Sunday, August 19, 2007

Twitter Tweets for Higher Education

I love 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:

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 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.
2- The Educause 7 Things You Should Series on the EdVentures in Technology blog - The list is a lot longer than 7 items now. A PDF summary of Twitter was added in July 2007. The summary points out three potential uses of Twitter: (1) as a communications tool for collaborating researchers; (2) As a way to get students to focus in a concise (140 words) way on a topic; and (3) As a way for conference attendees to discuss topics, again in a concise manner.

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, see4- A Guide to Twitter in Libraries on the iLibrarian blog - This is a resource site, broken into the categories of :
  • 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:
  1. Twitter is very easy to sign-up for and to use
  2. Twitter is an effective communication tool for concise messages and news items, or links to longer messages and news items
  3. Twitter is fun to use and may, therefore, be effective in engaging students in discussions who do not need to write longer essays
There are some interesting Twitter tools (also see #4 above), that students might find of interest, though they tend to not be as easy to use as Twitter.

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


Doug Belshaw said...

Hi Alan,

I'm tentatively thinking about getting all my Year 11's to sign up for Twitter. Having said that, with Google Apps, their wiki and Wordpress MU-powered blogs, it might be too much of a culture shock compared with other teachers... :-o

Alan A. Lew said...

I know what you mean. I think I had a higher number of student drop my university class last semester when they saw all the social software things I was going to introduce in the class. It worked for those who stayed with me, but I will probably pull back the next time I teach that class.

Melissa said...

Hi, I teach middle school ESL and personally I use Twitter. But I have never thought of using it with my class. I am always looking for ways to incorporate web 2.0 tools into my teaching and I think this is a great idea. Have you found any "social networks" that you think are effective for middle school (or any students for that matter). I tried but it really wasn't what I was looking for.

I just started my blog, check it out.

Nicole said...

Hi Alan. I used Twitter this semester. I thought I was ahead of the curve -- until I saw that you posted more than a year ago on the topic. I wrote about my experiences on my blog. Take a look if you are interested:

Alan A. Lew said...

Thanks for the comment, Nicole. I read your blog -- the students' negative responses to Twitter were quite fascinating. I left a comment on your blog, as well. -- Alan

Ismail said...


This is an interesting article. I have started a twitter page myself for education and teaching-related ideas and suggestions. Have a look here:

Ismail said...


This is an interesting article. I have started a twitter page myself for education and teaching-related ideas and suggestions. Have a look here:

Big "O" ski-lo said...

Hi Alan,

This has been a really beneficial blog that gave me a much more in-depth look at twitter. I've been on the fence about its practicality, but now I really see it has true potential in a higher ed scenario.


Dan said...

Just introduce a social network site in higher education "". The site provides Web 2.0 tools for higher education:

http://www.higheredspace.comCheck it out.