Friday, July 1, 2011

Twitter on fire - what I relearned at ISTE

Sometimes it takes a long time to “get” twitter. ISTE11 solidified my belief that social media is here to stay and that twitter, or some form of it, as a powerful means of sharing information is here to stay. This is an idea that I first came to personally understand during the 2010 turbulence in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok on fire, in a bad way
Let’s go back to March 12, 2010, when the UDD (commonly called Red Shirts for well, the color of their shirts) began a prolonged demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, calling for the Thai PM to resign and hold an election. This was months before the December 2010 “Jasmine Revolution” (emboldened in part by Facebook) that started in Tunisia and spread around the Middle East that came to be known as “Arab Spring.”

Thailand’s military controls many of the media outlets, so it was difficult to find unbiased information. I wanted to know who was doing what, why, what they were saying, etc… Twitter came to my mind. Quickly I discovered a rather robust and daring group of journalists documenting what was happening in the city. There were even reporters who translated speeches from the red encampment into English and tweeted them line-by-line.

Go forward to Wednesday, May 19, 2010. The situation had been precarious for two months. I had become known among our school’s Facebook community as the news source, for I linked what I found on twitter to my status updates on Facebook. Few teachers were on twitter and the pictures and reporting coming out of the protests did not make news that would register on the ex-pat radar, (news sources largely controlled by the military) living in our bubble, unless we lived in the “red zone.” Otherwise, our shopping was inconvenienced and some roads were closed. But for tens of thousands of people camping in the city and the tens of thousands of others indirectly involved (business people whose shops were closed, schools that were forced closed, the travel industry, etc…) this was a major event.

The Thai Ministry of Education told all schools in Bangkok to close from Monday, May 17 through Friday, May 21. Monday and Tuesday were largely uneventful – if you can call a mass protest and fires fueled by tires uneventful – compared to what was to come. I woke early in the morning on Wednesday, May 19, to check the news. The pictures were not good. By about 4:30 or 5:00 am, tanks were beginning to roll through the streets of Bangkok. This was most definitely an escalation. Again, without twitter news sources or proximity to what was happening, the ex-pat community in Bangkok was largely unaware of what was going on. The day was filled with gunfire, arson, injuries, death and sorrow for Thais fighting Thais.

It was largely because of twitter and the brave journalists and those at the protests covering the event that I was able to have any understanding of what was happening in the beautiful city of Bangkok. This was the first time I understood the value of twitter.

ISTE is on fire, but in a good way
On Sunday, June 26, I travelled to my first ISTE conference. I had been following blogs, nings, and tweets to prepare for the conference, but none of the information prepared me for the enormous scope of the conference, both online and off. You would have had to have been blind not to notice the number of “electronic devices” lighting up the room. Some of the topics that were covered well in twitter included:
  • Powerful quotes from our speakers
  • Notifications of changes in the conference agenda
  • Links to relevant online learning tools, email addresses and urls
  • Back channel questions for speakers and amongst audience members
  • Notifications that Dr. John Medina’s book was on sale for only $2.99 on kindle
  • Opportunities for social gatherings
  • Organizational information for the flash mob
  • And other “unconventional” tweets that made attendees giggle

Fortunately, there was no need for tweets such as I saw during the red shirt protests. We were not warned to avoid roads because of burning tires or bamboo barricades. But I will say that the PACC was “on fire” with learning both face-to-face and via twitter.

Now I get twitter.


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