One Hashtag Helps Educators Change Their Schools

On Twitter, educators talk about issues they’re facing, share advice and pass on resources.

by Tanya Roscorla / January 8, 2010 0

Every day on Twitter, educators discuss issues they’re facing, share advice and pass on resources. But as Tom Whitby found out when he started debates on the social network, conversations can be hard to follow, especially when they’re mixed in with a bunch of tweets from other people.

That’s where the hashtag edchat comes in. Whitby worked with Shelly Terrell and Steven W. Anderson to provide a time, a place and a tag for educators to talk about major issues.

“We’re fostering a conversation that needs to be had,” said Anderson, an instructional technologist for 19 schools in North Carolina.

Edchat empowers educators to ask questions

When Anderson goes to educational conferences, he hears about all the wonderful things that schools have, such as smartboards and 1-1 laptop programs. But he rarely hears about how administrators deal with issues such as finding funding, training people and repairing equipment. 

“What edchat allows us to do is talk about the dark side a little bit," Anderson said. “Educators really get to ask the questions that they are dying to ask about these key issues.”

Edchat Fast Facts
Who: Educators, students, parents and anyone else interested in education
What: A hashtag that educators add at the end of their tweets to keep track of conversations about key education issues
When: Tuesdays
Noon to 1 p.m. EST
7 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST
Where: Twitter
How: Set up a column for the hashtag in TweetDeck, search for it on Twitter or use other applications such as TweetGrid and Twitterfall to see all the messages in the conversation.
Why: To change education for the better and exercise your voice

During an edchat last August, more than 100 educators debated whether homework helps students learn with Alfie Kohn, who argues in The Homework Myth that homework has no proven benefits. That discussion made edchat the No. 5 trending topic on Twitter, and in December, edchat earned enough votes to win an Edublog Award.  

Edchat empowers educators to fight for real change

So many educators are involved in these conversations now that Anderson hopes he will see real change in education. He wants the next generation, including his 8-month-old daughter, to have a better education that will help kids improve, not fall further behind.

Cool things are happening in school right now, but too many teachers see those things as the enemy, he said.

Changing education takes more than revamping the system, said Whitby, an adjunct professor at St. Joseph's College in New York. The culture needs to change, and that's a much bigger task.

 “The big problem is that people want change in education," he said, "but they won’t allow education to change."

Collaboration will help change part of the culture, and the only way that's going to happen is if educators discuss issues and support each other as they do through edchat, said Terrell, a technology trainer for educators around the world and an English language teacher based in Germany.

“We get a lot of educators who are doing great things in their classroom," she said, "and they’re fighting some really heavy opposition."

Edchat empowers educators to support each other

Those educators come to edchat with the problems they're facing, and the participants work with them to find solutions, Terrell said. They bounce ideas off each other, find out what other people have done and figure out how to make the changes accepted in their districts.

When educators want to try something new, administrators often give them 100 reasons why they can't do it, Whitby said. That's not the case in edchat.

“We give them 100 reasons how they can do it, and that’s a big difference,” he said.

“And why they should do it,” Anderson added.

Whitby continued, “That enables them to go back to their administrators and say, ‘Look, this is how it’s being done elsewhere, this is what’s doing, and here’s my strategy for working this out.’ It’s a whole different ballgame at that point.”

For more on edchat, check out these links:


Photo courtesy of Shelly Terrell
From left to right: 
Tom Whitby, Steven W. Anderson, Shelly Terrell, Ben Parr of Mashable, Eric Sheninger and Aparna Vashisht at the 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 27 and 28.

Edchat members participated in an education panel at the conference about how Twitter could change life as we know it. This was the first time that educators have been invited, and Anderson became the first educator to win a NOW award through the conference.