Is Twitter Good for Democracy?

Mr. McKenzie’s and Mr Lauchlan’s Grade Twelves are inquiring into the use of social media on democracy. With the US Election just weeks away, and the first presidential debate concluded, BBC reported the debate as “the most tweeted political event in US history”. Also, both US presidential election campaigns use Facebook and Twitter as tools to inform and share their platforms.  Social media is playing a definitive role in the election. Using this democratic event, both Social Studies 30 classes are developing and extending their understanding of US politics with relevant, real life applications of the use of social media in a political forum.

Twitter is a tool for communication. Free speech and the sharing of ideas is a building block of a democratic society. People have power when they can successfully share knowledge and ideas and unify around key issues. At the same time, does the speed at which the conversation now happens with social media prevent voters from deep thinking about the issues? Do Twitter and YouTube bring the debate down to a vulgar and silly level, or do the parody and humor found in social media attract interest and knowledge about election issues?

At the start of this inquiry, most TIS students had no experience with twitter or have an account.  Therefor, both classes  began the inquiry learning about Twitter; handles and followers, retweets and mentions. When then learned about the art of tweeting (being concise within 140 characters), sharing more than you take, giving credit, and yes, twitter privacy issues. We finished looking as mechanics of twitter by discussion at five key ways to communicate via tweeting.

After learning about Twitter, creating student accounts, and a few practice tweets later, it was time to create a class #hashtag.  Mr. McKenzie’s class decided on #tistiger.  When then began our inquiry  by watching social media connected to the US Election and by sending out tweets. Using TweetChat to follow the #tistiger chat stream;  both classes used authentic learning principles to ‘tweet’ in real time while watching the related social media regarding the presidential candidates, thus mirroring the twitter stream during the US Presidential Debate. Students could actively engage in the use of social media in a political forum. To get started, students in both classrooms watched  the viral YouTube:  Mitt Romney Style (Gangman Style Parody).


We also examined the  songified version of the debates as another social media election artifact. Students were asked to tweet their observations and comments on whether the use of this type of media exposure harms or promotes this presidential candidate. How does this media impacts a candidates popularity, persona and attractiveness to voters? Following are some of the students’ tweets:

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Now that students had some practice, they watched the four minute closing arguments of the debates, using twitter to share their understandings, questions, and thoughts about the candidates and their platforms. What amazed us during this activity was the quality of student tweets,  student interaction on twitter, and the level of student engagement. Even after the lunch bell rang, students continued watching related presidential social media and sharing their thoughts via twitter. Some students continued to tweet through out lunch. Two support teachers also got excited about the activity, and quickly created twitter accounts and contributed their ideas. One student in a different grade even joined in the conversation and shared his thoughts about the US election! Following are some teacher tweets geared at deepening student thinking.

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Following the social media clips, students were given a related BBC Article: Is Twitter Good for Democracy, to think deeper about the issues of social media on democracy. They tweeted their thoughts as they read, while following the conversation thread via TweetChat. Finally, students were given the opportunity to break free of the 140 character responses, by reflecting and sharing their thoughts on the impact of twitter and related social media in the democratic process, on their classroom’s WordPress.

As teachers, the use of Twitter as an educational tool to leverage student learning was remarkable. To see students interact, connect, and share with each other; while using the technology in our questioning, was truly authentic learning, with real life relevance.

We can hardly wait to see Grade Twelve students analysis and ‘take aways’ of the influence of social media on democracy!!

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

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