Twitter is a good thing as long as it allows us to do things we couldn't do without it. Such as: organizing democratic change in the Middle East! But Twitter is really sad when it's used as a classroom crutch.
The New York Times gets its trend piece on, revealing that a small (but growing!) number of college and K-12 classrooms are using Twitter to try to get kids to contribute to class discussions. During class. So-called "backchannel" chats programs (like Twitter) are supposed to give kids a way to comment and ask questions on given subject matter. Kids who would otherwise just sit there and stare blankly at blackboard.
Except, these kids have problems that in-class Twitter or IMing isn't going to fix:
"When we have class discussions, I don't really feel the need to speak up or anything," said one of her students, Justin Lansink, 17. "When you type something down, it's a lot easier to say what I feel."
Telling kids that microblogging is an acceptable replacement for human, vocal discourse is like telling art school students that they can just hand in some clip art. It's important to get everyone involved in a group discussion, yeah—but giving them a Twitter feed or chatroom instead of being an actual human being is horrifying. Instead of learning to overcome whatever sloth or social hangup a silent student has, they'll just go deeper down the digital rabbit hole. This isn't tech moving us forward—this is lazy teachers screwing their students.
The only things creepier than this entire concept are the sample educational tweets the NYT cites. Keep in mind that these were written during class, typed away while staring at a laptop screen instead of the actual lesson at hand:
The poet "says that people cried out and tried but nothing was done," one student typed, her words posted in cyberspace.
"She is giving raw proof," another student offered, "that we are slaves to our society."
Has it really come to the point that we're so alienated from one another that we can't even ask a question in class without the aid of a laptop? Twitter, you seriously need to help overthrow another dictator to make up for this. [NYT]