Twitter

Conexus fortuna iuvat: can learning happen by chance? – The serendipitous Twit-learning

“Fortuna iuvat eum qui conexus(est)” – fortune favours the connected – is an adaptation of the famous Latin proverb “audentes fortuna iuvat” – fortune favours the bold – which came from a short conversation I recently had on Twitter with @conquestfrca

It is apparent that being “connected”, being part of a network, helps finding information quickly and more effectively. I have experienced this many times on Twitter: I found information, suggestions, experiences just by sending a tweet, I got papers I couldn’t access because of the dreaded pay wall, I engaged in interesting discussions and connected with varied people. I lurked. I learnt.

However this purposeful learning mechanism often gives space to a less organised one, where learning happens by chance. The way in which Twitter is constructed makes it a malleable tool which utilisation can be shaped by users around their needs and preferences. This means that, depending on the quantity and quality of connections, the use of hashtags and lists, and even the platform used, it is possible to read tweets from the most disparate people and find unexpected, unconventional connections.

In an interesting paper by Rita Kop, a sentence from Latin philosopher Heraclitus sums all this quite well: “the unexpected connection is more powerful than one that is obvious”.

The twitter stream is a dynamic, ongoing conversation where information is collaboratively shaped by users. Learners need to “move” inside this stream, managing and filtering information, using it in original ways and – possibly – keeping this openness for others to enjoy and fit-in. Sometimes I think of tweets as small notes shared with an open community of learners. Sometimes they are relevant to our own learning, sometimes they are not directly connected to it but, just because they are so unexpected, they can bring insights and take us to new learning paths, original ideas and new perspectives. These tweets however need to attract our attention, personal interest, something we are engaged with, in order to stimulate learning.

This serendipitous character of twit-learning is important because it can stimulate creativity and critical thinking, urging us to use lifelong learning skills. I think Twitter is a great arena for students to practice and master their self-learning skills, especially because of the less controlled environment in which they have to find their way, select information, manage procrastination, too. However I believe we need to first introduce this tool to students as a specifically designed learning activity, in a way that they can gradually discover its value and then learn taking part in the conversation in a meaningful way.

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Peeragogy – a recent example in Medical Education

While doing some rather solitary reading and scribbles for my DEd earlier, my attention was caught by this particular tweet:

I had a quick look at @twitfrg profile and the blog post explaining how this “Twitter-mediated revision” is going to work and I was positively surprised by the explanation of this initiative. As @nlafferty noted, this is not a first…

…but still, I was impressed by the pedagogical reasoning involved in the organisation of this activity. The inclusion of a revision document coupled with some MCQs to be answered before the discussion is excellent, in particular I liked the fact that students will be discussing the answers and “how they arrived at them”. I think this is an excellent way to reveal, break apart in a way, the clinical reasoning involved in the process of finding the answers to these MCQs.

I recently came across another, however different, peer-learning initiative: the “Peeragogy Handbook, a Resource for Self-organizing Self-learners”. This site contains resources and information on peer-learning  and provides a theoretical background which the authors call “paragogy”, a set of principles to understand the process of learning together.

“A healthy process for learning in paragogy consists in a direct evolution of the four principles of parliamentary democracy: (1) The right to speak; (2) The right to be heard; (3) The right to listen; (4) The right to cooperate in the proliferation of options, that is, the right to “co-lead” in the decision-making system.” – Fabrizio Terzi

                 From Peer Learning to “Peeragogy”

I wonder if students embarking in an activity like #twitfrg would be interested in reading about the theoretical background underpinning peer-learning, to plan it better and with a sound pedagogical setting; or they would rather learn-by-doing, organise in a way that answers their learning needs and just go with the flow. In this case I do not think the educational value of the activity would be lost. Of course careful planning, taking into consideration the learning needs and having clear in mind the aims of the activity would be the ingredients of a successful learning experience.

However, I immediately found this initiative quite interesting also for its connection with my doctorate subject, and, after a prompt re-tweet, I started observing the reactions. Not surprisingly the tweet called a lot of interest from many students and professionals, some offering help, others liking the initiative and starting to spread the world.

This could become a good example of multidisciplinary working other than a community of sharing, collaboration, co-construction of knowledge and I hope this initiative gets the participation and interest it deserves.

I am looking forward of seeing how this develops and I wish the best of luck to the organisers!