Reflection on flash debate in twitter

Last Friday I attempted a 'Flash debate' in twitter. The idea was that, like Flash mobs, we'd come together via twitter to discuss a particular topic, in this case virality in education. In my previous post I drew some conclusions about the topic, but here are some thoughts on the process.

Overall, I'd say it had only middling success, you can see some of the conversations here. Although the inputs I had were good (and thankyou to those who contributed), it didn't really take off. In short, my debate around virality didn't go viral. My aim in attempting this, and indeed the whole YOFL thing, is to explore what ways of using new tools work for educators. There are several factors to consider in the Twitter debate example:

i) Topic – maybe 'virality in education' isn't that exciting, or more probably, what a debate needs is a straightforward opening question, whereas this was a bit unfocused.

ii) Timing – Fridays may not be the best day of the week, and I did most of it during the working day in the UK. This may make it difficult to catch on in other time zones.

iii) Medium – it could be that maybe twitter isn't the best medium to conduct this. It has an advantage over setting up a specific forum or wiki in that you may catch people as they go around their daily business, but it has the character limit, poor threading and is limited by the people who follow you.

iv) Initiator – I kicked it off, and it's possible that a) I don't have sufficient cache to make it fly (imagine Downes or Will Richardson doing it) and b) that debates need more than one person driving them along.

I may try another one later on, but probably more focused. Any suggestions on whether it's worth it, or how to improve it are welcome.

5 Comments

  1. Think you might be being a bit hard on yourself and the idea. It does take a while for people to realise what the rules are and how it is working. It took the most part of a day for #uksnow to take off.
    Next, maybe it should have linked to a page on the wiki where people could record ideas/respond etc.
    Hope that helps
    Anne Marie

  2. I think the biggest problem is the Twitter medium. I briefly tuned in to the debate but didn’t see a natural way to contribute. I wonder if IRC or some time limited web-based chatroom would have been better. Of course, the time limit would be even greater and for some people the barrier to entry would be higher but I’ve seen IRC work really well as a complement to other community activities (e.g Drupal.org).

  3. We all try to start things to see some not ‘catch’ (hence partly why I proposed the topic in the first place!) So who says we didn’t learn anything 😉
    MY take is that in this case it’s mostly Reasons 1 & 2 with a tiny bit of 4. I’m not in love with twitter as a means for coherent debate, but I stand by my oft-stated belief that given a compelling enough need to connect, even 2 tin cans and a string will be made to work.
    If you wanted me to participate, then starting it at midnight my time on a Thursday meant it was almost done by the time I got back online (and because of the tool that is twitter, hard to reconstruct the thread.)
    I think the topic sparked the debate that it got; I think framed differently it could have got even more response, but isn’t that always the case (and partly what the discussion was about.)
    I think what some of the feedback you got to the original email about #yofl was to this effect – *announcing* it is not what makes it viral, *doing* whatever in a way that becomes viral makes it viral. I know that last bit is tautological, but then this whole dicusssion’s a bit meta-, innit?

  4. @Scott – I know you never sleep, and have the twitter stats to prove it. But yes timing is always a problem. But this maybe negates your last point a bit – I am all for the just doing it approach, but sometimes a _little_ bit of planning can make things work better. So for instance, if I had strongarmed you into doing the second leg of the debate, we could have had a handover and maybe we’d have got more responses.

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