To Tweet (or Not)

I have known about Twitter for a while (my Twitter handle is @sbethm).  A few years ago, I created an account for my cat, @panchovy.  She didn’t tweet much and has been quiet on facebook for a while, too, but when she’s active, she regularly works on plotting her escape from her indoor imprisonment.  She reports on her successes and failures in escaping.

Advantages

That’s one way to play and be creative on Twitter.  You can extend this to a classroom, either online or off.  You could re-enact a play from Shakespeare or watch the Calculus greats duke it out.  Some instructors use Twitter as a way to update their class (click the links for examples) with news and information, much like we would use a news forum in an online class in a learning management system like Moodle, Angel or BlackBoard.

Here’s an example of how a calculus class in Muskegon, Michigan used Twitter to develop a better understanding of the history of Calculus and the book The Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time by Jason Socrates Bardi:


A couple of months ago, I started to more seriously use Twitter as part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I share links that are relevant to the field(s) I’m interested in, “follow” like-minded people and try to create “Tweets” that are worthwhile or if not worthwhile, at least pertain to what I’m working on (homework, healthcare, student services, distance learning).

Twitter is a fantastic resource for professional development.  I don’t know about the claim that you can receive real-time feedback (The Hechinger Report, 2012), if you run into problem while you’re teaching a class, which is especially dependent on the size of your network (people quoted in the article have thousands of followers and I don’t think this is a realistic expectation for new users), but you can definitely receive guidance, participate in chats (#edchat, #lrnchat, #sachat, #digped, to name a few), find interesting and informative links, and use twitter as a resource database of sorts.

Disadvantages

One disadvantage to this wealth of information is that it is truly impressive, and that can be overwhelming.  When using Twitter, you have the ability to create public and private lists of people you are following.  For instance, I have created and edtech list, a list of math teachers, and a list of my favorite Twitter users to follow.  Where Twitter stumbles a little bit is in your ability to access and monitor these lists – you have to dig around a bit, to get to them.

Solutions

There are ways to alleviate some of this frustration, however.  You can use a piece of software called a twitter client or I like to call them twitter parsers – they parse the overload of information into manageable pieces.  There are several different versions – Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Seesmic, for starters.  I have Tweetdeck set up to use with my Twitter account and though I’m not very comfortable with it, yet, I think it has a lot of potential.  There is a [free] desktop version available for download and it includes little desktop notifications.

More Uses in the Classroom

(I’ve ranked these in order from most effective to least, but please be aware that these are based on my preliminary opinions only, and not necessarily based on experience or research.  Others may have different opinions and I am always open to those.)

I found a great article from The Next Web about additional ways to use Twitter with students in the classroom. Some of these include:

  1. Continue a discussion with students after the class has ended.  It is also used to encourage students that might keep quiet within a larger group discussion to speak up.
  2. Sharing links that pertain to class w/ your students – giving them a reading assignment to complete before class the next day.
  3. Sending out reminders about homework and project deadlines.  (Definitely need to have established buy-in or use from students, for this to be truly effective.)
  4. Brainstorming – easy to share ideas with classmates and instructors online, any time of day.  (More effective for young college students or high school junior and seniors.)
  5. Encourage students to be creative within Twitter’s tight character constraints. (I think this is going to be most effective in combination with staging something on Twitter or within particular subject areas.)

Other Thoughts

Does anyone know of a class that is primarily taught using Twitter?  I did a couple of searches for something and came up empty.  It seems like someone would have tried this.  You would need to be careful to archive your Tweets, somehow, and you might still need to use another platform for grading and longer communications with students. It might not work very well, but I’ll update with a link, if I track something down.

Conclusion

Twitter can be a really useful tool, but it does take some getting used to.  It appears to be simple at first, but in order to use it to its fullest capacity, you need to understand the character limits, hashtags, and be willing to participate “in real time,” or at least relatively often.  I think the greatest advantages of twitter are in professional development for educators, but it definitely has good applications for the classroom as well.

References

(Need to consult APA style book and format)

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One thought on “To Tweet (or Not)

  1. I think you’ve hit on what I found to be the two best things about Twitter (at least for professional purposes; 140 characters also seems a great length for snarky comments, but that’s another matter). I love the professional development aspect of it; the key to making that work is finding people who curate content well. The ability to crowdsource solutions and advice is also fantastic, though I agree with you that very few people can expect to do so in real time.

    I’ve had mixed success with lists. One problem with them is that Twitter only shows tweets that originate with the people on the list. That makes it hard to follow conversations, and it completely negates the value of following good curators, since their re-tweets are what you’re following them for.

    I’ve used Tweetdeck before, and liked it until Twitter bought it and tried to bring it in line with their web site. That seemed to defeat the purpose of having a client that does things the web doesn’t. So I’ve switched to MetroTwit, which I’ve been quite happy with. But there’s bad news on clients in general: Twitter has made changes to its API that are aimed at ultimately forcing clients to go away; third-party development will be limited to apps that extend the environment to other kinds of uses.

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