Reflections: Twitter, learning and teaching


March 8, 2011 by Willy Cardoso


It’s been a bit over a year since I joined Twitter and I’d like to say here what I take from it as a teacher and learner. These are the first things that came up:

Open systems are far better than closed systems when it comes to learning and teaching.

Twitter is an open system – anyone can get in and out at anytime; the number of people you can connect with is so great that in my perception it is infinite, that is, I don’t/can’t see where it ends. It’s flexible enough for when I’m busy, bored, bleeding, I can just not be there. Conversely, classrooms and schools are closed systems – strict access, strict timetable, limited number of people.

There’s no assigned leader, facilitator, manager, expert – these things we attribute to, aham, teachers. If you think someone on twitter facilitates your development, it’s fine, but that’s because you want it, not because that was chosen for you. I had the chance to choose my ‘mentors’ and they had the chance to choose me. It is great when that is not insitutionalized.

My first tweet. (what was I thinking?)


It is terrific for shy people.

I don’t know why shyness is still seen as a personal trait to be avoided, so if one is shy, others think that they have to create opportunities for this person not to be shy, that is, they need to change this person from shy to extrovert, the most common way to do this it to put this person in the limelight. What a f*%&  mistake! – What you do instead is to create a place where the shy can be shy and be alright with it. I see social media as this place, Twitter in this case, a very good place for shy folks. It turns out, at least for me, that I’m a lot less shy than when I didn’t hang out on Twitter. One of the reasons is the next point.

Mind comes first, body (maybe) later.

If you follow someone and they follow you back and you have regular interactions and so on, I like to believe that it is firstly because of your ideas, wittiness, tastes, divergences, timezone, whatever, not because you’re a pretty face, which is what happens in the physical world whether we like it or not. At a school, for example. First class, the suburban chubby boy on eyeglasses has already a disadvantage in the social group, he has to work really hard to blend in, and this, as we know, influence learning – a lot.  In face-to-face encounters, first impressions are based on looks, on Twitter I think it is not. No one knows really where I come from, if I’m poor or wealthy, if I went to a good school or if I wear trendy clothes. No one knows that it’s two o’clock here and I’m still in the couch on PJs, well, now you know, but who cares?

And the great thing is that when you actually meet twitter friends face-to-face, there’s no ice to break! And let’s face it breaking the ice is a bore. When you meet someone like that, you’re already interested.

What if then, when possible, face-to-face courses started earlier online?


You develop skills that are useful

If you plan to hang out on Earth for a little longer, it’s advisable that you learn how to learn information and communication technologies. I stopped caring about my very refined skill of looking up words on a dictionary, to be good at looking up anything on the Internet. Twitter trains you eyes and brain to be efficient amidst a waterfall of information. When people say they are not on Twitter because it’s too much information, that’s exactly the point of being there, but you’ll lose ground if you only use your dictionary-ish analytical skills.

Attention and responsiveness – being connected to hundreds or thousands of people talking at the same time teaches you to be selective, and that’s good refinement for the offline world. It’s a waste of time if you respond to everything that happens to you or anyone that wants your attention, that happens so much that one can easily spend half a day taking care of the interests of others. Since it is impossible to react to everything on Twitter, take that and don’t react to everything anywhere else.

My first tweet-up (with @denilsodelima @fguarany @hoprea at BrazTesol '10)

It is not a revolution and it won’t change education

What’s happening? – that’s what people are asked on the status box, and the majority says they’re at the supermarket and there’s a big line, and that’s why they hate Justin B. When you say you’re connected to hundreds of teachers and that it’s better than any staff room you’ve ever had, people think you’re crazy. If in only a day1 million people followed a Hollywood super-drunk, I can’t believe that the same medium will improve anything dramatically. BUT, the few people (compared to the total) that are using this tool to improve educational practices, are making remarkable changes, so in the end it’s the people who decide to do something better than answering what’s happening, not the medium. Again, it’s the people!  So when I say it won’t change education is a) because some people say that and I don’t like it, and b) that I think it’s not like the TV, or the coursebook, or Google, which are incredibly pervasive.

Top tweets as I write this posts are:

  • Subway just surpassed McDonald’s as the world’s largest restaurant chain, measured by # of outlets. Who would have thought??
  • To be financially secure don’t spend money that you have not earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people whom you don’t like.
  • Apparently Leona Lewis has done more for women than Emmeline Pankhurst. Well done to the morons who voted in the Metro poll.
  • On International Women’s Day, see our picks for the world’s most amazing women.

For me, these are irrelevant, useless information. For most users they are not, they are top. So, it’s not what it offers, but how you decide to use it. That’s my approach to formal education sometimes, not what it offers me per se (usually very little), but how and why I want to use it (access, credentials, status).

Some other random thoughts

I still don’t see the point of bringing Twitter to a classroom, but I would like to bring a class to Twitter.

Today, I think only 15% of my twitter network is really important to me. I wonder what to do to improve that, unfollow massively is an option, engage with different people too. But in the end I just let it be, it’s real life.

Lately, I haven’t hit the follow button on anyone’s page which has over a thousand followers. I don’t know why…

I often find it weird to be speaking to no-one and hundreds of people at the same time. It’s weird not to know who’s listening.

And finally, I wonder when it will end.


you may enjoy:

The English Language Teacher’s Guide To Twitter by Karenne Sylverster (@kalinagoenglish)

Twitter for Teachers by Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses)

Why #FF Is Cute… But I won’t use it anymore by Cristina Milos (@surreallyno)

Twitter Talking Time flying out of the NEST by Willy C. Cardoso (@willycard)


17 thoughts on “Reflections: Twitter, learning and teaching

  1. Kristen says:

    Great post! I’ve added a link to it on my Twitter resources tab for teachers:

  2. Cristina says:

    Excellent reflection – as always you pose the hardest questions and go deeper than the title would stir your mind. Your posts are among the very few that actually make me ponder and look back at my teaching as well as ahead, and I often get frustrated I do not have the time to comment.
    As for Twitter, I can only share the same (almost) “random” thoughts. I guess that after a short period of Twitter “fever”- when you first use it and get overexcited about the possibilities it offers, everyone realizes that 15-20% of the tweeps actually bring some value to their thinking, classroom practices, philosophy of teaching etc. It is however essential to not close the door…
    We haven’t interacted much and yet there you were – just a click away from a Skype session with my students! The kids are still asking about you, checked whether I wished you “happy birthday”on Shell Terrell’s wallwisher …so opportunities arise when you least expect. That was a lesson I learnt right before making the decision to reduce the people I was following about 50%. ..(what an irony heh).
    Do not close the door. 🙂

    • Thank you for this message, Cristina! Really!

      Skyping with your students was one of the greatest things I did last month, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I love it everytime you post their work on your blog, it’s really insipiring and makes me want to teach children again. So, you’re right, this couldn’t have happened if the doors weren’t open.

  3. Shelly says:

    I love your first tweet! It’s just you! How’d you find it? I have no idea what my first tweet was but I bet it was something quite clever like “Hello World!” 😉 (Not!)

    I think you paint a very honest reflection of your journey on Twitter. It is how you use the information and for me not knowing who is listening or who will respond is part of the allure. When different people respond to new information or updates I learn more about them. I also make friends like this. Recently I met a friend from London in this way and you met her at a tweet-up. And she was every bit as sweet and nice as I thought she would be. We had only met briefly before the tweet-up and it was through her response to some tweet that we sparked a conversation. I think she was very new to Twitter at the time. Anyway, for me I like interacting with new people and getting to know them. I’m a people person, though, and that is my thing. It’s not everyone’s thing and some people would not want that at all. I think we have to allow for individualism and I really don’t like posts where people criticize what others do on Twitter, Facebook, etc. (as long as it’s not damaging a student or life) because I really believe it is an individual thing. I don’t believe in conformity, therefore, I would never tell people they should do what I do or expect them to. I don’t think you do this in this post and I respect that. However, I have read things about Twitter etiquette, manners, guidelines in several other blogs. Yeah, there are somethings I don’t like but hey we are all idiosyncratic and human and that’s also what I love about Twitter. I get to know people and they are different from me and will disagree what I do as well but at the end of the day it will be our connection that matters and perhaps our later collaboration or exchanging of resources 🙂

    • Shelly, I’m glad you found the time to comment 🙂 I remember our conversation some weeks ago about it. And now that I recollect that, I can say that our chat about Twitter and my scepticism was a major source of inspiration to write this post. You did convince me of some important stuff that day, so now I’m a little less sceptical.

      The part where I say there’s not an assigned leader/facilitator, I was thinking of you as one of them. You are one of the greatest ELT-tech twitter personalities, if not the greatest, and what I mostly admire about that is that you didn’t need to send a cv, be interviewed, take tests, go on probation and monthly evaluations to achieve your remarkable status – you are where you are because that’s who you are. I think I’ll never have thousands of followers and that’s fine, because I’m not a people person, that’s who I am. So, it’s great to just be.

      I think that can considerably change the status of who is VIP/famous/starlet in our profession. Until recently, one had to write books, get published by a big corp, go on roadshows to achieve that status. Now, you can reach lots of people without such financial/commercial backup, which is just great!

  4. Richard says:

    I love your first tweet, great quote!

    As far as I see it, Twitter is a tool, so make of it what you will. Like real life, you won’t like or feel the need to be friends with everyone, which I believe is what you’re saying.

    The line “still don’t see the point of bringing Twitter to a classroom, but I would like to bring a class to Twitter” I also agree with. I can’t see the point of tweeting in class unless it is to introduce it and analyse the discourse patterns in order to be able to use it competently. However, maybe it’s working great for someone out there and that’s fair enough.

    • Yes Richard, that’s what I mean – in some ways online activity is not to be seen as unreal or unworldly, it’s just as real life as anything else.

      I bet somone knows how to use it effectively in class, if they found usefulness in IWB, why not? (hee hee hee, sarcastic giggle)

  5. I think everyone has already said it all already, but what I like about Twitter is that it gives me pause. I get to stop (now that I have successfully unraveled myself from the obligation of talking to everyone who follows or interacts with me which while I love…um, drowing in work, me…) Hmm… perhaps I shouldn’t be tapping at the keyboard at this hour except I do love it when I pop in and there’s something interesting, just in time, tweeting past and giving me stuff to reflect on.


    • Timing… it changes everything uh?
      I’ve been thinking… I know very little about tweeps that are over 6 hours from me in time differences. And for me, most of the fun in there is the possibility of being synchronous, so I don’t know… there’s little I can do. (I don’t want to sleep less)

  6. barbsaka says:

    I love your reflections, Willy! In a bit of serendipity, I’d just finished a post about Twitter for teachers when I saw the tweet about your blog post 🙂

    I’ve added a link to this post to my article, since you add a wonderful point of view to the discussion.


    P.S. I’m totally envious of your tweet up picture!

    • Thank you!
      I like the article, very straight to the point, that’s good. One thing that you mention, and a whole lot of people agree, is the awesomeness of moderated #chats, this is something I could have written a lot about, but I didn’t want to focus on the things I don’t like, so yeah, I don’t like it, it’s not a very rational way of ‘not liking it’, so I can’t explain, but I totally respect it. I think that maybe it’s to do with my first point, openness. Once there’s an agenda, a fixed time, and a preset subject to talk about, I lose interest.

  7. I have never read such an objective, honest reflection about twitter. There are so many things I caught myself nodding at when I read your post Willy, I’m not sure I’m going to make much sense or be very coherent, but here it goes…

    You struck the first chord when you talked about shy people – I know it wasn’t the focus of your post, but I have very strong feelings about that, and they all agree with yours 😉 Being shy is NOT a flaw or something people have to work on. People do not have to be extroverted and outspoken to find good jobs (one of the many excuses I’ve heard for forcing shy kids into going against their grain), they cna find great jobs where they don’t have to talk to many people. Forcing shy students to speak up in front of the whole class just makes them feel worse – give them the option, but offer alternatives. you can check students progress in their speaking skill by observing him talk to another classmate in some activity or approaching during an activity and talking to him/her, ask questions. You have to establish a connection first too. I feel shyness has to be respected – whether in the classroom or not.

    On the mind first, body later… had the same experience. Twitter for me has made me connect with many people for many different reasons. Some I respect for the job they do, with others I share similar beliefs and ideas about teaching, share ideas and activities with others, learn great resources and articles from others and some I just plain like – many fall into more than one category. But I agree with you that you naturally start interacting with like-minded people or people whose minds interest you, and no matter how many people you follow you learn to filter a lot and only really interact with a small percentage. I see nothing wrong with that – I believe it’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re right, what made me connect with this or that person over twitter were their minds, you don’t know much about people there. And it does change first meetings A LOT. I had the privilege of a tweetup organized by you and meeting you for the first time was… so not the first time. I felt as if I were seeing you – again. There are no introductions. You just go out there and hug. Well, I do at least ;-). I so regret not having joined twitter (for real) before Braz-Tesol!

    Saying twitter will/won’t change education… well I agree it won’t change the way some people say it will. I’m still not sure how it can be used in the classroom (except for how Richard says, and I’ve used it once to find out how to say something in English. I have seen Guido (@europeaantje use it by asking the PLN to tweet problems to his students and have them respond to the problems using the appropriate advice structures. I have seen a couple of other people using, so I’m still observing at this point). But in a way I think it’s already changing education because it’s changing the way some of us teach. By connecting teachers from all over the world, fostering reflection and discussions, the sharing of resources and blog posts. Geez, I had never heard of dogme before joining twitter and now I know of it, learned about it, took part in Karenne’s challenge which made me reflect much and I have even started going unplugged whenever an opportunity arises. That’s change. Small scale, but it is.

    Finally (I think this comment is way too long already) I think you said it all when you wrote that it’s not about what it offers, the kind of information it makes available, but if/why/how you use it.

    And if it weren’t for twitter I wouldn’t have read your post, thought about it, felt compelled to give my opinion, would never have learned about your blog and most likely would never have met you. So who cares what the top tweets are? I certainly don’t. I’d like to think I am learning how to use it 😉

    • Thanks for the “such an objective…reflection” – I try to keep my subjectivity intact though sometimes it blurs my objectivity, but I’ve been working on it 😉

      The “CeciELT” tweet-up in London last year was a great example of what I meant. It was like we lived in the same town but without much time to hang out together, but still when we met it felt natural, we spoke the same language and had interacted online enough to feel very comfortable with each other. (the only thing that is a bit weird, is that we spoke English all the time, when we’re both Brazilians. However, it could’ve been more weird if in Portuguese, which in our regular interactions would sound like a foreign language – know what I’m saying? — this is interesting ’cause when I first met Henrick @hoprea we caught ourselves speaking in English without any reason)

      You regret not joining Twitter before BrazTesol and I used to regret not joining it (for real) before IATEFL last year. You know what, it doesn’t matter! We’re both going to IATEFL this year and we’re going to meet fantastic people we’ve been looking forward to meet. No regrets…

      re: change – well, it changes of course, micro-changes here and there which are very important. I didn’t mean to belittle those who rely on Twitter to achieve great things, my point was just that I don’t see it as a macro, pervasive phenomenon in education, as it happened with encyclopaedias, a now Google. At a personal level, it changes everything, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this blog if not with the support and encouragement of my Twitter PLN, and this blog is really, really important to me.

      Thanks for the long comment! I like it, it’s very “you”, it’s great!

      • Richard says:

        A thought on objectivity.

        Why bother trying to be? Surely our perspectives emerge from our knowledge and experience of the world and it is, I would argue, impossible to remain entirely objective when expressing opinions on any issues. Our perspective is informed by our subjective beliefs. Your subjective opinions are valid because it’s what you believe and these perspectives are a valuable contribution to the discussion as a whole. : )


  8. Richard,

    Surely? I don’t know… but thanks for sparking some thoughts here. I don’t see objectivity and subjectivity as a dichotomy. You reminded me that I need to find some time to grasp ‘the death of the subject’ or ‘the end of man’.

    “the pre-critical analysis of what man is in his essence becomes the analytic of everything that can, in general, be presented to man’s experience” (Foucault 1973, 340)

    • Richard says:

      Thanks for your reply. I’ve been making an attempt to grasp that quote, not being particularly well read in philosophy.

      Anyway, I’m not sure I understand the quote at all, but I did find that it is from a section of ‘The Order of Things’ where he is railing against what he sees as the evils of anthropology. I’ve tried to make sense of it, but…well, feel free to enlighten me when you have a moment! 😉

      Thank you for inadvertently sending me off on a brief journey through the realms of metaphysics, transcendentalism, humanism, antihumanism and cognitive anthropology – an interesting hour’s work!

      I also discovered what ‘qualia’ is. So there you go! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

receive new posts by email.

Join 489 other followers


Events 2015

IATEFL Manchester, UK
10 April, 2014
TDSIG PCE: Challenges and Rewards
More info

IATEFL Manchester, UK
12 April, 2015
Talk: Initial teacher training: challenges and innovations in course design

23 March, 2015 - Kragujevac
28 March, 2015 - Belgrade
Theme: Assessment: who is it for?
More info



%d bloggers like this: