Using Twitter to Promote a Democratic Humanistic Education Network

1 Towards new pedagogies

Educational theorists have long been calling for new pedagogies that afford authentic learning opportunities, are responsive to ever changing digital information landscapes, and that will position learners in active and participatory roles. The need is particularly acute for critical learning about the educational relationship between culture and environment.  Here there is the requirement for alternative educational solutions stimulated by the nature of developing IT information landscapes and conceptual bridges between culture and ecology. These new learning landscape have been described as:

the ‘intersubjectively created spaces that have resulted from human interaction, in which information is created and shared and eventually sediments as knowledge’   

In other words, the new ‘word and picture’ technologies for organising and presenting information make it relatively easy for a researcher to connect one subject to another and share the new ideas that thereby arise to create new interdisciplinary knowledge.  It is in this vein that Alison Hicks and Caroline Sinkinson connect and contrast personal learning environments (PLEs) and critical information literacies (CILs) in order to explore the design of pedagogical responses to the information environment. Their view is that PLEs are commonly created using specific technologies and tools, such as online  personal and group organizers like EverNote.  However, the model is not wedded to a specific technology but rather to a process that aims to visualize and organize the influx of information and resources that students are confronted with daily. They believe that PLEs are essentially a positive educational response to the overload of information in the digital age.

Critical, or democratic, pedagogy is an educational movement which gives people the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and sense of responsibility necessary to engage in a culture of questioning information and interrogating ruling hierarchies. These abilities are of benefit to young people when they increase their political agency through heightened awareness of social injustice and the means by which to communicate and challenge this. A central feature of the critical pedagogical approach is critical literacy, which teaches and provides opportunities for analysis and critiquing skills. Critical literacy has been recommended by a number of authors as a valuable aspect to include together with personal learning in information literacy (IL) courses. Critical IL could contribute to enabling the development of political agency and increasing users meaningful and active involvement in democratic processes.  The ability to do this is heightened because of the free availability of social media. This opens up a new approach to humanistic education.

2 Internet learning

There is no doubt that advances in IT technology have greatly increased the amount of information available on the Internet.  Significantly, they include lower barriers to participation. This explosion in accessible and inexhaustible content is an opportunity for educators to reshape their understanding of information, particularly in terms of traditional conceptions of division of knowledge, authority and validity. These changes can be seen in shifting practices of scholarship from imparting knowledge and facilitating its use.  ‘Internet scholars’ use participatory humanistic technologies and online social media to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and so further the development of their personal body of knowledge within their own online knowledge networks and mind maps. On this learning journey IT takes them through academic silos, leaving trails for others to follow, consolidate and expand.

While PLEs and CIL both support learners’ critical engagement with new information environments, each was developed within a different field.   Hicks and Sinkinson demonstrate that education for information literacy intersects with the concepts and goals of PLEs. They suggest that PLE scholarship informed by CIL scholarship, and vice versa, will yield a deeper understanding of modern learning contexts as well as providing a more holistic and responsive learner framework.for leadership.  With these propositions, the authors invite educators, librarians and information technologists to engage in a dialogue about these concepts and the potential for fundamental pedagogical change.

3 Hyperbox club

I 1912, Everett  L. Getchell wrote a paper, ‘THE PICTURE IN EDUCATION’, in which he pointed out the power of the magic lantern as an educational tool for picture-education;

“The time saved and the accuracy of impression gained through stereographs and lantern slides leads one to wonder why they are not freely used. It seems to us that the geography and history of the grades in the future will be developed largely with the picture as a nucleus, and the story woven around it”.

Although Getchell probably did not know it, two hundred and thirty years previously the German theologian Johann Siegmund Stoy had created a boxed ‘Picture Academy for the Young’ (Bilder-Akademie fur die Jugend).

Pictures became an international force for social education between 1925 and 1934 when Hans Neurath and his wife invented  Isotype (International System of TYpographic Picture Education). Isotype is a method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form. It was first known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, in the Social and Economic Museum of Vienna.

PLEs and CILs are approaches to learning and inquiry that are particularly responsive to pictures. is a new and easily accessible landscape for picture education. The central feature that draws attention to an educational Tweet, is a picture around which an educational Tweet can be constructed as a dense and deep hyperlinked information package, summarised with a condensed piece of text (Fig 1),  

With more than 241 million active users, 500 million Tweets, and 2.1 billion searches every day, online teachers have a multifarious, active and informed audience to engage with.

Fig 1  Educational ‘anatomy’ of a Tweet


Twitter is a really a microblogging platform that allows individuals to communicate by sending short messages of up to 280 characters. Although it enables people to be in constant contact, its value in an educational context is less clear.  International Classrooms Online (ICOL) is researching the use of social media to create and freely share authoritative personal bodies of knowledge produced by teachers and students to promote democratic humanistic education. Research has shown that students feel more engaged in political issues when they can speak with authority on issues that are going to affect their lives and those of future generations.  That is why they are more motivated to learn new things. Twitter as an educational tool is able to open up totally new worlds for students and allows Tweeters to collaborate and participate in meaningful hashtag chats..

The advice given today by Twitter to increase your reach as a twitterer is to ‘add a picture; people like pictures!’.  Additional information is accessed through an URL link.  An entire suite of Tweets is extractable using #-tagged filters. Feedback is available using ‘Twitter Analytics’, which displays day by day  ‘impressions’ and ‘engagements’ for each Tweet. An ‘impression’ is a Tweet that has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account.  An ‘engagement’ could be a click to a landing page, a reply to a Tweet, or a comment on a Facebook post. Either way, the record of an engagement means that someone has the Tweeter’s attention and they have become engaged in a positive way. In Twitter-speak, a ‘Moment’ is a set of Tweets curated in a sequence that tells a  story. It is a personal linear narrative; a mind map incorporating the personal Tweets of its maker. It can also include other people’s Tweets. ‘Moments’ have their own URLs and can be shared and developed with others.

To summarise, Tweets are pieces of information that are turned into a body of knowledge when they are packaged as a Moment.

4 Trees in mind

This section is the account of an experiment in using Twitter for creating PLEs and CILs.  It is based on picturing concepts of the material and symbolic interaction of trees with culture.  

No matter where or how we live, there can be no doubt that most of us cannot help noticing trees. Their obvious cycles of greening and shedding of leaves, give tree-watchers a sense of trees as powerful symbols of life, death and renewal. Trees project a raw intensity that refuses to flinch in  the face of the powerful meaning we read into trees which is that they represent both death and new life. In this context, most people cannot escape a sense that trees are sentient beings just like us, They bleed when they are hurt. Do they feel pain? We revere trees as keepers of past secrets and sentinels of the future. We innately feel a deep connection to them.  In this strong cultural perspective, trees illustrate the theme of the memento mori, the medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality, which is as old as Western art.  

An important insight from the complex role that trees have played in the construction of the human ecological niche is that acquired characters have taken on a social development role in transforming selective environments. This is particularly relevant to human genetic evolution, where, from early times, our species appears to have engaged in extensive environmental modification through cultural practices involving trees. Such practices are typically not themselves biological adaptations.  Rather, they are the adaptive behavioural product of those much more general social adaptations, such as the ability to learn, particularly from others, to teach, to use language, and so forth. These, underlie human culture, and hence, cannot accurately be described as the work of extended phenotypes. A universal behaviour to form communities seems to be a sequence of;

  • fell trees;
  • build settlements;
  • and grow crops.

This is a linear material process in which managing trees for sustainable community services has played a vital role in the development of a local tree management system called coppicing.  Trees become cultural symbols along the way. Because of such imaginative thoughts, trees are a bridge between people and nature and through these thoughts trees have taken on great cultural significance. In particular, they tell us that the mind is what the brain does to form cultures which are the behavioural outcomes of mental programmes shaped by environmental problems, mysteries and opportunities.  These mental programmes work as well as they do because they were shaped by social selection to assemble a mental scaffold for human niche construction. They incorporate trees as symbols sanctified by our primeval ancestors’ will to master trees, along with other life forms, rocks, and each other. So ultimately trees become embedded into local ecosystem services for human survival and reproduction. Hence comes forth the significance of the cultural role of trees.  They are vehicles to encourage people to develop their own cross-curricular, critical learning network about topics such as climate change and social justice associated with ancient and modern land use practices.

A collection of pictures illustrating pictorial concepts of the cultural ecology of trees was assembled on Twitter under the name zygeena (Fig 2).  The first one in this series was posted on the 14th October, 2015. They followed on from a series of mainly textual Tweets containing information about the general educational philosophy of cultural ecology and climate change, which had been uploaded intermittently from 9th February 2012.

Fig 2 Tree Tweet (3 Jan 2016)

Impressions = 801. Total engagements = 9

The tree Tweets have been divided between two Moments

Messages of the Trees 1

Messages of the Trees 2

5  Climate in mind

Climate change is by far the biggest political issue facing humanity with profound consequences for all our future cultural relationships with ecology. ‘Climate in mind’ is a Twitter educational  initiative to stimulate the self assembly of an international group of students and teacher facilitators with personal Twitter accounts, using the Twitter tag #democraticpedagogy to co-produce an educational philosophy (pedagogy) and create an online curriculum for learning about climate change; what it is; how it is happening; what the consequences are; and how people can have an input to national and international policies to control it.  The role of a facilitator is to raise the confidence of individuals through helping them build a thoughtful personal body of knowledge. This is the process behind humanistic learning, also known as “person- centered learning” or ‘self-appropriated learning, which is also a key factor in education/training for leadership.

The Twitter project ‘Climate in Mind’  was initiated on the day when pupils of UK schools ‘went on strike’ to draw attention to their fears about the effect of climate change. Their Twitter tag is #schoolstrike4climate.The following sequence of Tweets was published by Denis Bellamy between 15 Feb to 3 Mar 2019 on the topic of democratic pedagogy,

Tweet 1

The target of a democratic pedagogy to meet the aims of the students who went on strike to pressure the politicians to tackle climate change is to challenge the beliefs and practices that dominate the current fictional world view of boundless economic growth because the only future for humanity is one planet living …

Tweet 2

I am using this tag  #democraticpedagogy to discuss humanistic teacher/learner interactions required to develop and implement a critical global curriculum for shaping new citizens for one planet living …

Tweet 3

1A democratic pedagogy for today is an educational framework which guides learners to gather question challenge and develop information to create a personal body of knowledge and apply it for one planet living …

Tweet  4

Central to the school strike for climate is a plea from young people to become involved in establishing a democratic pedagogy to coproduce a curriculum centred on the management of climate change to ensure the wellbeing of future generations …

Tweet 5

Teachers of a democratic pedagogy are facilitators.  They lead individual learners to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive,encouraging liberatory responses of their own intellectual development for one planet living

Tweet 6

A democratic pedagogy is a theory and practice to produce a democratic classroom which is under the shared authority of teacher and learners. This is a primary educational goal of democratic pedagogy. …

Tweet 7

At the core of undemocratic education policies is a model of indefinite economic growth with yearly increases in wealth that caused our present ecological crisis  A democratic pedagogy is necessary to evaluate a future with no growth. …

Tweet 8

The aim of a democratic pedagogy is that individuals create a personal body of knowledge and share it to change the oppressive nature of society knowing that this will require radical re-ordering of priorities in institutions and ideologies.

Tweet 9

Democratic pedagogy in the classroom …

Tweet 10

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 11

Democratic pedagogy in the national context of one planet living in Wales  #schoolstrike4climate

Tweet 12

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 13

At the core of undemocratic education policies is a model of indefinite economic growth with yearly increases in wealth that caused our present ecological crisis  A democratic pedagogy is necessary to evaluate a future with no growth.

Tweet 14

Democratic pedagogy in the global context of a democratic network of young people self educated to adopt a conservation world view. Based on a children’s Agenda 21 (Rescue Mission 1994) …

Tweet 15

Click on following URL to see a mindmap of a climate change curriculum … This is a work in progress.

Tweet 16

Click on following URL to see a mindmap of a democraticpedagogy.  This is a work in progress …

Tweet 17

To see a democratic pedagogy in the national context of education for one planet living in Wales UK click the following URL  

A Moment was created for these Tweets (15 Feb 2019 onwards).

It is so simple to participate. Open a Twitter account and Tweet your microblog with the hashtag #democraticpedagogy.

Some examples of substantial personal bodies of knowledge produced by students and their facilitators beyond twittering can be accessed in the LIBRARY OF ONLINE EXEMPLARS at:

Twitter has a powerful analytics system for tracing the dynamics of individual Tweets. For example, the number and type of interactions a Tweet receives is automatically recorded day by day.  Also. the total number of interactions received by all Tweets can be plotted as a histogram over any time period (Fig 3). The rate of impressions per day varied and was always boosted on the days when Tweets were published. During a period of seven days without tweeting (Feb 28 to Mar 5) the number of daily impressions increased two-fold.

Fig 3 Numbers of impressions and Tweets on the topic of climate change per day (Feb 27 to Feb to 7 March).

Each new Tweet boosted the number of impressions for that day.  This was followed by a slower rate of interaction. Over the first 20 days of the project the Tweets had earned 1,8 k impressions at a rate of around 100 per day. Engagements accumulated at a slower rate; an average of 3 interactions per 100 impressions.

This raises the question of the factors that limit the impact of a Tweet in gaining an audience and getting the recipient to delve deeper into the subject matter.  To a large extent this is an issue of the way in which people interact with information that is delivered to their computer screens. The following five facts illustrate the psychological limitations of this basic interaction.

  • The average person gets distracted in eight seconds, though a mere 2.8 seconds is enough to distract some people.
  • 81 percent of people only skim the content they read online. (Jakob Nielsen has written that the average user reads at most 20 to 28 percent of words during an average visit.)
  • People form a first impression in a mere 50 milliseconds.
  • Posts that include images produce a 6-fold higher engagement than text-only posts.
  • People are 85 percent more likely to buy a product after viewing a product video.
  • Posts with videos attract 3X more links than text-only posts.

Then there is the tone of the actual Tweet, which has to be enthusiastic.  If you want to earn reTweets and engagement, you have to be at least as enthusiastic about your Tweet as you want your followers to be. A sincerely excited and positive tone in your Tweets will make it more likely that your followers will get in on the conversation and help you spread the word. For example, would you be more likely to reTweet this “Starting Saturday we are expanding hours at all of our restaurants.”, or “Great news night owls! Starting Saturday you can get great burgers, shakes, and fries until midnight!”?

Also  certain words and phrases are more likely to create engagement. For example, the word “you” is extremely powerful in all forms of social media content, but on Twitter, its power is even more exceptional. It reminds followers that your focus is on their needs and interests, and when used in a question encourages responses. In addition to the word you, superlatives (awesome, mind blowing), verbs (share, reTweet, click, look, see), and urgent phrasing (check it out today!, Learn more at our website! Limited time to respond!) urge people respond.

Content that contains images is more likely to be shared and to get responses. However, if you limit the type of visual content you are Tweeting, you could be missing out on attention and engagement. In fact, the most shareable form of content is the infographic.  An infographic is, “a visual presentation of information in the form of a chart, graph, or other image accompanied by minimal text, intended to give an easily understood overview, often of a complex subject.”

The importance of the format of the Tweet is brought out by a comparison of the following two Tweets.  Each carried the same basic message (Figs 4 & 5) but in terms of impressions, total engagement and link clicks the second Tweet was far more successful.  

Fig 4  Tweet published on Mar 3 (2019); viewed Mar 5 ( 2019)

Time elapsed from publication of Tweet = 48hr

Impressions = 39

Total engagement = 1

Link clicks = 1

Fig 5  Tweet published on Mar 5 (2019); viewed 5hr after publication

Time elapsed from publication = 5hr

Impressions = 97

Total engagements = 2

Link clicks = 2

Profile = 1

In summary, Twitter says that an influencer with a good engagement rate on Twitter could expect between 2 – 9 reactions for every 1000 followers. An engagement rate between 0.09% and 0.33% is considered to be high, where an influencer would expect 9 – 33 reactions for every 1000 followers on Twitter. So far, the actual engagement rate for the climate change project from Feb 15 to Mar 7 was 2.8% and the total reactions, link clicks, reTweets and Likes was 57.  With only 29 followers this amounts to 2000 reactions per 1000 followers. These engagements were not coming from followers.

However, from an educational viewpoint the most significant statistic is that 17 people delved deeper into the information, an indication that they were building a personal body of knowledge.  This augers well for the use of Twitter as a personal learning environment for supporting and promoting self-motivated critical learning.

6 Internet references

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