History in 140 Characters: Asking Educators to Use Twitter


History in 140 Characters

Although I'm a member of the online outreach team at the museum, over the last few months I've given a number of in-person workshops for teachers, in which I mention the museum's Twitter feed for educators, @explorehistory. Given the number of educators I see on Twitter, and the growing emphasis on developing a Personal or Professional Learning Network that I've noticed at conferences, I was surprised to find that only about 10% of any teacher group I meet in person is active on Twitter, though many are on Facebook (although this statistic is in line with a recent study on Twitter use conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project).


When I discuss Twitter in workshops, responses range from "I just don't have time for that -- it's enough to keep up with email and Facebook" to "you just can't have a conversation on Twitter." And I understand. I wasn't always so fond of Twitter. I wondered how I would ever say anything useful in 140 characters. As history educators, many of the teachers I met found the shortened communication of Twitter unsatisfying. If the soul of our work is to help students evaluate information and discuss and debate it, how could Twitter help? At least on Facebook you can have a conversation. Right?

What I've come to love as I use Twitter, and the value I share with these teachers, is being exposed to more thought-provoking articles than I ever had before, and learning of new resources just as soon as they become available. Twitter may not be the venue they choose for conversation -- though plenty of educators use Twitter for mock conversations between historical or fictional characters -- but it's a great place to find the material to spark discussions and classroom activities. Of course, that's the goal of our Twitter feed for educators -- to provide our followers with the latest news about our resources or great material from other institutions, as well as being a way to get in touch with us.

The more I look for educator thoughts about Twitter, the more I find, including a discussion posted by the coordinator of the online community run by our partner, Verizon Thinkfinity, "Why Use Twitter? Tell Us Your Tips" on this same topic, which referenced a useful blog post, "The Power of Twitter in Information Discovery" that encapsulated the reasons I was growing to love Twitter. I noticed that the teachers in the Thinkfinity online community were using Twitter creatively, too (a great example is this presentation, "Thirty Interesting Ways to Use Twitter") and that teachers were commenting on their Twitter use even beyond our social media channels. In a recent teacher survey we conducted, I found this comment from a teacher, extolling the virtues of Twitter: "I teach modern World Cultures to 6th graders in Texas. I use the Twitter feed to find, locate, bookmark, and share things with my students. I try to tweet in class with the students at least once every other week, but use my Twitter feed to share things the museum is doing." And as I was writing this post, I came across this blog post, "Help a Fellow Teacher Get on Twitter," with links to guides for using Twitter.


So, for our educator friends not on Twitter, I encourage you to consider joining. To get started and find great folks to follow, you can check out the EduBlog Award winners, search for #sschat or #historyteacher in Twitter to find out who's talking about history education, and be sure to include @explorehistory and @amhistorymuseum on your list!

See more posts from and about the Smithsonian.

This post was originally published on the National Museum of American History's "O Say Can You See?" blog and is republished here with permission.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Naomi Coquillon is an education specialist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Technology

Just In