Twitter: What are you Teaching Right Now?

By Matthew Ragan

Before we get to “Why?” I think it’s important to quickly cover what Twitter actually does. Twitter is a micro-bloging service that allows you to communicate with a network of like-minded individuals. Once you create a Twitter account, your home page appears as a timeline of your “tweets,” as well as the “tweets,” of those you follow. A “tweet” is a single post to Twitter. Just like a “blog” can reference a single article on a web log, a “tweet” refers to a single post on Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so you’ve gotta say a lot by saying a little.

That’s a lot of abstraction, so imagine it this way: Let’s say that your family is spread across the country. You’ve elected to use Twitter specifically for the purpose of following what’s happening in the lives of your family. You create an account, and everyone in your family does as well. When you sign into Twitter your homepage displays your timeline, which contains all of your “tweets” as well as those from your family. Suddenly, you can see what’s happening in the lives of those that matter to you, and can share your own adventures (or maybe misadventures) and accomplishments with your loved ones. Instead of being an email or a text message that you have to read and respond to, a tweet is a simple declaration that you can choose to read or ignore.

What gets exciting about Twitter are the applications of this idea. The true functionality and accessibility of Twitter comes from it’s connection to cell phones. By registering your mobile device with your account you can have tweets forwarded to, and post tweets from, your phone. You don’t need to have everyone’s tweet’s forwarded (you know Uncle Bob, he’s always inappropriate, and his tweets are no different), in fact you can choose to not have any tweets forwarded to your phone. The fun is in posting updates by sending a text message. Rather than carrying a laptop with you to record and share the details of the little league game, or the delicious dinner, or the beautiful sunset, or the beautiful leaf peeping, or the delayed plane, or the car accident ten cars ahead of you, or or or, and and and. Now, suddenly your phone is a whole different kind of device. Journal about life 140 characters at a time, or keep family posted about the trip you’re taking across the country. You use your phone to connect to the net and communicate with a single individual or thousands of people with only one text message. Do you have a camera attached to your phone? Well, if that’s the case then you can post the pictures you take with your phone to Twitter as well.

Still not convinced, consider the story of a University of California-Berkeley graduate student who was able to Tweet his way out of prison after a misunderstanding in Egypt. Or consider the impact of Twitter on our most recent presidential election. Or the impact of twitter in connection to the Iranian election. Caught somewhere between party-line, message board, and instant message Twitter is changing what we think of social media.

So Why?

Twitter reflects much of what we experience in our daily lives. We have a mass network of people that we’re connected to, and who we like to share information with reciprocally. Some situations are predicated upon single directed flows of information, and some are organized around group collaboration. Suddenly I can be the only one from my team at a conference, but able to update everyone back at the office with real-time information. Post a new blog? Let everyone in your network know by tweeting. Looking for a poll of thoughts or experiences, ask in a tweet. Looking for a quick way to have a group conversation with people scattered across the city, state, country, world, Twitter can let you do that. Twitter is only limited by the users ingenuity, and part of what’s pushing it’s growth is the new and clever uses being implemented daily.

The MacArthur Foundation published the abstract from their Living and Learning with new Media project last November. In it they highlight the dramatic change that’s developing in how youth use and communicate with new technologies. One of the more interesting suggestions in the paper is that youth consider cell phones to be part of their identity. Cell phones now allow youth to update Facebook, post to Twitter, share pictures and messages with friends, write blogs, and almost anything internet based. Cell phones are online identity construction. In that sense, cell phones connect to deeply emotional and identity motivated ideas and behaviors. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that a service that allows the individual to connect with anyone and everyone would not only be valuable, but exciting and inspiring.

So what about Education?

The only limits for the application of this technology are the limits you impose. There are many online resources about educators who are already using Twitter in their classrooms daily. Below you’ll find a list of links with summaries of where they direct you on the net. More interesting is to consider how you might use Twitter in a new and playful way. An English course could head out into downtown Keene to compose haikus as they are inspired. A class that attends a play or film could tweet their 140 character review after the show. Students could collect rain fall or snow fall data and tweet it so it could be later organized by location and quantity. Much like a neighborhood watch, students could be encouraged to communicate about suspicious individuals. It could be used for a thousand different things; but when it comes down to it, the real ingenuity will come from students. Ask your students how they use Twitter… more importantly, how you should.

Did you miss the 53 minute brown bag presentation last week? Watch it on Vimeo:

Twitter: What are you Teaching Right Now?

Resources:

10 Twitter Mythconceptions – The things you’ve heard about Twitter that aren’t quite right
http://technologizer.com/2009/05/11/ten-twitter-mythconceptions/

To get Twitter you Gotta Tweet – Real understanding comes from doing
http://velocitymg.com/explorations/leveraging-learning/to-get-twitter-you-gotta-tweet/

What Did They Tweet – Favorite tweets from Teacher ReBoot Camp
http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/category/what-did-they-tweet/

Teachers Take on Twitter – How are educators using twitter, look at one 4th grade teacher’s use
http://www.teachermagazine.org/tsb/articles/2009/10/01/01twitter.h03.html

The Best Twitters for Sharing Resource Links – a sampling of interesting people to follow
http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2009/07/21/the-best-twitterers-for-sharing-resource-links/

Twitter Help for Educators – a little clunky, but still has some strong resources
http://www.vrml.k12.la.us/curriculum/tech/socialnetwork/twitter/twitter.htm

Teachers Using Technolog – a list of educators on twitter
http://tweepml.org/Teachers-using-technology/

Study: Twitter users are mobile, urban, and engaged online – Who is really using twitter?
http://arstechnica.com/web/news/2009/02/study-twitter-users-are-mobile-urban-and-engaged-online.ars

Twitter Now Growing – How fast was Twitter growing back in March?
http://mashable.com/2009/03/16/twitter-growth-rate-versus-facebook/

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