I have had several expressions of interest for organising further Twalks following the successful #Twalk on the 31st May (see also previous posts and links from the MELSIG event programme for 1pm). I thought it would be useful to describe and reflect on the model, its strengths, weaknesses and possibilities.
What is a Twalk?
A Twalk connects the two ideas of learning walks and tweetchats towards establishing a blended learning method in which structured tweeting by participants augments discursive or problem-based learning relating to a walking topic. The integration of social media into the walk means that the same walk structure can be followed by individuals and groups in different locations if it is synchronised. This allows discussions to be carried out simultaneously in and between multiple locations through the connectivity of social media. Having said that, one participant in Australia demonstrated how it can also work asynchronously if the schedule and topics are posted in advance, and pedagogically there are follow-on reflective activities associated with this method which are introduced later.
A learning walk involves inviting individuals to form a walking group to consider related thematic ideas and problem topics. The invitation asks participants to suggest questions or ideas for discussion in relation to the overall theme and to suggest places on a walking schedule or map to discuss their topic. For example, on a sight-seeing tour or student induction walk, the proposed topics will be highly representational. In other situations, the relationship between the topic and place may be more tenous and metaphorical. Alternatively, the walk can be designed entirely by the Twalk leader allowing for a topic to be explored more systematically. The walk co-ordinator will structure the walk so the walking group moves from ‘pause point’ to ‘pause point’ at regular intervals or to an agreed schedule. In May our walk was structured around new topics every ten minutes over an hour (five pause points), but other schedules will work, e.g. two hours with ten pause points, or a day, or even a week. However, attention needs to be paid to coherence, focus, momentum, the physical distance to be covered, the required pace, and the ability of walkers to access and manage this.
How can one walk happen across multiple locations?
If the ‘pause point’ locations are determined by type, multiple walks in multiple locations can be synchronised. For example, our walk in May considered the topic of placemaking in education and therefore it was relatively easy to suggest that, whatever campus we were on, at a specific time, we should discuss ‘the importance of campus meeting points to successful student engagement’ while being situated in ‘a campus cafe’.
Feedback and subsequent interest has made me realise that many other disciplines can find useful connections between the physical situation and epistemic topics, or with activities such as course induction and team building.
The benefits of walking and talking
Walking stimulates conversation and walkers naturally gravitate to small group conversations of twos and threes. Such conversations ebb and flow and have natural dynamics that promote inclusivity that can be had to achieve in classroom spaces. They are well-suited to team building or exploratory conversations at the outset of a project for example.
Learning walks exemplify co-production if they are properly structured and participants are clear about how they can use what they learn. The walk is the product of the group, especially if individuals have contributed to and negotiated the route. On our Twalk in May walk leaders were provided with the outline generic schedule, but within this they were free to map it to their own campus context. Conversations, ultimately, are self-directed but on other walks I have organised individual participants have determined every aspect of the walk itinerary by proposing conversations and specifying ‘pause points’. From this, a themed walk is structured around related discussions situated in significant representational or metaphoric spaces, e.g. the proposal to visit a cafe to discuss the relationship of friendship to learning, or the use of a pathway as a space for discussions on learner autonomy.
In the lead up to May’s walk I shared the following reasons to twalk via Twitter:
- great peer supported review method
- works for pairs, course teams or large mixed groups. Even across multiple locations
- neutral ground for co-learning
- a bit of exercise stimulates our thinking
- integrated Twitter posting demands regular structured and useful postings in sync with other walkers
On point 2, it actually worked well for networked individuals on the day too.
A tweetchat is a social media phenomenon which I have used in a variety of situations and which I believe is highly adaptable and demands further investigation. The method exemplifyies emerging interest in networked learning as a new self-determined learning space. Typically a tweetchat is formed around five questions on a topic delivered over the period of an hour in which potentially large numbers of participants contribute their experience and ideas to inform the topic. The tweets find coherence around the use of a hashtag. Participants (and others) are able to create narratives around the questions and the responses, for example in the form of Storify posts (e.g. see https://storify.com/andrewmid/learning-to-twalk), blog posts, or other follow on activities for example. However, I believe that the real potential of the tweetchat is under-explored having successfully used the method as the basis of blended learning pedagogies in which the situations of dispersed participants are brought to bear on the learning topic.
Talking and walking
The Twalk model brings talking, walking and tweeting together. It is flexible, and as a form of situated tweetchat, has great potential as a learning space. I will be exploring and developing the potential and trying to understand the value of being in two or more places at once, for example, looking at what gets shared in real time and whether this impacts on disperse real world conversations.
The use of Twitter creates a far reaching augmented layer as a context for localised activities. The presence of peers in other places should motivate all walkers to report what is being discussed and to respond to points, ideas and media being shared.
Follow on activities and integration
The Twalk has a good feel about it – it is likely to be inherently social and enjoyable wherever it is used. However, consideration of how it is integrated within other activities or teaching. I intend to explore over the next few months as I consider how the approach can be used pedagogically, but here are some initial thoughts.
- Digital narratives – the use of blogs or Storify.com to critically review and reconstruct narratives by any participant or ‘on looker’ will be familiar to tweetchatters. However, this must be more than a dumping of tweets and other artefacts and we need to think about how critical thinking can be supported.
- Serial Twalking – I have not really begun to consider how a Twalk may become a regular activity underpinning project-based learning or being used as a seminar-type function (Twebinars dare I say!), but there is something that needs to be explored and understood about multilogues in respect to synchronous, near synchronous and asynchronous engagement.
- Parallel Twalking – the Twalk model has parallel connectivity: multiple people in multiple places walk and talk in parallel. Is there a longer, sustained learning relationship to be explored here that relates to thinking on personal learning networks?
That will do for the moment, but comments and connections would be appreciated here of via #Twalk or @andrewmid.