"That's Tweetable": Evolution of Social Media at Ozarks Writing Project
Across the country, in 200+ sites, National Writing Project Summer Institutes transform teachers through similar experiences—demos, reading and research, writing and responding. Connections are formed through these transformational experiences; maintaining these connections, both with and among teachers, beyond the Summer Institute, is our goal as site leaders at the Ozarks Writing Project (OWP). Our interest in digital literacies has led us to explore how digital tools can help develop strong continuity within our site, starting with the connections forged during the Summer Institute. The most recent tool that our site has explored is Twitter. Blogs to wikis to university web page to Facebook to Ning to Twitter. These are all tools and platforms that we have used as a site to build our presence as a site–to make connections with teachers and the community.
Each year “digital literacy” has meant something new for the Ozarks Writing Project (OWP), a site of the National Writing Project. Looking at our OWP site blog in 2006, I see a short post I wrote, “Caroline, you had some great quotes that you shared today. Would you please post those to the blog?” I looked at this now slightly amused, knowing that four years later, I might say during a conversation, “That’s tweetable,” or “You better tweet that.”
Tweet and Twitter were not in my vocabulary even two years ago. In 2006, blogging was cutting edge. Since then, most Teacher-consultants and Fellows have Facebook pages, and we moved our site “website,” if you will, from Blogger to Ning. The Ning provides the social aspect—the multitude of applications in one spot that was missing from Blogger. We followed the transition of Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts. We’ve done the stand alone blogs, the stand alone wikis, and the podcasts. Now during the Summer Institute, someone pulls out a phone, takes video, and tweets the video to followers on Twitter. Using our #owp hashtag, the stream of tweets can be followed by those not present in the face-to-face sense. Using and reading the #nwp hastag allows us to follow the stream of NWP tweeters from around the country. The ease with which we can publish pictures, video, and thoughts, through the portal of Twitter is tremendous. We live tweet events like our Summer Institute, youth writing conferences, and digital storytelling institutes. If someone cares to look, they can find out what was happening in our site on a daily basis.
Time, thinking, and the people coming through your site affect how digital literacies are used within the site. Looking back at the evolution of digital literacies at our site, I have come across many amusing moment. For example, the group photo of the 2007 Summer Institute shows 21 teachers in an old building on Missouri State’s campus crammed in a small classroom with tables. Another picture shows me, writing on a green chalkboard.I could never have imagined our 2010 Summer Institute room—pods with large television screens, projectors and screens, a lectern that can pull up individual computers at each of the pods. Both before the collaborative computer classroom, even when we had the chalkboard, digital literacies was a part of our conversation, but each year it changes.
In 2006, blogging was cutting edge; since then, the OWP has added a Facebook page and relocated our participants’ compositions from Blogger to a Ning. We’ve made stand-alone blogs, stand-alone wikis,podcasts and digital stories. Now during the Summer Institute, participants may grab their phone, pull up their twitter account or TweetDeck and document a memorable moment in the Summer Institute. The moment, captured in video, audio, or photos, is “tweeted out” to followers on Twitter.
Facilitators and participants alike intentionally look for tweetable moments to capture and share in real time. Twitter is the tool we use to capture and share quick epiphanies. The OWP continues to maintain a university website, we still utilize Ning to publish on blogs and discussion boards, and we participate in the NWP E-Anthology. But by asking Summer Institute fellows to tweet, we build a community of practice and apprentice Fellows into digital literacies that they might not have experienced otherwise. They become active participants and share in a tool that they can use beyond the summer to maintain connections with teachers at their site and across the country.
More than a social media tool, Twitter is a capacity and continuity-building tool. Through witnessing local educators’ nuanced use of Twitter, we have identified future fellows, thus building the capacity of the site. After establishing strong connections in the face-to-face setting of the SI, we can maintain those strong connections beyond the SI, both to one another and to the site, through the use of Twitter.
Twitter is simply a digital tool, and digital tools will continue to change. If we are committed to “Digital Is…” then we are committed to exploring the potential of these new tools. Back in 2006, we thought we had found an “answer” to incorporating digital tools into our Summer Institute and the other work of our site. Now we know there is no “answer,” no endpoint, just an openness to explore new ways to keep teachers connected to the work of the site and our local context and to help them develop an understanding of the context of the National Writing Project. We do this through our use of Twitter.