The Twitter Divide

(Note: This post contains lots of speculation and generalizations based on some extremely subjective observations, without any hard data to back it up. I’m not claiming I’m right about any of this! I’d love to get different points of view, so please comment. Thanks!)

  I'm on Twitter as talkclouds. Since I'm currently working as a private instructor/editor, it's been invaluable for staying connected. The e-mail groups that I joined as part of my various professional organizations are mostly dormant, and conferences are infrequent. Twitter lets me ask questions, discuss issues, and (best of all) share resources. In the last couple of days, I've found out about an event in San Francisco with the Japanese ambassador, two open-source textbook websites (more on that soon!), a JapaneseEnglish iPhone app, a new Pearson Longman site for teachers, an article on teaching English in Taiwan, where I could watch part of a Pecha Kucha session at the IATEFL conference in the UK live online, etc. That leads to me my next question, which is -- is it just me, or are UK-based teachers more with it when it comes to twenty-first century communication tools like Twitter and Pecha Kucha*? It's frustrated me for a long time that technology seems more alien to English teachers than to, say, librarians--ALA (American Library Association) conference websites are usually more advanced than TESOL/affiliate conference websites, there are librarians all over Twitter, and so on. Meanwhile, CALL and TELL are basically niches, and even many of their advocates focus mainly on twentieth-century "language lab"-style stuff. At any rate, I thought it was English teachers as a whole that were behind, but when my Twitter list exploded with #iatefl tags (see above), I realized that might not be the case. (Putting a # in front of a word in a post/"tweet" makes it into a "hashtag," which makes it a clickable, searchable term collecting all the tweets on that particular topic/at that particular venue/etc.) So many people were tweeting from the conference, whereas TESOL's conference just a couple of weeks before in Boston hardly even registered on my Twitter radar. One person I chatted with, who was at both TESOL and IATEFL, indicated that not only were there very few "tweechers" (Twittering teachers) at TESOL, but mentions of it were not received with favor or interest. (Alternatively, is it not a North America/UK divide, but an ESL/EFL divide? If IATEFL is really focused on EFL, as the name indicates, and is not a general UK-based ELT association--I confess I don't know--then that might be part of the difference. Most of TESOL's membership is composed of ESL instructors, and many of them teach composition rather than or in addition to communication-oriented English classes. The former generally have less in common with EFL instructors than the latter. I've noticed a relative lack of interest in using technology other than basic computer applications among many composition instructors.) I don't mean to suggest that everyone should get on Twitter.** It's not for everyone; lots of people will just find it annoying even after putting in the time needed to get used to it and learn its culture. (After all, I've tried Second Life twice and just can't get into it.) But I think more people need to try it out--after all, teachers also need support and "personal learning networks." Twitter is great for that. It's also very casual; there's not a lot of Twitter etiquette*** to worry about. You can follow (add) and unfollow (remove) people freely, and you don't need to worry about catching every tweet. My Twitter stream is like a magic cafe filled with English teachers from all over the world, plus some international journalists, cultural critics, general educators, linguists, and so on, all chatting to each other and to me. No one is making speeches, since it's not a lecture hall--although someone may hand me a paper to read later. If I pop in, I can catch all kinds of interesting things and share my own thoughts (and due to the magic properties of the cafe, I can rewind a bit too). I have three other accounts--one for my personal life, one for English learners, and one where I post local news and events for my area. I just think the people in these "cafes" would be bored or confused by each other, so I've kept them mostly separate. Most people don't go quite that far, although a lot of people have both professional and personal accounts. Fortunately, many Twitter clients and apps (small programs that just run Twitter) make handling multiple accounts easy. CATESOL is in a few days, and I would love to propose a tweetup (a meetup organized through Twitter)--however, I've only heard from two other people who are going. I wonder if there are enough of us for a tweetup. You would think California would be cutting edge, right? So far that hasn't really been my experience. Any theories on what's up? Am I and the other people I talked to just wrong and just not hooked into the North American ESL twitter community? Anyone want to talk about how it is in other places and disciplines?
* Pecha Kucha is not especially high-tech, nor are unconferences, but you could argue that both are part of the spirit of TED Talks and other tech-communication related innovations, and Pecha Kucha first came to the attention of many outside Japan though Wired magazine. ** I included this digression because I knew some people were going to think "What is the point of Twitter, anyway?" -- as I did before I started using it and, to a certain extent, while I only had my personal account and didn't have my @talkclouds account. *** Previous link deleted due to a malware report [on the site I linked to, not here] by Google.    



4 responses to “The Twitter Divide”

  1. PhilB81 Avatar

    Interesting points…. I guess as EFL is strewn around the planet, Twitter is a very useful way of getting in touch with other people doing the same job in a different context. I’ve certainly noticed that there seem to be a lot more EFL-types than ESOL-types on my Twitter feed (can of worms struggling to open) and I wonder if the geographical spread has something to do with it. There are some UK ESOL people on Twitter though – my list of them is here: . However, the best source of info on this sector is probably here:

    1. Clarissa Avatar

      Yes, quite a few of the American and Canadian twitterers that I follow work in Japan or Korea rather than in North America. I don’t know whether they started using Twitter to keep in touch with friends and family back home or to keep up on TESOL topics, but that “geographical spread” may indeed have something to do with it.

      Thanks for the links and thoughts! And I’m very sorry for the delay in approving your comment. I received a lot of new follower notices at the same time, and overlooked it.

  2. Graham Stanley Avatar

    Lots of food for thought here – as someone who was at the IATEFL conference, and who has attended a TESOL conference too (in New York some years back), I think one of the big differences is the way in which the teaching organisation has embraced and promoted technology as being part of the main conference.

    IATEFL, with support from the British Council, has made huge efforts over the last 4 years to organise an online presence for the conference. This means that people unable to attend in person, can feel part of the event. This has seen the setting up of a special website ( and over the years, finding out how best to bring the conference to the people at home (streaming video of sessions for those with sufficient bandwidth, active forums for those who have less access to tech) and this year it is obvious that the formula works.

    They have also responded well to innovations from the ground up. Last year it became obvious to the team behind IATEFL online that Twitter was going to be used at the conference and during a lot of the presentations to connect with people who weren’t there. So the British Council team made Twitter part of the official online presence, embedding the tool into the website, etc. The fact that there was free wifi at the conference helped a lot too. This year, it first looked as if there was going to be no free wifi at Harrogate, but the team did their utmost to ensure a sponsor, and found one (in the form of the UK’s Open University) – this ensured that the conference had a very healthy online presence and that people not able to attend were able to take part and feel as far as possible that they were there (you could see it in the Pre-conference event held in Second Life, and during the rest of the conference mainly through Twitter).

    Now, I don’t know about this year, but I remember the TESOL in New York – as a presenter, if I wanted access to Internet, then I had to pay something like 100$ an hour! That’s quite a difference. At this conference, it was just not practical to connect to people online most of the time.

    That’s not to say, however, that there’s no online presence at the TESOL conference. There is, but it seems to be focused on the dedicated group of teachers who attend called the Webheads, who for years have helped organise the Electronic Village. This year I know that there were lots of live sessions organised in the form of webinars and this group of people ensure that many people who can’t make it to the conference can virtually attend.

    This aspect of the TESOL conference does seem to be less mainstream though, than at IATEFL – what needs to happen is a change further up in the organisation, for the organisers of the conference and the regular teachers to see the value of bringing this to a wider audience. TESOL certainly has the funds and the ability to do this, but seems to lack the interest. This is where the members come in. It’s up to regular members to show there’s a demand for this.

    I’m not sure there are enough regular teachers using technology in the US for this to happen. At IATEFL the mindset of regular teachers is changing and more and more non-tech teachers are using tools such as Twitter to communicate with colleagues. It’s also been helped that a number of leading lights in the European ELT world, such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury are also active on Twitter (and have also used Second Life)

    Finally, I see this is something that can be improved upon if both organisations work together and learn from each other. At TESOL, the Electronic Village Online, organised in the six weeks preceding the conference does a fabulous job to bring teachers together from around the world, who cannot make the f2f conference. The Learning Technologies SIG of IATEFL experimented with doing something similar this year, albeit on a smaller scale. I think both organisations would greatly benefit from working more closely together.

    1. Clarissa Avatar

      Thanks for the great reply, Graham (and sorry about the Graham confusion on Twitter earlier). I went to a TESOL conference in Seattle a couple of years ago and there was wifi in a couple of the venues, but it may have been only because the hotel provided it. I’d love to get more involved with the TESOL organization and work to promote things myself, but I can’t afford to travel to the conventions these days. :/

      I have more involvement with CATESOL, the California state organization (I’m not sure if it’s TESOL’s biggest affiliate, but it seems like it probably is). They’re trying to organize some online presence such as online broadcasts of conference sessions. I wanted to help out with that, but I was a little late to participate. Maybe I can be more useful next year. I don’t know if there will be wifi at the conference next week or not…Of course, there can’t be response unless there’s a demand, as you say, and I just don’t know if there’s a demand. There’s an Electronic Village at CATESOL (in which I’m participating) but it’s been rather software-oriented in the past, not very 21st-century. I thought about sending in a proposal on using Twitter, actually, but since I never use it on a real phone (just an iPod Touch and a laptop) I didn’t think I was qualified.

      I have no idea if TESOL is paying attention to IATEFL, but I certainly hope they are.

      Anyway, I’ll see what happens at this conference, I guess…

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