Hashtag chats, Social Media and India

22 Feb

In a nation where internet peneration is rather low, where teachers tend to stay away from collaborative media and, where connectivity is often patchy – it was wonderful to host the first twitter social media chat with the hashtag #EduIn.  Despite technical glitches, we managed to engage over two hundred people in the space of an hour and make over two and a half lakh impressions (according to the software hashtracker). A small but superb team led by the moderator, discussants and many participants kept the discussion on track. This is a skill that all of us learn as we do more – many here had participated in a hashtag chat for the first time even though many were social media veterans, others were new to the medium.

Why am I so thrilled that I share it here with you? I have rarely written a personal post here – though I justify this by saying this is not personal, even as it is written in the first person.It is about being prepared for the future of education. I am thrilled because this is the first time the voice of the concerned citizen was shared on an open platform, and we managed to keep it focused on issues. The discussion was to be on the RTE act, an act that has more vocal detractors than supporters. Even those who support the principle are forced to acknowledge some flaws and gaps in the act and its implementation. There was every danger (and I can safely say that now that it has been averted) that it could turn into a national rant. Rants are not productive. Rants, like trolls like to be fed and move away from key issues, or even hidden issues. We succeeded in that – the conversation was very civil as it was passionate.

Though, as I said, many of us were new to the concept of the hashtag chat. Hashtag chats, especially in education have spawned global collaborations for over three years. Teachers have learnt classroom techniques from each other, have shared lesson plans and even found mentors and friends via these chats. These are always moderated, always run by a core team and therefore are focused on the issues of the day. Off topic issues can always be discussed off the hashtag or at different times. It is a learning process to manage the very very rapid pace of the conversation while keeping it on track. Often there are over twenty micro-posts a minute in a normal hashtag chat. To keep pace with this is challenging for the participants and for the moderator. But it is this very pace that manages to bring out a number of aspects in a very short time. Everybody gets a fair chance to have their say.

The speed is not the only challenge. It is also dependent on technology. We used the twitter platform that has been reliable for at least three years. This happened to be the one time it crashed globally – something that has not happened in months. When things go wrong, often Indians stick at it.. Another global chat on social media abandoned their chat. We stuck at it, frantically keeping it alive in the first precarious minutes. We lost two major participants but were in full swing in under half an hour. Not just jugaad..it is possible that Indians succeed with grit and staying power too. What amazed us was not just the pace and engagement, but also the huge range of issues that were thrown up. The consensus was also surprising – I had expected (and feared) pitched battles.

The other challenge that remains is to ensure that we drive the process of making meaning of collaboration. It is iterative. You need collaboration to break through technophobic barriers so that the contributions are meaningful. At the same time, the design of the collaboration should drive towards meaning. The RTE chat on #EduIn was surprisingly skewed towards concerns on teacher quality despite the wide range of issues thrown up. We need to invest in this process all along the chain for it to yield its multiplier. This is the only way an honest voice gets a fair chance. This is the only way informed policy design gets a chance.

And yes, we are going to keep this up. We will continue to support and encourage collaborations online via the open hashtag #EduIn. And we invite contributions, join in. At least once a month.


This was published in the Times of India on February 11, 2013 and is linked here and http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/hashtag-chats-social-media-and-india


One Response to “Hashtag chats, Social Media and India”

  1. Aditi Rao March 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi Meeta, I think you might be interested in checking out some twitter hashtag chats online, here’s 7 on education that I frequent: http://teachbytes.com/2013/03/13/7-twitter-hashtag-chats-you-should-know-about/

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