Introducing people to social media using analogies

The objective of my presentation at NCTM in New Orleans was to introduce participants to social media, which was made difficult because participants did not have Internet access. As it turns out, this ended up forcing me into a couple of activities which were pivotal experiences for participants.

Here are my slides from my presentation.


Instead of trying to bring my participants to the Internet, I brought the Internet (or at least a portion of it) to my participants, and in doing so, provided them with concrete examples of how people use social media to interact.

I started my presentation by sharing some of the stories I have from my use of it, and who I have been able to interact with and how this has enriched my professional learning. If you use social media as a professional tool, then you have some of these stories too.

Next, I gave them an experience of what it might be like to participate in a live Twitter session. Participants were given a question, 30 seconds to find new group members, and 140 seconds (suggested by Dvora) to discuss the question in their small groups. This highlights that Twitter conversations are often with people you don’t know very well, and can be brief and short interactions.

I then asked participants to describe the attributes of our face to face conversations, and then speculate as to how these might transfer to an online conversation. I then highlighted for participants some of the features of these kinds of conversations. In particular, the conversations parallel conversations you would have with people face to face, but that conversations online can take place between participants who are separated by vast geographic (and cultural) differences.

Participants went around the room and read one or two of the four blog posts I had printed and put up on the wall, and put sticky notes up to comment on the blog posts. We then debriefed the experience with the main observation being that blogging is a lot like reading and responding to a letter from the editor.

Finally I wrapped up by talking about some of the specific projects that have been created through collaboration with other people in the online mathematics education community, and how our participation online has resulted in resources of real value in our teaching.

In the final questions at the end, one participant astutely observed that it would be easy to find a “how-to” guide online, but that he felt my “why-to” session was more helpful. There’s no reason to tell people how to do a bunch of technical details if they don’t see a reason to do them.




  • I liked your approach, David, and I kept my concerns about Twitter’s technical details to myself because I knew that’s not what you were after in your session. I still struggle how to communicate some of the nuances of how Twitter works, though. When you think about it, some of the not-too-uncommon scenarios get a little crazy, such as:


    @davidwees asks a question on Twitter to his followers @one, @two, and @three. @one replies first but because @two doesn’t follow @one she doesn’t see the question has already been answered, and sends her own reply to @davidwees. @three, however, follows both @one and @two, so he sees both replies. @three wants to ask a follow-up question and chooses to reply to @two’s tweet because it’s most recent in his timeline. @three’s Twitter client automatically adds @davidwees to the conversation, but not not @one. Will @one see @three’s tweet? Only if @one follows @three, or if @three manually adds @one to the reply. Suppose @three is using a protected account and doesn’t follow @davidwees. Will @davidwees see @three’s tweet? No, because @three’s tweets are blocked to @davidwees. However, if @two replies back to @three, @davidwees *will* see that tweet, even though he won’t know what it was in reply to, except that it might have something to do with his original question.


    The real-world analogy to this is something like: “Suppose you were sitting with a group of people at a table and having a conversation, except some of the people at the table couldn’t hear all the other people, unless they addressed each person by name first before speaking.” Again, I’m glad you didn’t get into this during your session, but I imagine it can be quite confusing for those people new to Twitter.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Yeah, some of the technical details are a little weird for Twitter, but like you say, this would be overly confusing and not very helpful for a beginner. I like the logic puzzle idea you suggested on Twitter.

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