Leverage Social Media 2 Drive Change: Twitter Power 4 Literacy Educators & Activists


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Full Disclosure: About a year ago, I knew almost zilch about social media. In fact, I am tech-phobic. Really. Ask anyone who knows me. Only the largess of my tech-savvy family and occasional panicky interactions with tech support enable me to stumble along in the digital era with a modicum of competence. Recently, however, I embarked on a quest to explore social media. What I learned persuaded me that anyone seeking to improve the teaching-learning landscape must initiate his or her own quest to understand and leverage the power of social media. I this chapter, I hope to inspire you to do exactly that.

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Leverage Social Media 2 Drive Change: Twitter Power 4 Literacy Educators & Activists

  1. 1. Leverage Social Media to Drive Change! Twitter Power for Literacy Educators and Activists By Carolyn D. Cowen Reprinted with permission from the forthcoming second edition of Power to Act: Transforming Literacy and Education, by Cinthia Haan (available spring 2012). Full Disclosure: About a year ago, I knew almost zilch about social media. In fact, I am tech-phobic. Really. Ask anyone who knows me. Only the largess of my tech-savvy family and occasional panicky interactions with “tech support” enable me to stumble along in the digital era with a modicum of competence. Recently, however, I embarked on a quest to explore social media. What I learned persuaded me that anyone seeking to improve the teaching-leaning landscape must initiate his or her own quest to understand and leverage the power of social media. In this chapter, I hope to inspire you to do exactly that. * * *When social media first began emerging as a game changer, I was dismissive.“That’s for college kids,” I thought. Despite being married to a new-media expert andearly-adopter type, I was slow to recognize the power of social media, even as itbegan invading our household—long before “friend” became a verb.Over time, I did succumb to environmental pressure. I acquired a Facebook page,joined LinkedIn, started a Twitter account, and even posted a few presentations onSlideShare.1 I would trot out these social-media credentials when feeling the need todemonstrate I was not some hopeless digital illiterate. Truth be told, I wasn’t veryactive on any of those platforms. For the most part, I was:  Mystified—Why is every news anchor on the planet suddenly talking about hashtags?  Skeptical—How can anyone say anything significant in 140 characters?  Busy—Who has time to play around with social media?  Fearful—Who knows what evil lurks beneath the benign-looking social media surface? (Stories about hackers and phishing2 scams seemed reason enough not to venture into those dangerous waters.)1 Slideshare—a web-based slideshow-hosting service—is a dynamic social-media/educationtool similar to YouTube, but for presentations.2 Posing as a trustworthy entity to steal usernames, passwords, credit-card information.C. Cowen 2/23/12 1
  2. 2. Then I received an unlikely Christmas present—a bunch of books on social media.Imagine my enthusiasm. My gift-giver also made a point of challenging me on twofronts:  As a mission-driven social entrepreneur and educator, isn’t it time to learn how to leverage social media tools to achieve my goals?  How can I be so concerned with education and print literacy and ignore new- media literacy and the imperative to prepare children to live in a world that will demand new-media competence?Less than thrilled, I began reading and trying some of the strategies in the books. Istarted with LinkedIn because it seemed more professional and, well, more grown upthan Facebook. (Yes, I know Facebook is by far the most powerful platform on theweb, but it just felt frivolous to me.) Next, I delved into SlideShare and Twitterbecause the first had obvious professional applications and the latter seemedrelatively uncomplicated and easy to incorporate into my busy life.To my surprise, I began to like dabbling in social media and found myself venturinginto its deeper waters. The small experiments I conducted began producing results,especially on Twitter (see sidebar). I was inspired.But I was a closet Tweeter. Most of my esteemed colleagues were not, heavenforbid, tweeting and I was not ready to confess that I had crossed over. Not yet.Building on success and with scaffolding and support from my family and books, mylearning accelerated. I witnessed the power of social media’s tools and strategies inarenas where I had thought they had no relevance. Finally, tentatively, I emergedfrom the closet to share this power with colleagues.There is nothing more irritating than the sanctimony of the newly converted, so Ipromise to temper my enthusiasm. You will hear no claims from me that social mediawill bring world peace, stop climate change, or even solve the thorny challenges weface in education. And, hazards do indeed lurk in social media’s waters.I will, however, try to persuade you to test these waters and to learn to swim in themwith some degree of competence. In a nutshell, here is why: To achieve your goalsand for the sake of the children whose future you steward, you must begin tounderstand and leverage the power of social media.If you are reading this book, my assertion above almost certainly applies to you. Verylikely, you, too, have been dismissive of social media and still are mystified by,cynical about, or fearful of its power. In fact, I am willing to bet that most readers ofthis book are not digital natives.3 You are the audience for whom this chapter iswritten. My goal is to help so-called digital immigrants who are doing important work3 Digital native: Someone born after digital technology became mainstream and, presumably,with greater digital competence and comfort than a digital immigrant, someone born beforedigital technology became mainstream.C. Cowen 2/23/12 2
  3. 3. in education to venture into social media, understand its power, and begin learninghow to leverage its tools and strategies.However, I will take you only so far. Why? Any Google search will yield plenty ofsocial media how-to books destined to become obsolete in six months. Things arehappening that fast. Instead of providing nuts-and-bolts detail that may not berelevant in just months, I will drop a few breadcrumbs to help you get started on thepath—particularly the Twitter path—and provide a little support to help you findsuccess and feel inspired to persevere in a rapidly changing environment.I know. You want me to tell you exactly how to do social media step-by-step. We non-digital natives like books and lean away from discovery learning, especially when itcomes to technology. We want direct, systematic, explicit instruction. We wantsomeone to break it down, make it multisensory, and provide guided practice. So, gobuy a book (see sidebar). Go find a mentor. My goal is to motivate you to take suchsteps and to persist. Think of me as someone who traveled the road just a few stepsahead of you and has circled back to offer a few pointers about how and why to startdown the path—to tell you about some of the awesome vistas ahead and to help youget oriented. Think of me as one who has not traveled far enough along the road togive you a comprehensive map. You must find your own map and guides. But I canhelp you begin. So, let’s do it!______________________________________How Can Social Media Enhance Your Work?The most important step in my own exploration of social media was to understandthat I could leverage its tools and strategies to enhance my work. That epiphany wasthe starting gun that propelled me forward. Why should you, too, considerundertaking such an exploration? The answer is simple: Social-media tools andstrategies can be powerful in the hands of literacy educators and activistsworking to improve the teaching-learning landscape for children at-risk forreading failure—the “SEEDS” children4 discussed in this book’s preface.How? Social media can achieve important objectives under four broad categories: 1)WEB STRATEGY; 2) MESSAGING; 3) NETWORKING/COMMUNITY ACTION; and 4)PEDAGOGY. One or two of those categories may not be meaningful to you, so let’ssharpen our focus and look at specific objectives: 1. WEB STRATEGY: Enhance search engine optimization ([SEO] strategies to improve search-engine visibility—more on this in a moment.) 2. MESSAGING: Listen, broadcast, and engage 3. NETWORKING/SOCIAL ACTION: Build personal learning networks (PLNs) and ignite social action 4. PEDAGOGY: Enrich/engage learning and differentiate teaching4 SEEDS: Struggling readers, Economically disadvantaged youth, English-language learners,and students with Dyslexia or specific learning disabilities.C. Cowen 2/23/12 3
  4. 4. If you are a literacy educator or activist, one or more of those objectives ties directlyto your work and goals. All these objectives can be important elements in acomprehensive campaign to improve the teaching-learning landscape for children atrisk for reading failure. Let’s sharpen our focus still further to define terminology andconcepts that may be new to you as we consider these categories and objectivesthrough the lens of Twitter—a very powerful micro-blogging5 platform._________________________________________________WEB STRATEGY: How Does Twitter Advance Web Strategy?Twitter advances web strategy—i.e., drives traffic to your website—in at least threeways: 1) through messages to draw in targeted audiences; 2) by building adistribution network of followers who help you convey your messages; and 3) byenhancing search engine optimization. Let’s examine each.First, think of Twitter as an outpost or billboard that funnels traffic back to yourwebsite or blog (see Figure 1).5 Micro-blogging: As the name suggests, falls under the broadcast medium of blogging, butdiffers from traditional blogging in that small elements of content are shared.C. Cowen 2/23/12 4
  5. 5. With 300 million tweets per day6 and climbing, how do you stand out enough in thecacophony of noise about the likes of Kim Kardashian to drive any traffic anywhere?The answer: Hashtags! A hashtag (#) preceding particular words or topics in yourTwitter message enables people to search for messages and conversation aboutthose issues. Hashtags function something like zip codes; they allow you to targetyour messaging to people hanging out in certain “topical neighborhoods” followingparticular issues. Use hashtags strategically to reach specific audiences. Yourmessage, intended audience, and goals should inform your use of hashtags 7 (seeFigure 2).Second, as you become more active on Twitter, you will acquire followers. These arepeople who have decided to follow you (at least for a while); which means yourtweets show up in their Twitter feeds. This is good! Your followers are a selectsegment of your audience. They have decided to follow you because they agree ordisagree with you, find you entertaining or informative, or reciprocated when youfollowed them. Think of your followers as your distribution network, the people mostlikely to re-tweet your tweets (i.e., pass along your information to others). You want tobuild your distribution network and populate it with people of influence. There aremany tricks, strategies, and tools for acquiring followers, but the best method by far isto generate high-quality tweets on a regular basis linking to high-quality contentrelated to your goals and work. In other words, to attract followers of value, you mustprovide value (see Figure 3).6 According to Wikipedia, in 2011 over 300 million users generated over 300 million tweetsand over 1.6 billion search queries per day. However, Twitter is reported to have a lowretention rate (keeping those who join). Retrieved, 1/2/12.7 See SlideShare URL at the end of this chapter and view “Twitter Tutorial: How-To Links” toaccess links to lists of education-related hashtags.C. Cowen 2/23/12 5
  6. 6. Third, tweeting enhances search engine optimization (SEO). What is that? SEOimproves the visibility of a website or webpage on a search engine, such as Google.SEO tactics seek to ensure that a given website or blog shows up near the top of aresults page in response to a web search query. The higher on the results page, thebetter the odds people will click on the link to a site. (Few of us scroll beyond the firstfew items on a search results page.) So if, for example, your organization andwebsite are all about literacy, you want to show up near the top of the results pageon a search for literacy (or for similar words or topics, e.g., illiteracy, teachingliteracy). An entire industry has grown up around the creation and use ofsophisticated SEO tactics, but all you need to know for now is that through the simpleact of tweeting, you can enhance SEO and page ranking, especially if youconsistently and strategically use keywords and phrases that summarize or relate toyour cause.C. Cowen 2/23/12 6
  7. 7. So, how does Twitter advance web strategy? To summarize, Branding Yourselfauthors Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy put it best: “Twitter allows the instantaneoussharing of your blog or website content, which means you have the opportunity topublish your opinions and ideas to a readership of millions” (2011, p.88). How? Viatweets to hashtags and followers and through the power of SEO.____________________________________________MESSAGING: How Does Twitter Facilitate Messaging?Twitter is a two-way communication channel that not only allows you to broadcastinformation to others, but also brings information to you via your Twitter feed.Twitter Feed: Targeted Breaking News and ContentYour Twitter feed—tweets from people you follow—provides a steady stream oftargeted breaking news and content. As you follow people interested in issues thatinterest you, these “tweople” provide valuable links to information you might havemissed otherwise. The people you follow determine the scope and quality of thecontent in your Twitter-feed. Following people with diverse interests and perspectivesyields wide-ranging content that can get overwhelming. Following people with similarinterests and perspectives yields targeted content that can be too narrow. The trick isto find a balance that reflects your interests and needs and allows you to followemerging information in your content niche.How do you know whom to follow? There is a lot of buzz these days about analyticstools such as Klout 8 (http://klout.com/corp/kscore) online influence. Theoretically,you want to follow people with influence and, presumably, those with high Kloutscores. Keep in mind, though, this is just one measure, one many criticize assuperficial. Twitter also offers regular “who-to-follow” suggestions. But if you are juststarting out, it is important to look at Twitter profiles and tweets to assess for yourselfif a prospect is “follow-worthy.” In the process, you learn important lessons abouteffective tweeting and see who is tweeting and re-tweeting what in your areas ofinterest. You also can search hashtags in your Twitter search window (see Figure 4 9)to find and follow “tweople” on your topics of interest, but you still will want to reviewtheir profiles and tweet history.8 See SlideShare URL at the end of this chapter and view “Twitter Tutorial: How-To Links” forlinks to discussions about Klout score pros/cons9 As we were going to press, Twitter changed its page design. However, the basic principlesremain the same.C. Cowen 2/23/12 7
  8. 8. As you follow more people, your Twitter feed can explode with incoming tweets. If adaily tsunami of incoming emails and other data already swamp you, a hyperactiveTwitter feed is not good. Fear not. You can and should un-follow people as yourinterests and priorities shift and as you learn more about who best meets your needs.You also can create lists within your Twitter feed to break down incoming tweets intotopical (hashtag) categories and make monitoring more manageable.Another strategy for managing an active Twitter feed is to deploy a tool such asPaper.li (http://paper.li). Advertized as content curation, Paper.li is more topicalaggregation (bundling) and too automated to be true content curation.10 No matter.Paper.li’s real value is in taking links from people you follow and converting tweetsinto a digital “tweet-paper” for easy reading—far easier for busy digital immigrants toscan and digest than a highly active Twitter feed. Your Paper.li also can tweet itselfwhen it is hot-off-the-press and you can tweet and re-tweet directly from your ownpaper.li or from other paper.lis to which you subscribe, making this a very valuabletwo-way communication tool.11Is your head spinning? Not to worry. File some of this away under “Solutions forFuture Problems,” which, if you are just starting out, you will not need to think aboutfor a while.Twitter: A Broadcasting MediumBroadcasting is one thing. Attracting, engaging, and keeping high-quality followerswho act on or pass along your messages is another. Some influential tweeters havethousands of followers; if they re-tweet you, your message can go viral in seconds.10 Scoop.it! (http://blog.scoop.it/en/) probably is closer to content curation and appears to bea promising tool.11 Paper.li also works with Facebook or Google+.C. Cowen 2/23/12 8
  9. 9. There are all kinds of tricks and tools for acquiring followers (Google it), but attractingand keeping valuable followers is something else. Following and re-tweeting otherquality tweeters are two effective strategies that often prompt people to check you outand follow or re-tweet back. This is good! You are looking for active re-tweeters withtheir own followers. But again, the single most effective strategy for attracting andkeeping quality followers is to learn the art of a good tweet and to place it in hashtagneighborhoods your target audiences frequent.In 140 characters or less, effective tweets:  Post links to valuable content  Engage, interact, and build relationships  Promote your cause—but not too much, interspersing your cause-related tweets with those of others, especially those with aligned causes and contentAs Deckers and Lacy say, “the more content-rich your tweets, the more people willread” (2011, p.94). Content comes from linking to your blog, website, or other blogsand news sources and by engaging in conversation. Of course, if your tweets are wellwritten and thought provoking, all the better (see Figure 5).C. Cowen 2/23/12 9
  10. 10. There are no rigid rules when it comes to tweeting, but following a few common-sense guidelines can ease your way and facilitate effective messaging. Don’tpromote yourself too much (bad manners), don’t overdo quotes12 (boring), don’t losetrack of time and spend all day tweeting (foolish), and don’t forget that tweets arepublic (really foolish). Do be goal-oriented and relevant (smart), do be active (shootfor 5-20 tweets per day), and do embrace “givers gain” (Deckers and Lacy suggestone self-serving tweet for every nine about others).A final quote from Deckers and Lacy: “When it comes to Twitter, you’re expected toshare others’ content more than your own. When you share their content, they’remore likely to share yours in return” (2011, p.104). Being re-tweeted is a complimentthat furthers your objectives. Re-tweeting is good form and builds your network (seeFigure 6).12 I have tweeted a quote once or twice, but regard people who tweet daily quotes as “cheaptweeters” and do not follow them. Why clog up my Twitter feed? I can read a book of quotesor search online anytime I feel the need for an inspirational quote. But maybe that’s just me.C. Cowen 2/23/12 10
  11. 11. Which brings us to this incredibly important point: Twitter’s linking and sharing cultureis a powerful asset for igniting change. Borrowing from Malcolm Gladwell’s TheTipping Point (2000), mavens (databanks), connectors (social glue), and salesmen(persuaders) all populate Twitter—a medium that further empowers them to do whatthey already do well. Twitter helps you enlist the talents of mavens, connectors, andsalesmen to convey your messages.A final point about Twitter’s broadcasting power: Twitter gives you more control ofyour messaging and press. No longer must you rely exclusively on traditional press totell your story. Social media enables you tell it yourself with accuracy and passion!And, if you tell it well enough, traditional press sometimes follows.__________________________________________________NETWORKING/COMMUNITY ACTION: How Does Twitter PromoteNetworking and Social Action?Even if you know very little about Twitter, you probably have heard about the so-called Twitter Revolutions.13 You also may have encountered the term, ProfessionalLearning Networks (PLNs). Both relate to what Twitter is exceptionally good at—building social networks and igniting social action. How do these relate to the workand goals of literacy educators and activists?Twitter-Fueled Professional Learning Networks for Literacy Causes?Let’s start with Professional Learning Networks, which, according to Wikipedia, “havebecome prevalent in the field of education and are rapidly becoming adopted ascenters for the dissemination of field-related information.”14 A key PLN concept isthat it is learner-centered: “Learners create connections and develop a network thatcontributes to their professional development and knowledge.”15 The other definingfeature of the PLN trend is its connection to social media.We probably can anticipate that PLNs driven by social media will play an expandingrole in 21st century teacher preparation and professional development. Most literacyleaders of the “evidence-based persuasion” will feel varying degrees of discomfortwith the learner-centric concept at the heart of PLNs and will worry about leaving toomuch responsibility for directing professional learning in the hands of those who maynot know enough to know what they do not know, never mind how to acquire theknowledge they need. A concern, yes.But imagine the synergistic power in a skillfully executed effort to organize PLNs forliteracy educators in teacher preparation and professional development programsthat embody, for example, the tenets of the International Dyslexia Association’s13 Twitter was used to organize protests in Egypt, Tunisian, Iran, and Moldova.14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Learning_Networks. Retrieved 1/2/12.15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Learning_Networks. Retrieved 1/2/12C. Cowen 2/23/12 11
  12. 12. Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.16 Imagine leveragingPLNs to organize a grassroots campaign to raise public awareness about theknowledge base required for skilled reading instruction. Imagine coordinating PLNsnationwide to share effective strategies for pushing for state literacy laws.PLNs are not new. Throughout human history, formal and informal professional andgrassroots networks have shared knowledge and information to advance socialgoals. Social media platforms like Twitter expand the power and reach of theselearning networks profoundly.Twitter: A Power Tool for Igniting Social ActionSocial media also has the power to ignite social action for good and bad. Twitter isthought to have played a role in the United Kingdom civil unrest in the spring of 2011.Twitter was used to organize protests in Egypt during 2010-2011, Tunisian during2009-2010, Iran in 2009, and Moldova in 2009. Twitter also helped launch the“Occupy Movement” (#OWS,17 2011). A pretty big impact for a social media platformlaunched as recently as 2006, no?We also have an example of Twitter’s power to galvanize and coordinate socialaction closer to home. During the summer of 2011, a grassroots effort called SaveOur Schools (SOS)18 organized a march in Washington DC to demand: “1) equitablefunding for all public school communities; 2) an end to high-stakes testing used forthe purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation; 3) teacher, family, andcommunity leadership in forming public school policies; and 4) curriculum developedfor and by local school communities” (see www.saveourschoolsmarch.org.)Leaving aside how you may feel about these demands (some of which will worryparents, educators, and policy makers fighting for “evidenced-based practices”), theSOS movement offers important lessons in deploying social media to achieve socialgoals. SOS has been especially skillful in leveraging Twitter to:  Recruit new members and build community identity around shared frustration  Tweet a barrage of headlines driving traffic to websites and blogs where prolific writers further articulate the cause  Sustain ongoing conversation around core talking points  Attract the attention of traditional press  Focus attention on a call to action—a Washington march that further solidified everything aboveA few qualifiers: Twitter is not SOS’s only organizing tool, there have been missteps,and to what extent this movement ultimately will be successful remains to be seen.But SOS offers a great ongoing case study for literacy educators and activistsseeking to tap the power of social media. SOS also offers a warning for those not yet16 See http://www.interdys.org/standards.htm17 Roughly one in every 500 hashtags on Twitter worldwide was #OWS.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street. Retrieved 1/2/1218 See http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/C. Cowen 2/23/12 12
  13. 13. deploying social media tools and strategies. Others are doing so and they are honingtheir skills._________________________________________________PEDAGOGY: How Can Twitter Enrich/Engage Learning andDifferentiate Teaching?Twitter and other social media are at the heart of a freewheeling pedagogical frontier.Exploration, intuition, improvisation, and market forces will drive development ofsocial media/education practices and interventions for a while. There will be risk-taking, missteps, snake-oil salesmen, and brilliant innovation. It will take years forempirical research to catch up (if it ever does). Schools are struggling with policiesand access issues, but there is no closing this barn door. Educators already areexperimenting with social media, such as Twitter, to enrich and engage learning, todifferentiate teaching, and for other pedagogical purposes. Check out a sampling of high-profile education Tweeters to get a taste of the action:19 1. https://twitter.com/edutopia 2. https://twitter.com/rmbyrne 3. https://twitter.com/TeachPaperless 4. https://twitter.com/mbteach 5. https://twitter.com/Larryferlazzo 6. https://twitter.com/web20classroom 7. https://twitter.com/coolcatteacher 8. https://twitter.com/ShellTerrell 9. https://twitter.com/stumpteacher 10. https://twitter.com/NMHS_Principal 11. https://twitter.com/cybraryman 12. https://twitter.com/langwitchesThis is uncharted territory. Shouldn’t the people who know the most about theknowledge base required for skilled reading instruction be exploring this territory,too? Given what we know about the reading brain and the science of teaching andlearning, shouldn’t we be out there as well helping to blaze the trails? If we worryabout the erosion of “deep reading” skills in a digital environment—as cognitiveneuroscientist, Maryanne Wolf cautions (2010)—shouldn’t we be lending ourexpertise to chart this new territory and to help ensure that one of civilization’sgreatest triumphs (deep reading/thinking skills) is not lost along the way? Justbecause something is technology-based and powerful does not mean it delivers onits promise or is good.19 Disclaimer: This is just a taste and by no means exhaustive—merely the result of an houror so spent trolling my Twitter feed. These tweeters will lead you to others. Inclusion does notsignify endorsement; omission does not signify the opposite.C. Cowen 2/23/12 13
  14. 14. Finally, if we are dedicated to ensuring children are print-literate in order to function ina text-driven culture, shouldn’t we also be dedicated to preparing children to live in asociety that demands new-media literacy?20 This last question may be the trickiest ofall. What exactly is new-media literacy, how does it relate to print literacy, and how doschools based on industrial-era design impart new-media literacy skills? A complexever-changing digital environment further complicates these questions.It is not clear how to navigate the tricky waters of these and similar questions. Whatis clear is that we cannot learn to swim without getting in the water. So far, in myrelatively brief but intense exploration of social media, I have been struck by theconspicuous absence of most literacy and learning differences experts. We have verylittle presence in this arena, especially on Twitter.Notice that other than offering a few leads, I did not actually answer the question thatkicked off this section of this chapter: How can Twitter enrich/engage learning anddifferentiate teaching. After a few false starts, I realized that my answers would be fartoo preliminary. More to the point, better answers would come from literacy masterpractitioners and thought leaders partnering with new-media experts to explore thefrontiers of social media’s pedagogical applications and to identify promisingpractices. Of course, a new generation of rigorous translational research21 shouldfollow. Partnerships among educators, new-media experts, and researchers will bevital to exploring new media’s teaching-learning applications and implications, whichmay indeed blaze pathways to solutions for longstanding education challenges andto exciting innovations for future generations of learners._______________Your Turn to ActI have touched on Twitter’s applications and possibilities related to 1) WEB STRATEGY,2) MESSAGING, 3) NETWORKING/COMMUNITY ACTION, and 4) PEDAGOGY. Will Twittersave the planet or, barring that, solve the pressing challenges most people agree wenow face in education across the nation? Definitely not. Frederick Hess voiced arelevant caution in The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers GetStuck in Yesterday’s Ideas, “The challenge is not to romanticize any giventechnological advance, but to ask how it might be used to solve problems in smarterways” (2010, p. 26). To be sure, social media has plenty of downsides, some ofwhich we probably cannot even glimpse at this early juncture. Twitter is just a socialmedia tool. Like all tools, it has limitations. It is as good or bad as the humans whowield it.20 An array of evolving new-media literacy definitions pulled from the web over the last twoyears share characteristics such as, ability to: 1) analyze, evaluate, and communicateinformation in a complex ever-changing digital environment; 2) be both a critical thinker andcreative producer of a range of messages using image, language, and sound; and 3) skillfullyapply print literacy skills (decoding/encoding symbols and comprehending, synthesizing,analyzing, and producing messages) to media and technology messaging.21 Translational research: Practice-based research to enhance evidence-based practice.C. Cowen 2/23/12 14
  15. 15. With those important disclaimers and cautions underscored, I have no doubt thatTwitter can be a power tool for literacy educators and activists. As GuyKawasaki, author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actionssaid, “Twitter is the most powerful enchantment tool I’ve used in my career” (2011,p.126). Kawasaki is the former chief evangelist of Apple, so that is saying something.Perhaps enchantment has been a missing ingredient in our decades-long campaignto bring skilled reading instruction to every child. We have tried the levers ofresearch, policy, legislation, and accountability, but how well have we practiced theart of enchantment to change hearts, minds, and actions? To what extent might thecurrent backlash of angry resistance to evidence-based efforts reflect relying mostlyon top-down strategies for creating change while neglecting to give bottom-upgrassroots strategies our attention?Twitter is a powerful tool for enchanting, for building grassroots support, and forigniting change. Twitter or future iterations of Twitter also may prove to be anespecially valuable teaching-learning tool. Yes, using Twitter requires learning a fewtricks and strategies, but it is not rocket science. Twitter is low-hanging fruit. Why notpluck it?Which brings us to two steps you can take now to begin sampling some of the fruitsof social media:STEP #1: If you have not done so already, start a Twitter account. It is free andnot difficult to do. Go to Twitter.com and follow the prompts. Once you startyour account (or if you already are on Twitter but not active), here is yourassignment: 1. Explore Twitter and get to know its various features. (Don’t freak out if the layout changes. It happens now and then as Twitter improves its design. The basic features usually remain intact.) 2. Follow 15 new people each week for a month (best way to quickly understand what works and what does not and to build a valuable Twitter feed). 3. Tweet at least once a day for a month (to build the habit and to become fluent).Here is a bit of scaffolding: If you check out the three resources below as youcomplete the assignments above, you will be well on your way.  http://www.slideshare.net/carolyndcowen View Draft 3 Twitter Power 4 Literacy Educators & Activists and Draft 3 Twitter Power Tutorial: How-2 Links (Introductory)  http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/ The Twitter Guide Book: How-To, Tips and Instructions (Basics to Advanced)  http://socialtriggers.com/twitter-tips/C. Cowen 2/23/12 15
  16. 16. How to Attract and Influence People on Twitter (The Ultimate Twitter Resource)STEP #2: If I inspired and empowered you to explore Twitter, I hope you will dothe same for your colleagues. Pay it forward! Also, teaching something is agreat way to consolidate our own learning.This chapter focused on social media’s why more than its how—hoping to entice,guide, and gently prod you to take the steps needed to learn how to engage in socialmedia, especially Twitter. I hope you feel inspired to take those next crucial steps.Social media tools will be powerful in the hands of literacy educators and activistsworking to improve the teaching-learning landscape on behalf of children at risk forreading failure. Let’s get out there and explore this new frontier! __________________________________________ What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. — C. S. Lewis ___________________________________________ * * * Watch for the second edition of Power to Act: Transforming Literacy and Education, by Cinthia Haan, due spring 2012. The first edition can be found at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Power-Act- Transforming-Literacy- Education/dp/1466218258).C. Cowen 2/23/12 16
  17. 17. FIGURES 1-6 NOTELike all social media platforms, Twitter periodically redesigns its layout and features, so whatyou see on your screen may not correspond exactly with the figures in this chapter (capturedat the time of publication). The fundamental elements, however, usually remain intact.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSSpecial thanks go to John Wilpers (for steadfast support and an awesome Christmaspresent), to Cinthia Haan (who pushed me out of the closet), and to Earl Oremus andGordon Sherman (two of my best critics).REFERENCESDeckers, E. & Lacy, K. (2011). Branding yourself: How to use social media to invent or re-invent yourself. Indianapolis, IN: Pearson Education, Inc.Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.Hess, F. M. (2010). The same thing over and over: How school reformers get stuck in yesterday’s ideas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Kawasaki, G. (2011). Enchantment: The art of changing hearts, minds, and actions. London: Penguin Book Ltd.Wolf, M. (2010). Cassandra’s Thoughts About Reading and Time. In Sherman, G. F. & Cowen, C. D. (Eds.) Perspectives: Dyslexia with 2020 Vision—where will we be in 10 years, 36 (1) 39-40.BIOGRAPHYCarolyn D. Cowen is known for developing, launching, and managing programs andinitiatives that improve the teaching-learning landscape for people with learning differences,particularly those with dyslexia. As Executive Director of Carroll School’s Center forInnovative Education, she oversees various outreach and professional-developmentprograms, coordinates/convenes the Dyslexia Leadership Summit, and spearheads theDyslexia Geno-Phenotyping Initiative. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of TheLearning Disabilities Network—a nonprofit she co-founded and operated for 20 years thatprovided services to individuals with LD, their families, and professionals working on theirbehalf.In her 35-year career, Carolyn has worn many hats: teacher, reading therapist, speaker,author, editor, consultant, professional-development planner, executive director, think-tankconvener, fundraiser, funder, and social-media editor/strategist. Carolyn earned her master’sdegree in reading education and learning disabilities from Harvard University. She receivedthe Alice H. Garside Award from the New England Branch of the International DyslexiaAssociation (IDA), chaired IDA’s nominating committee, and currently serves as Social-Media Editor and Strategist for IDA’s EXaminer. These days, she is especially interested innew-media/print literacies, social media as a tool for advancing change, and creative waysnonprofits can “power the mission with the message.”C. Cowen 2/23/12 17
  18. 18. SIDEBARSocial Media Experiments: Here are two of several informal experiments I conducted that helpedturn me from a social-media skeptic to cautious advocate. The results themselves are not huge, butprovide insights into huge possibilities.  Views of two of my presentations/documents on SlideShare jumped significantly after being featured briefly on SlideShare’s homepage—one because it was “being tweeted more than anything else on SlideShare” (probably because of hashtags I used) and one because it was “popular” (probably because of keywords in the title). Taken together, these two presentations have had over 2,250 views. (The tally for all 12 of my public SlideShare presentations/documents is about 5,850 views). Take away: Hashtags and keywords are important and Twitter and SlideShare can work synergistically to broadcast messages and reach audiences.  For years the International Dyslexia Association struggled to attract high-caliber proposals for its Multisensory Structured-Language Research Grant Program. Nine proposals were received from 2006-2010; one was accepted. In 2011, we experimented with a social-media call-for- proposals strategy (Twitter) that yielded five proposals (three from outside the US), one of which was funded. Take away: Twitter reaches a wide range of audiences from around the world, including neuroscientists and cognition/education researchers.Christmas (2010) Books: I am often asked about the books I received. Keep in mind, I do notnecessarily endorse these and, even though all have publishing dates between 2008-2011, theircontent may be dated already.  Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy  Content Rules: How to Create Killer Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars and More, by Ann Handley and C. C. Chapman  Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, by Clayton Christensen  Facebook Marketing an Hour a Day, by Chris Treadway and Mari Smith  Grown Up Digital, by Don Tapscott  Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Social Media, and Blogs, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah  The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future, by S. Craig WatkinsHere are two more I have since discovered and found relevant.  The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Change, by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith  Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, by Guy KawasakiFollow Suggestions: Come find me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/cdcowen). Tell me about yourTwitter adventures and send me an RT-worthy tweet! Also follow:  LiterateNation (https://twitter.com/LiterateNation). Literate Nation: Working together across disciplines to ensure all students are reading literate and equipped with 21st century skills to flourish in school, career, and life.  IntlDyslexia (https://twitter.com/IntlDyslexia). International Dyslexia Association: Pursuing and providing a comprehensive range of information and services addressing the full scope of dyslexia and related difficulties. C. Cowen 2/23/12 18