Ghost of Christmas past …

“Working sheepdogs” flickr photo by gwyn_bard https://flickr.com/photos/gwynbard/232674743 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Whilst some hashtags are short-lived, perhaps responding to an event in the educational news (#onboardwithGonski), others are ongoing and in continuous use (#mfltwitterati). Hashtag chats like #ukedchat do the work of both marshalling regular events and serving as a point of contact for those wishing to provide resources or news targeted at a specific community of interest. In a previous post, I wrote briefly about #12daystwitter, a hashtag that appears intermittently, but which recently enjoyed its fourth birthday. This post by Mickie Mueller, the founder of #12daystwitter provides the background and history, but essentially those who join in are set a simple, daily challenge which they respond to through Twitter. The intention is that they learn about participating on Twitter and perhaps have some fun into the bargain. Here I want to delve a little more deeply into what the hashtag shepherding this apparently simple activity actually does.

Those who participate on a regular basis need some way of following the hashtag in order that it can deliver them their daily challenge. This might be using the Twitter search function or with their Twitter client, perhaps Tweetdeck. To be an effective active participant requires assembly of this three-way alliance between themselves, the hashtag and a Twitter client. In the opening activity, participants are asked to say a little about themselves, so the hashtag here works in conjunction with the task to help set up some sense of community formation around a shared endeavour. The sharing continues as the hashtag provides the reference point through which people can view each other’s contributions. This is of course taking place in an open space, so tweets come into the view of others who might have been initially unaware of #12daystwitter. The hashtag now serves as a greeting card and ticket to enrol others into the enterprise.

@KRScienceLady wants to know more, and another participant provides the necessary information. The swelling of the ranks around the hashtag also means it can provide opportunities for individual participants to increase the number of people with whom they’re connected:

And by bringing an additional hashtag, increase the audience for #12daystwitter yet further. As if to highlight the importance of making connections, the hashtag enabled @ericcurts to construct this spreadsheet bringing details of the almost 2000 hashtag participants together. A register of people having only the time-limited hashtag in common.

Another way in which the hashtag adds value is where additional actors are incorporated into the tweet; the link to the spreadsheet provided one example. Day 4 of the challenge however,  involved sharing a photo of your classroom, which some took a stage further and extended to include a teaching activity like @AmyRoediger:

The rich media of the photograph gives a sense of the activity in situ, but in this example, we also see the inclusion of a hyperlink to a blog post providing more detailed background information. Our hashtag working with that photo and hyperlink to a blog post expand the learning potential for any viewer.

It has been acknowledged that Twitter provides a medium through which to pose questions (Davis, 2015). The Day 10 activity asked participants to pose a question, and here we see the hashtag acting with the @reply and Twitter’s algorithms to string together the responses and contributions of others:

These are the actors which make dialogue possible, understandable and manageable within Twitter. It’s important to point out however, that of the tweets which contribute to the pool of over 6000 which incorprate the hashtag, the majority simply add content and involve little further interaction than an occasional Like or Retweet. Knowing what effects these contributions might have on those who view (or contribute) them is much harder to establish. However, the effect of one particular hashtag is made clear in this tweet:

Popular hashtags can become victims of their own success and attract the attentions of spammers – those who use the hashtag to promote their own agenda, be it a product or message. Hashtags, unlike usernames, are completely open and available, so may be used incidentally for a completely different purpose:

As we saw with #NAT5HRUAE, hashtags are also fluid and can change shape. In addition to #12daystwitter, a second parallel, but similar activity was also taking place, conducted by the hashtag #12daysoftwitter. Some participants recognised their mistake:

Others included both tags, possibly participating in both challenges or perhaps to link participants together. Crossing the streams did not appear to result in any major disasters.

Summary

The #12daystwitter has not only enabled teachers to make connections, it actively encouraged them. It was the means through which resources and ideas on specific themes could be curated and shared, and it provided a window into a vast number of classrooms and classroom activity. All these things are possible and do happen in Twitter all the time, but the hashtag brought people together within a shared endeavour, by filtering out some of the background noise. Exposing evidence of the difference the hashtag made to people’s practice is challenging, but for some, it was transformational. Even if what people learned didn’t change their practice or their beliefs immediately, participating doubtless increased their professional capital (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012) in one way or another. That’s banked for the future.

 

Davis, K. (2015). Teachers’ perceptions of Twitter for professional development. Disability and rehabilitation, 37(17), 1551-1558.
Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Teachers College Press.

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