the summer (institute) of twitter

As Chance the Gardner from Being There was often fond of saying, “I like to watch.”

And watch I have as NWP colleagues from around the country have taken to tweeting their experiences. Most are currently in some stage of beginning or ending their summer institutes, an event that gathers local teachers together to share practice, engage in a look at current research, write and enjoy the bonding that occurs when you put 20 or so teachers together in a room for 4 weeks.

When I went through my Summer Institute back in the late 90’s, I had very little sense of the national infrastructure of the writing project. I knew only my own Western Massachusetts Writing Project and had a vague notion that we were part of something bigger. It wasn’t until I attended the first NWP Annual Meeting a few years later that I realized the true scope of this teacher professional development organization.

So it’s with astonishment and admiration that I see April Estep in West Virginia sharing her morning writing prompts with Thomas Maerke, who himself is recording video of conversations in Missouri. Steve Moore in Kansas City posts one of the most moving readings I’ve ever heard, right from his phone, and that reading by one of the facilitators of his institute gets retweeted in moments. Cynthia Younger, also in Kansas City, is encouraged to develop her first blog by Steve Moore and then goes on Twitter to seek blogging advice. All the while, Paul Hankins and Donalyn Miller and Bud Hunt and Andrea Zellner and Kevin Hodgson, among a myriad of others, shout out encouragement from their corners of the country.

I could go on and on – from Philadelphia to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Monterrey Bay in California, summer institute teachers are providing a window into their daily work and play.

As I said, I’m astonished. Not because I thought these teachers were incapable of connecting with each other and sharing in this way. I realize that this is what has been happening on Twitter for many educators over the past few years.

It’s more that I didn’t fully understand the power of what would be unleashed when summer institutes connected. As Carl Whithaus so aptly put it in his tweet which I pasted above, it is the “dual sense of community” that has emerged and that has now been – and I’d bet money that this is true – cemented. The way in which, dialectically, a face-to-face experience has supported the use of social media, and social media has in turn amplified the face-to-face moment.

It is the summer (institute) of Twitter.

I like to watch.

And listen.

And, as it turns out, even participate.


Filed under digital literacies, education, new media, social networking

11 responses to “the summer (institute) of twitter

  1. I agree! I, too, have been watching. It’s been decades since I attended the Area3WP Summer Institute in northern California, and I am thrilled to see social media giving teachers across the country just what the summer ordered: renewed energy, camaraderie, and ongoing support!

    Cheers to all! We are part of an amazing team.
    Erin Dealey

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin. I’m glad I’ve gotten the chance to “meet” you via Twitter. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog.

  2. It is fascinating to see (from the outside) what is going on “inside” the Summer Institutes. We’re reconnecting with our own SI experiences and trying to show support for the current teachers now underway in their own SI.

    PS — I just added Erin to my ever-growing NWP Twitter list, too.

  3. Paul!!! Thank you for even mentioning me in this blog. You have been extremely insightful about so much and I hope that I continue to learn from you and many others. Steve has sung praises about you and I definitely appreciate all the things NWP has helped me learn about this summer. I have never been to any convention or conference, but I am definitely looking forward to it. Thanks for the hope you inspire in me.

    • Well, I feel like I in turn am learning so much from you and everyone else around the country who takes time to share their thoughts and practice via social media. Good luck with your blog, Cynthia – I commented there a little while ago!

  4. Pingback: Cross Country Collaboration: It All Started with Twitter | My Squirrelly View of Education

  5. Carl Whithaus

    Hi Paul

    Thanks for this post.

    I’d like to play for a second on/off/with this idea of the summer (institute) of twitter. For me a quick evolution of twitter goes like this: (1) Writing Research Across Borders Conf at UC Santa Barbara Feb. 2008 — tried solo tweeting as a way of taking notes (as @bluenada); (2) Computers and Writing Conf. at UC Davis 2009 — the twitter revolt (a mass “twackling” in realtime as Barbara Ganley’s keynote unfolded; (3) Computers and Writing Conf at Purdue 2010 — mass tweets, the ability to keep up with sessions you are not in following by following tweet streams, an amazing hive like activity where threads of conversation would emerge in the twitter version and then echo in hallway conversations; and now (4) National Writing Project (NWP) Summer Institutes (SIs) 2010 — a web of folks talking over a month rather than 3 days of a conference, not the intense cross-talk for C&W 2010, but a cross-talk a web emerging over time….

    In other words, (1) twitter as solo, (2) tweets as heckling, revolt, disagreement (community bldg, but in opposition to something), (3) tweets as hive mind, (4) tweets as dual community (f2f and virtual)…

    • Thanks, Carl. Sorry for the late reply – I’ve been on the road at various NWP events.

      Great to have more of your insights here, especially since it was your tweet that got me thinking and writing about what I was witnessing.

      I like the way you’ve laid out Twitter’s evolutionary path from your perspective. It seems critical to keep this kind of record, and to reflect, as social media literacy practices emerge and grow. Especially since their life spans seem equivalent to that of a fruit fly in comparison to our more traditional practices.

  6. Paul, I love the clarity in your writing, for example: “The way in which, dialectically, a face-to-face experience has supported the use of social media, and social media has in turn amplified the face-to-face moment.” It’s exactly what I think but I wouldn’t have thought of articulating it that way. Great blog! ~Heather

    • I’m really glad to know my writing is clear. I don’t always believe that to be the case. In any event, I do think this whole experience of the various SIs being connected via Twitter was completely eye-opening. I’ll need to continue to think about the implications. Thanks, Heather.

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