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Disrupting News: How social networking is changing how we get our news

By July 2, 2009June 16th, 201610 Comments

Whenever I start talking about Twitter with any group of teachers or administrators, I can count on at least one person scoffing at the idea of answering the question, “What are you doing?” Many of us only know Twitter from celebrity-type tweets, which, while may be exciting for some, have little educational value for the rest of us.

To explain how I use Twitter in an educational sense, however, I often ask participants if they remember movies and shows from the 1970s such as Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, or Dukes of Hazzard. During this particular era of American pop culture, there existed a very strong CB radio culture. People would use their “Citizens’ Band” radio to ask where the closest mechanic or gas station was located. Others would warn fellow listeners about traffic jams in an area. An entire virtual community helped and entertained each other using this technology.

My Twitter community serves a similar purpose. When I’m trying to figure out a new resource or troubleshoot an issue on a computer, I can send out a Tweet to my “Twitterverse” and will, more often than not, receive several suggestions for solving my problem. When I read an exceptionally good book, news article, or blog post, I’ll Tweet about it to spread the news. If it’s something that other Twitterers also find useful, they will even “ReTweet” it by putting “RT @erhubbell” before their post.

What’s even nicer is that Twitter allows you to use hash tags to denote a specific topic of interest. For example, when I and many fellow educators were in Copper Mountain for Colorado’s Technology in Education (TIE) conference, we used the hash tags #cotie09 and #tie09 with our Tweets so that folks could follow what was happening at the conference. Likewise, when I wasn’t able to attend ISTE’s NECC conference, I searched the hash tag #necc09 to follow events as they happened. Other teachers actually use Twitter in the classroom with their students to help foster conversations and collaboration.

Perhaps no event has brought more attention to “micro-blogging” sites such as Twitter lately than the recent Iran elections and the aftermath following. Suddenly, the world had much more limited access to news and events due to government constraints on internet activity in Iran. Instead, many of us communicated what news we could find by using the hash tag #iranelection. While incoming news was sometimes unclear or debatable, it was better than the complete isolation that Iranian citizens would have experienced prior to the invention of tools such as Twitter and cell phones. (See the Common Craft videos for a great explanation on how Twitter and TwitterSearch work.)

Which brings up an interesting point from Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class: that a disruptive technology first is embraced, however imperfect, by current “non-consumers.” While very few, if any, of us would rely on Twitter for our daily local or world news, it was the perfect solution when suddenly there was no news coming out of Iran. In the meantime, according to Christensen, the technology continues to improve and evolve until it is, indeed, preferable over the status quo.

If this is true, and yet blogging, Tweeting, and other forms of social networking are very often blocked in schools, how can we possibly teach our students to access, broadcast, and vet information that is coming at a faster and faster rate? Perhaps a better question is this: are YOU using 21st century forms of accessing and broadcasting information? Are you preparing yourself for the future of communication?

To start, consider creating a Twitter account and simply following Twitters with common interests. You may wish to start by following me ( or Howard Pitler ( See who we are following, then follow and Tweet at will. I also suggest reading 25 Ways to Teach with Twitter from You will be amazed at how quickly Twitter can become a large part of your personal learning network. We hope to see you in the Twitterverse!

Written by Elizabeth Hubbell.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Thanks for a thoughtful post, Elizabeth. I appreciate the time you took to put it together. I choose to not Twitter. I understand the value of the micro-blog, but one of the things I like about blogs is that posts are the product of thought, synthesis and language to communicate an idea. Tweets are quick blurbs to communicate something not ready for prime-time as a complete thought.
    The ways you indicate Twitter is useful make sense, but quick access to answers can be found other ways. When I read something exceptionally good that I want to share, it makes it into the form of a blog post, or I don’t bother people with it. Tweets that “advertise” blog posts are duplications of RSS feeds.
    The people I follow are already in my aggregator – I prefer not to have the “noise” of Twitter as well. I think the blogosphere got quieter when the Twittersphere came along, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
    I say this not having participated in Twitter, and I know there is the argument to try it before making judgement. I’m working as much on a gut feeling about this as anything.
    To get to your question about preparing for the future of communication…with regards to students – I see huge value in helping them communicate via blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, VOIP, etc. Helping them communicate in 140 character chunks? Not sure on that one…
    For me the jury remains out about Twitter. As I said, thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • Michael,
    Thank you for this response! I always enjoy hearing another point of view.
    I started blogging several years ago, and I have to admit, I just wasn’t the most prolific blogger. Sometimes I had time to sit and write a long and thoughtful post, but more often than not, I simply wanted to bounce ideas off people or direct them to a recent article and get various points of view. When Twitter came along, I welcomed it with open arms because I at last had a tool that more closely resembled dialogue and conversation. I still blog (on the McREL site) and use this venue for more complete pieces; but very often, these posts are the result of many conversations that have taken place on Twitter.
    Not all tools work for all people in all situations. I think the best thing we can do is make sure that our students are taught to use a wide variety of tools to access and communicate with people outside of their geographical and cultural circles.
    Thanks again for your post!

  • Keith says:

    I’ve been tweeting for a couple of years now and frankly, I don’t know how I existed without it. When it first came about, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of. Now that I use it and as more and more people get on and have started sharing information, I find the most useful tool in my instructional technology repertoire. I have found many resources to share with my teachers as well as find out important news events right after they happen. I find myself opening on my Twitter app on my iPhone on a very regular basis and feel a disconnect when I don’t have time to open and read through the posts.

  • Kacy Bankston says:

    Elizabeth, I enjoyed your post! I have been slow to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. I work with individuals who use it, but I just kept holding back.
    Recently I was able to witness the power of Twitter in a presentation and I was impressed. The individual doing the presentation used Twitter to invite people into a Coverit Live session that we were having on classroom instruction. It was amazing to see people from all over the nation contribute to the discussion. I really started to see the power and potential of Twitter in the classroom.
    Your reference to CB radio culture really made sense to me! I think I’ll reference it and share your blog with others! Thanks again!

  • Lorie S. says:

    I believe it is important that we differentiate social networking tools for professional versus personal use. I believe most of our instructional technology specialists use this tool to develop their own personal learning network and/or connect with parents and their community. It is a great tool for collaborating and sharing information. For example, I could not attend ISTE, however I was able to learn from those who did attend, as they tweeted resources, ideas, and quotes from keynote speakers. I think as we model instructional uses of social networking tools like Twitter, more people will see the value and purpose.

  • Gae Poulsen says:

    I have a Twitter account. I don’t get to it as often as I would like. I tend to be too verbose to get my thoughts down in only 140.
    However, having said that I’ve been reading up on blogging with kids (for educational purposes). It seems that the kids have moved on. They think email is for grandmothers and blogging is just not that cool.
    We are living in the moment of the text message, but the earliest of adopters–our teens are moving on to video. Twitter with its short bursts and its ability to link to video seems to be the way we are going.

  • Esther Smith says:

    Dear Elizabeth,
    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I don’t Twitter but I am now considering it for my own professional development.
    Any ideas of sites I should include to start?

  • Elizabeth Hubbell says:

    Hi Esther,
    I started by following the same people whose blogs I read. Then I looked at people they were following and my list grew from there.

  • Crystal Rapinchuk says:

    In our school district the big social networking sites are blocked. However, being in a 1:1 school we were one of the first schools to pilot a social networking site called Mt Big Campus. It worked well for my classes because I was able to post assignments, have discussions, send emails, and post to walls of my students. However, there were downfalls as well. The students would write inappropriate things on each other’s walls and would not always be able to access the networking site due to computer issues. Overall, I think it was very useful and I hope my district continues to use this sire. It just takes a few months/years to work out the kinks and all is well 🙂

  • Wayne Hallinan-Gunn says:

    Is there a danger in the lack of moderation around Twitter? Specifically, if a student uses it for both informative and social purposes, how would you police what their Twitter feeds contain in class

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