Another dot in the blogosphere?

Better on Twitter: Synchronous discussions or slow chats?

Posted on: September 12, 2014

My short answer is neither is better if nothing meaningful results.

Warning: If you read beyond this point, you might get angry. But if you know me, you know where I am coming from and where I am going with this.

I reflect, perhaps more deeply than some, after every Twitter chat I have. I ask myself what I learnt, how I contributed, and if the chat went well. Most of the time I walk away disappointed.

The chats I have participated in are either scheduled weekly ones or dispersed over a period of time.

Scheduled chats tend to happen among people living in similar time zones. These chats are like IMs of old in that they are synchronous and can sometimes be so fast that text scrolls off the screen faster than you can read it.

The distributed or dispersed chats are sometimes called slow chats because they cater to people living over multiple time zones. Typically a moderator asks questions and people respond over a period of time ranging from several hours to a few days.

What both types of chats can fall prey to are a lack of meaningful connections (with people or ideas), superficial conversations, and a lack of some sort of closure.

If mismanaged, preplanned chats can sometimes feel contrived. Better planned and executed, they might have the feel of a productive town hall meeting.

But like a town hall meeting, people can shout, speak without actually having conversations, or be lost in a crowd. You leave such a meeting asking yourself what just happened or if anything useful took place.

Sometimes the best conversations are the ones that are neither fast or slow. They are spontaneous and come from a place of honesty or concern.

For example, take the reflective quality of the discussions following an initial tweet about nurturing critical thinkers by @tjoosten.

If the full conversation does not appear above, click here.

There was a hook, clear conversations between people, and a resolution at the end. As an informed educator, you should be able to link each phase to one or more educational psychology principles or instructional strategies.

For example, the three phases above might be linked to activation of schema, social negotiation of meaning, and resolution of cognitive dissonance. In plain speak, they are so wow, so what/why/how, and so what is this to me.

To be fair, fast and slow chats can exhibit similar properties, but the sheer numbers of participants creates noise that often obscures these conversations. Twitter also does not make these conversations clearer by threading them because tweets are presented chronologically.

That is why tools like Storify are important for reorganizing the tweets so that they make conversational and logical sense. But very few facilitators of tweet chats have the bandwidth to post-process like this. Most opt to import all tweets as is and do not even reorganize them in forward chronology.

Doing this is like brainstorming an essay and submitting every idea without sequence or evaluation. Doing this is like taking a lot of photos or video clips during a trip and not leaving some of them out, not editing them, and not arranging them to tell a meaningful story.

Some might say that is the nature of tweeting and that I should get with the programme. I accept that tweeting means reading in reverse chronological order, summarizing very quickly, and writing out of sequence. But it is lazy and uncritical thinking to accept things as they are or to not process what happened.

What is worse is if teachers who tweet regularly and think this way then model such behaviour with students. If we expect precision, logical sequencing, or evidence of analysis in writing artefacts like essays, reports, or stories, then we should expect no less in how we process and post-process tweets.

I am probably going to lose some Twitter followers and/or receive some judgement for saying this. So be it.

What I care about is professional development and learning. Professional, not lackadaisical or devil-may-care. And meaningful learning which is often painful, difficult, and a result of cognitive dissonance.

3 Responses to "Better on Twitter: Synchronous discussions or slow chats?"

[…] Dr Ashley Tan in his September 2014 blog post […]


Hi Ashley.
Wonder if I could ask a favour? I’m working on my doctoral thesis on teacher PD and Twitter, and would be really grateful if you would allow me to include a brief quote quote from this post?
More details are available at, together with additional ways to contact me if you have any questions.
Thanks 🙂


You are welcome to quote what you need. Do let me know which part(s) you use. I can be reached on Twitter at @ashley.


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