why Twitter?


It’s been a year since I first posted about Twitter. I was harsh, unkind, suggesting that we were twits, me included. Yet, I gave it a long chance to become part of my daily technology-reading routine, alongside reading RSS blog feeds, online news, email, calendar agenda.

During that time, I thought a lot about whether it could usefully be an educational tool, and I think that it has developed into one, not limited to a prescribed use, but open to your imagination.

Twitter is a tool for microblogging. Micro, because you are limited to 140 characters. Go over and get a warning, meet the 140 exactly and you’ve created a twoosh. Blogging, because you are publishing, and if I must remind you again, a blog is not a discussion board. You publish for your own reasons and replies are gravy. On Twitter, you may get a reply, a re-tweet when someone wants to let more people know what you said, a direct message that is not public, or you may get nothing at all. On occasion, your tweet will create a ruckus and it will spread like a virus, but virality is not something you can control.

I use it personally and professionally by carefully picking people to follow whom I know personally and/or professionally or would like to know. I follow around a hundred and that’s plenty for me, because I like to keep up with what they are saying, and that’s not as hard as it sounds because there are a host of applications and plugins that make it easy to stay connected. I often have both Tweetdeck and Twhirl open, or might go to the Twitter web page, using the Firefox plugin Power Twitter, because it shows pix and videos inline. Another Firefox plugin, Twitterfox, pops up with new Tweets from the browser status bar. You can have Twitter update your Facebook status through a Facebook app, and you can install a Twitter gadget alongside your Gmail.

Professionally, I benefit from hearing about new technology, following links to neat blogs and articles and videos about technology, as well as hearing appeals for answers to complicated technology problems, or news about successes. And along the way, these professional voices become a community I belong to, not one that is all work and no play.

What can you use it for in your classes? Well, I hear that it can work as a classroom response system if all your students are equipped with computers or web-enabled mobiles. You would “collect” the responses on the Twitter web page if you wanted to display it.

Although I’m not a fan of using Twitter to create threads, hash-mark tagging (#your keyword) allows you to see all the comments with the same tag. So, you can create a tag for your group or class and then see them all on the Twitter search page. You might allow students to create what’s referred to as a backchannel in the class, an ongoing Twitter discussion of participants (students)–such use of Twitter is now common at conferences and large meetings, or at national events like the recent election or last night’s Grammy Awards.

I’ve gone way over my 140 character limit. Give it a try, a good long try, and let me know what you think.

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Categories: blogging, collaboration, communication, free stuff, social network

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