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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Classroom Technology Opinion

Beyond the Invite: What Is Clubhouse and Why Should Educators Care?

By Peter DeWitt — March 21, 2021 7 min read
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Well over a month ago, my friend Vince invited me to use the Clubhouse app. I have to admit that I had no idea what Clubhouse was, and you may well be wondering what it is while you read this post. For those of us newbies, Clubhouse is a free social-media app that we download to our iPhones. No, I’m not being elitist here when I specifically mention iPhone, because right now the app is being beta-tested and only available for that specific brand. The interesting thing about the app is that you have to be invited into Clubhouse by someone who is already using it. We cannot just download it to our phones and start using it. That alone sparks interest in people who walk around with FOMO (fear of missing out).

When I was invited to use Clubhouse, I was unsure I needed to have another social-media app on my phone. In fact, I didn’t want another social-media app on my phone. I know I was supposed to feel honored at the time, but I have been in the process of streamlining what I do, which also means I’m in the process of taking social media off my phone so I can spend more time doing things I used to do … like talk to the people next to me as opposed to picking up my phone every two minutes to see if there is anything more interesting waiting for me there.

Over the course of several days, I found myself entering into the app, navigating different “rooms’ and learning about different “clubs” that I could join. Rooms and clubs are created so groups can talk about everything from relationships to race to music, politics, and much, much more. One time I started my own room to see what would happen, and a friend joined instantly and started talking to me. I have to admit, it felt a bit more intrusive than I wanted.

However, the other day my friend Tim Dawkins, an assistant superintendent in upstate N.Y., and I decided to start a room to see what would happen. Our room was called, “Why do educators like Clubhouse?” Over the hour we had the room open, we heard from countless people who we invited to step on stage and tell us why they liked Clubhouse. In order to hear from those people though, Tim and I had to allow them on stage, where they could talk freely for a couple of minutes. When they are ready to leave the stage they end by saying, “My name is XXXX and I’m leaving the stage” or something else that tells people the person talking is leaving the stage. was interesting to hear their reasons why they joined.

Why Are Educators Joining Clubhouse?

We are all guilty of liking shiny new things, and I am interested in seeing if Clubhouse is merely a shiny new thing or a platform in which educators will gain something different from their experience while using it. I’m torn, because at some moments when I explored other rooms outside of the one Tim and I created that particular day, the conversations were engaging and I found myself wanting to learn more. Other times, I felt like some rooms were filled with people trying to sell me something or they wanted the stage so they could talk about themselves and not an idea. Just like all forms of social media, there are people who are there to learn, some who like to hear themselves speak, and others who may have an idea that they are trying to formulate and sell.

Although there are most likely numerous reasons why educators are joining the app, three reasons really stood out to me as the most beneficial as I listened to people step on stage and talk.

3 reasons people are joining the Clubhouse app are:

Representation – A few of the guests to the room who stepped on stage talked about the fact that social media is often devoid of Black and Brown men and women. What they like about Clubhouse is that there is a great deal of representation, and some of the most popular groups are run by Black women and men. One person who stepped on stage said that, although they are heavily engaged in many social media platforms, they felt like Twitter and Facebook were more white-centric.

Additional to the racial aspect, there were people who said that there are groups that represent them like Speech Language Pathologists (SLP), linguistics professors, and people within the deaf community. Clubhouse has a closed-captioning function so the deaf community can interact as well. There are also many groups run by women, which was highly important to many of the people who spoke. In fact, I entered into a crowded room recently where the hosts set a rule about how many men or women could talk in a row because they did not want the conversation dominated by one gender.

If we can think of a topic, and are interested in what others might find to be obscure, we can probably find a group for it on Clubhouse. If we don’t find a group for it, we can create our own room and start the conversation, and although anyone can do that on Facebook or Twitter, it feels different on Clubhouse because people within the rooms can actually talk to each other and are not limited by a certain number of characters.

To Be Heard – Too often on Twitter or Facebook, people feel like their voices are not heard because they do not have enough followers or the negativity of those platforms take over any real conversations. Clubhouse gives them the opportunity to be heard because it doesn’t matter how many followers guests have; what matters is raising their hand and being invited on stage. The status that often comes with high numbers of followers has been flattened, and guests have a real opportunity to share their voices, expertise, and opinions.

To Learn – Many of our guests in the room we created that day (rooms can be scheduled or created on the spot) said they like learning about a variety of topics like entertainment and business or how to grow their social-media following, which is ironic considering the last sentence in the to be heard reason up above. What really stood out is that people told us that they like to listen in on the topic of race or equity without the pressure of having to speak. Through the conversations they listen to in Clubhouse, they said they often find themselves exploring those issues via research and reading after they leave the room.

In the End

So many people are looking for the next best thing. They want to be the first in line and be able to let people know they were the early adopters. However, the people Tim and I engaged with and listened to were not concerned with being early adopters. It was more about curiosity because the app is so new, and like me, they were invited in by a friend and wanted to learn more about what the app offers. They actually were drawn to Clubhouse because they are deeply interested in topics that they can talk about and not just see in a Tweet or Facebook post. Clubhouse seems to allow them to engage with each other and use their voices.

Like I mentioned earlier, the one thing to be aware of, and lots of people mentioned this in our room and some were very honest it was the reason they joined the app, is that there is a big presence of edupreneurs. People who have businesses or are trying to grow their educational consulting business. They can come on strong and definitely can drive us to leave the room as quickly as we entered into it. Just like all forms of social media people have an angle, and considering I often find myself in the position of promoting events due to agreements with the organizations I work with, I’m not one to judge here. However, no matter who we are and what we do, we need to enter a room with an eagerness to learn and not just talk.

Along those same lines, media literacy is still important when it comes to Clubhouse. Just because someone says it instead of Tweeting or posting it, doesn’t make it any more true. We need to practice active listening and if someone makes some sort of academic claim or pitch something they want others to purchase, we need not just believe it and should always research it. Additionally, if we’re going there for professional learning, it’s not necessarily the best place to go...yet. I can see how we can get excited about a conversation and learn from the conversation, which may inspire us to go and research it on our own, but Clubhouse currently isn’t for professional learning as much as it is for surface and deep conversation, which is something we definitely need more of these days. Truth be told, I’m still not sure Clubhouse is for me, but if you do get an invite and have an iPhone, check it out because it may be just the social media platform you are looking for and need. After all, we all deserve to have places where we can listen and be heard.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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