I love Twitter.com. I usually post a couple of items a day, on average, and tend to follow and interact others who also post in a moderate fashion. Some people post dozens of twits a day and use Twitter as a kind of instant messaging client. I see, and use it, more as a mini-blog. When I click on my name, I see all my posts, which is a sort of summary of things that I do and think about that I want to share with others.
For the uninitiated, Twitter limits you to 140 characters and spaces per post (or per "tweet"). You can follow others Twitter uses on your home page. The graphic above is a snapshot of my Twitter homepage, showing three of the people whose Tweets I follow. They also follow me, though that is not necessary. To see all my posts, go to my Twitter page at: http://twitter.com/alew.
I actually had not considered it as a tool for education until I saw a link posted by Twittown to a blog post on that subject. Doing a little online searching (emphasis on the little), I found the following items related to Twitter and education.
1- Using Twitter with your students on Doug Belshaw's teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk blog - emphasizes secondary education. Doug says:
- I think Twitter could be ideal for reminding students about homework, trips and such things, especially as they can enter their mobile phone number to be alerted when one of their ‘friends’ updates their account. The advantage is that you don’t need to know the phone numbers of students to get messages onto their device: they are the ones who authorize their mobile phone from the website and they subscribe to your Twitter feed.
3- Reference services and Twitter on the Digital Reference blog - Stephen Francoeur cites a couple of examples and suggests that libraries could advertise a Twitter address which people could "follow" to learn about library events, new books, and other announcements. Twitter could also be used to announce responses to library user questions, which might be answered in greater length on a linked webpage.
For a couple more library examples of this, see
- - Twitter Update or how I was able to exploit the latest social networking site without really trying on the Gather No Dust Blog.
- - Twitter and the Missouri River Regional Library
- How to Use it
- How Libraries are Using it
- Library Twitter Accounts
- Twitter Tools & Mashups
- Twitter Alternatives
Like many Web 2.0 tools, librarians are at the forefront of Twitter use. I am not sure why that is. Perhaps social media is just more core to their work and mission. Or perhaps they just have more time that do classroom teachers. Or perhaps I just did not search deep enough to find teachers using Twitter. Whatever the reason, there are lessons for classroom and online teachers from these sites. These include:
- Twitter is very easy to sign-up for and to use
- Twitter is an effective communication tool for concise messages and news items, or links to longer messages and news items
- Twitter is fun to use and may, therefore, be effective in engaging students in discussions who do not need to write longer essays
You can set your Twitter account private ("Protect My Updates") or public. This is changeable in the Settings section. With a private account, your posts are only available to other Twitters who you specifically approve to follow you. This is probably the preferred approach for most classroom situations.
If your account is public, anything that is posted by you on Twitter can be "followed" any any other Twitter member in the world, and indeed is posted to super sites, such as the Twitter Public Timeline and Twittervision, for everyone to see. This, of course, presents privacy issues for students. I personally think that can be dealt with for university students by warning them and encouraging anonymity and thoughtful postings.
A growing issue is a kind of Twitter Spam. There are some Twitter users whose goal seems to be to follow as many people as possible. How can one possibly follow 10,000 people? They do this simply to get others to visit their Twitter site and then click on links that will take them to a different website (some of which may not be safe). When they follow you, anyone who is interested in see who your followers are will see their link. It is easy to permanently "block" these people, which you can do when you click on the list of people who are following you.
So Twitter is basically a potential alternative to email, instant messaging and discussion forums, as ways of communicating with students. And because it is fun to use, I may give it a try in my next class -- after my current sabbatical. By then, however, Twitter may be old hat, replaced by something else.
NEW (28Sept 07): Steve Dembo's Teach42 blog has an interesting post titled "What I learned from Twitter Today" which gives yet another interesting perspective on the use of Twitter in education.
NEW (29Jan 08): Twitter for Academia - list of uses of Twitter in a university class based on actual experience.
NEW (8May 08): Academic Research page on the Twitter Fan Wiki site. - not much there yet, but if we can get the word out, perhaps it will grow.
NEW (9Jun08): Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide - these ideas are not just for librarians - includes a list of about a dozen library twitter blogs