I've spent more time in the last two months online–searching for, learning about, testing, investigating, and evaluating different sites–than I have in years. My guiding question when looking at Twitter, Ning, various wiki sites, blogs, and the many different applications available on Google was: What is the problem for which this particular application is the solution? Twitter seemed largely to be a way to tell everyone "following" me that I had posted a new blog (about content on the English Companion Ning or my website). It seemed so self-referential.
On December 5th, in between papers, I created a social network for English teachers on Ning.com. It took me five minutes. Literally. Then back to grading papers. I checked in the next day: 100 people had joined. Now there are almost 3000. I feel like I am watching a hive construct itself.
I am asking myself what the implications are for my teaching, for my books, for our profession. I have experimented around with incorporating (as one of several options) Twitter, Facebook Groups, WetPaint Wiki, Blogger, and Ning into my class curriculum.
Somehow, no matter how many new applications there are out there, regardless of the latest cool site (which seems to be VoiceThread judging by discussions at a recent conference), I can't see my work as much different than it has ever been: to teach students to think, read, write, and speak about important ideas and arrive at conclusions or assertions they can communicate effectively and efficiently using the most appropriate means and medium in light of their purpose and audience.
I'm sure people writing messages for carrier pigeons went through the same composing process as people today do with Twitter for their 140-character messages. In the end, what mattered then was what matters most now: was the message meaningful and effective?