I’m presenting on Twitter and its uses for education and learning later today, as I noted in my last post. During the past few weeks I’ve been looking at my own uses of Twitter and compiling a list of resources on the subject. There are lots of how-to presentations on Twitter, and I would recommend the CommonCraft videos (available in multiple languages) for starters. After that, Jane Hart’s slideshow on specific steps to get going is very practical.
For Twitter in (higher) education, the video and accompanying commentary about a university History course at UT Dallas is the best I’ve found so far. Nicole Melander’s Why I Hate Twitter and Why I Love Twitter posts about a Social Networking and Business class are also of interest to educators.
I think that Twitter used only inside a course is quite constrained. My experience has shown that the “course” is not a good model for the Internet, and is best-suited for the classroom, from which it came. Without walls, courses and curriculum become rather messy. That may make Twitter, like blogs, best suited for personal learning environments (PLE) in academia, so that learners can use it for several courses and connect to their non-academic networks as well. As educators experiment with Twitter, it will probably be at the course level, but that should not be the final limit.
One of the greatest aspects of Twitter I’ve noticed is its asymmetry, or the fact that I don’t have to follow people who follow me. This lets me tune my network to get better signal and less noise. If you find Twitter boring or useless, then you’re following the wrong people. Blogs allow this asymmetry but social networks like Facebook don’t. Dave Emmett shows on this graphic the difference between what Seth Godin describes as tightening & broadening networks. Twitter & blogs foster broadening networks.
My own focus is using Twitter as another tool/process in personal knowledge mastery. Twitter can be used as a collaboration tool, performance support or knowledge management application. I’ve integrated Twitter into my sense-making process with Friday’s Finds. This helps me synthesize the various threads over a week and addresses one of Twitter’s weaknesses; long-term archiving. In addition, synchronous events like #lrnchat, held each Thursday, may take a little to get used to but are fun, informative and help build community.
The mechanics of micro-blogging, like blogging, are rather simple. Of course Twitter is now being hyped, much as blogs were a while back. But what’s the bigger picture?
Charlene Croft provides a sociological perspective on Twitter:
“Twitter is a social networking site predominantly used by individuals who are high-level communicators and organizations/businesses who want to reach those communicators. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a good lens through which to view Twitter users. He talks about the Connectors, the Mavens and the Salesmen as being the three types of individuals which start and spread what he calls ‘social epidemics.'”
One conclusion you can draw from Charlene’s post is that Twitter, like blogging, is not for everyone, especially if you’re not a Maven, Connector or Salesman in your work. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a passive participant (lurker) or use Twitter as a search engine or information gathering tool.
I will leave the final and most important words from Howard Rheingold, who says that Twitter, like most social media, requires a certain level of skill and literacy in order to be understood and used [my emphasis]:
Nielsen, the same people who do TV ratings, recently noted that more than 60% of new Twitter users fail to return the following month. To me, this represents a perfect example of a media literacy issue: Twitter is one of a growing breed of part-technological, part-social communication media that require some skills to use productively. Sure, Twitter is banal and trivial, full of self-promotion and outright spam. So is the Internet. The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.