Dov Emerson (@dovemerson), founder of #jedchat and Assistant Principal at DRS-HALB on Long Island.

2) While waiting to enter the opening keynote, I finally met in person Debby Jacoby (@debbyj18) of the BJE in San Francisco, someone with whom I have been corresponding all year - to the point that we have already collaborated on several projects. I should note that that last statement is not strange in the twitterverse - several presentations at ISTE were co-run by people who considered themselves colleagues and friends yet had never met before coming to San Diego.

3) I walked into the conference on Monday morning and noticed a semi-familiar looking individual sitting on the floor (which is common at ISTE) perusing his daily schedule for the day. Taking a chance, I said, "Mr. Amidon?" - and Tyler Amidon (@mramidon), who I had only corresponded with via #edchat, looked up, recognized my Twitter name written on my badge, and wound up following me to the first session of the day. We would attend several other sessions together during the course of the conference, and have continued our dialogue in the week since. As he tweeted to me following the conference: "Chatting now will be that much richer now that I've shaken your hand!!"

4) I attended a panel session about flipped learning moderated by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. During the session, I was tweeting notes and questions that I had about what was being discussed. Common practice is to do this mainly for those who cannot be in the session but want to follow it anyway (multitasking is very vibrant at ISTE). After I tweeted one question about something one of the panelists said, I glanced down and saw that he had tweeted me back an answer. This back-and-forth continued for a moment or two, and in the meantime others noticed the discussion and jumped in.

Now for the cool part. No sooner did the panel end when the person sitting in front of me turned around and asked if I was Rabbi Ross (my Twitter handle). When I replied yes, he introduced himself as the person who had just tweeted me a question, and we began speaking about creating online materials for Judaic Studies classes. As we made our way towards the door, someone else stopped me, and it turned out that she had also been following the tweets and suddenly we had a very rich conversation among five or six people about some new ideas in the Jewish classroom.

5) Of course, part of the way that I choose the sessions that I attended - out of several hundred choices - was by seeing which twitter heroes I wanted to hear from for more than 140 characters. As such, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) discuss his successes at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) speak about wikis and the flat classroom, and George Couros (@gcouros) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) discuss visionary leadership and digital citizenship.

What is common in all of these anecdotes, and probably thousands of others that people could tell from ISTE, is that they highlighted the fact that Twitter is just a tool, but a very effective one. While I have learned much from so many people in snippet-length tweets, the most important thing to come out of all of that is the basis for real human interactions and relationships. Having interacted with people via Twitter, I knew to seek them out to learn more from them. I agree that networking with people in a blind fashion is missing something, but there is no question that it can certainly be a step to greater things.

(Cross-posted on jewishedd.blogspot.com)

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