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All About Twitter! (In 140 characters or less…)

Who?

“Twitterati”: 105 million users who “follow” people (they often have never met) and are followed based on interests – usually professional.  (139)

 
 

 

Who uses Twitter?

 

What?

A SN/microblogging service, enabling its users to send & read other users’ messages called tweets: text-based posts of up to 140 characters.  (140)

Where?

Anywhere!  In January, 2010, MIT alumnus and astronaut T.Creamer sent the very first live tweet from space.  Also, try Twitter.com for more!  (140)

When?

Short, timely messages sent 24 / 7, primarily during work hours (business tool); but with an increase at the end of the week (social tool).   (139)

When the tweets happen

Why?

Get the latest, breaking news and information from a direct source without bias about things you have a personal/professional interest in. (138)

How?

PCs, handheld devices, igoogle page, Twitter.com, Facebook, anyway you can access the internet, you can access Twitter using your account. (138)

Personal and Professional use of Twitter

Two months ago I set up a Twitter account and a feed through my igoogle page. I religiously followed the feeds.  I replied to certain tweets, I thought about “re-tweeting”, but since I had no followers, it seemed pointless.  This went on for about a month.  Then I got frustrated with the amount of “trivia” many of the people I was following tweeted about.  And it wasn’t limited to one or two.  Even after selectively editing the “I am having pancakes at ihop now” tweeters out of my feeds, I still found some people were overpowering in their need to have me read EVERYTHING they stumbled upon in the course of a day. 

Johnson (2010) says what I want to say about Twitter quite succinctly: “Here’s my proposal – there should be a five “tweet per 24 hours” limit to any one Twitter account. Period. No exceptions.  My guess is that the quality of tweets would rise fantastically. Right now for many twitterers, blogorrhea has a companion condition – Twitterrhea. Really does anyone really read 10-20 things that are THAT worth sharing? Have thoughts others would REALLY find valuable?”  (In fact, I found it so enlightening, I actually commented!)

Besides the fact that my Twitter feed became overloaded quite quickly, none of my friends or colleagues use Twitter.  A survey of my staff resulted in the following responses:

*Science teacher: I’m not on it, but I heard it was hacked into recently and a while back. For educators if you were on there and it got hacked into, the messages were all inappropriate comments & sex related stuff was forwarded to everyone! Most people heard about the hack, but it is something to be cautious of.

*Humanities / Photography teacher: I used it last year and at the start of this year to tweet homework, but don’t use it anymore, I switched to google sites for homework now.

*Lead tech teacher: I used it faithfully for two terms last year, posting after every class – up to five times a day.  There was one parent who followed me, and not very faithfully, either.  Finally I thought “why bother?”.

*Math teacher:  I use Twitter.  I am an avid sports fan, particularly hockey, so I can see the latest scores and trade and stuff.  I don’t use it to post homework, though.

*TL: I do not use Twitter.

*Principal: I might be a twit but alas I do not twitter! **** uses Twitter.  He is the “Moodle King” of the district, too!

*School District Assistant Superintendent:  I have a twitter account but to the best of my knowledge none of the executive committee members use it! But having said that, various organizations such as the BCPVPA use Twitter to communicate and inform members in a timely manner about news etc….and I assume Twitter will become more relevant in the lives of educators in this age of technology!

Hopefully, by the time that happens (Twitter becoming more relevant), I will be better prepared.  I do not have a hand-held mobile device that I can use to send any tweets, emails etc.  That in itself adds to the decreasing likelihood of me “tweeting” on a regular basis at the present time.  Apparently, I am not alone with my frustrations.  Nielsen Online reports that Twitter has a user retention rate of 40%. Many people stop using the service after a month (huh, just like me!) therefore the site may potentially reach only about 10% of all Internet usersThat is still a significant amount of people.

The many comments relating to blog posts about Twitter are split between those who think the site is the best thing since sliced bread and those who are sure Twitter is the most annoying, time-wasting thing in the world.  Personally, I felt frustrated by my lack of progress in this online area and feel reluctant to delve deeper into an online world where I just didn’t know anyone

Twitter is not really a “social network” in the same sense as other social networking services such as Facebook and MySpace.  While I enjoy Facebook, Twitter is much more a professional tool than Facebook will ever be.  I believe I need to look at the professional aspects of Twitter only and focus on the benefits of using this tool for educational rather than personal development.

Discussion of the tool in terms of educational use

Twitter’s day may not be here yet, but is likely to come in the very near future. Anderson Analytics says that their studies have determined that college students are less likely to participate in blogs and discussion boards nowadays.  “These results bode well for microblogging sites like Twitter, whose growth has flattened over the past few months…Facebook’s ubiquity will probably have a positive effect on Twitter.” (Anderson, 2008.)  I would think that people who love the “updating of their status” part of Facebook (there are many in the 500 million users) will soon realize the potential of Twitter to keep others updated almost continuously.  Does this mean Twitter has a place in schools?

It would be short-sighted not to recognize that Twitter has a place in an educational setting.  Perhaps not directly in the public classroom as of yet, but within the walls of the school.  Walker (2009) shares many reasons why educators should choose to use Twitter including using the tool for self-awareness and reflection, as a “newsroom” since you may not have time to read the paper, and as a virtual “staffroom” to bounce ideas off others in similar curricular areas.  I agree that Twitter feed is more timely and up to date than visiting blog sites or newspapers for current stories. 

While I may not have the time to read the papers on a regular basis (or perhaps the inclination…), the benefit with newspapers is that someone has edited it for me!  Johnson (2010): “Not that long ago, print journal editors provided a valuable service – they, fairly or unfairly, helped distribute only the “best” ideas in the profession. Yes, I am sure they practiced with a bias and that some really good stuff got lost in the process, but I didn’t have to spend half my evenings scanning posts, articles and applications to determine if they had value to me. The editor did that for me pretty accurately.” Twitterati will argue that there are ways to edit Twitterfeed, and that after time you get used to “sifting” through the posts.  I am convinced my time could be better used.

While I am currently not in a TL position, I hope to be one day in the near future.  Bradley (2009) lists many ways twitter can be used by the librarian, including learning about advancements in technology the minute a company releases information about it, the same with new resources, identifying experts in particular fields and sharing best practices with other TLs.

While Twitter is still finding its foothold with the younger students and their places of education, post secondary institutions are leading the way.  Lord (2010) reports studying over 150 universities in the US, UK, Canada and Australia and has come to the following conclusions:

  • Most universities studied use Twitter – whether it is one department or the institution as a whole, and they tweet several times a day
  • The tweets tend to be either announcements or PR messages
  • University libraries tend to share links (as compared to the university itself) and promote usage of the library.  This leads Lord to conclude “they are perhaps aiming to provide information to those within the University about what’s happening outside, whereas the University is using Twitter to promote the University to the outside world.”

No matter the level of education Twitter is used at, there is one huge stumbling block: convincing students to “allow” their private and public (educational) worlds to intersect. Hodges (2010) study concludes that “many students exhibit a reluctance to include faculty in their social networks” and that “merging education into social networks might not be the solution to reaching students online”.  Miners (2010) disagrees.  His article outlines just a few of the many ways post-secondary instructors can and do use Twitter and its advantages, particularly in a large classroom setting.  Having students respond to discussions using Twitter and posting their thoughts (of 140 characters or less) increases involvement from many students.  Miners quotes Professor David Parry: “One thing that has changed about higher education is the idea that people come and sit in a dorm and after class, they share ideas,” says Parry. “A lot of that is gone now, because students work two jobs, they don’t live in dorms. But Twitter is making up for it, in a way.”  It seems students must understand the different uses of Twitter – professional (for use in the classroom, with educators) and personal (sharing ideas with other students).  Is that possible?

Students allowing academic tweets on their feed is but one obstacle to overcome.  To be fully functional though, those who tweet, must also “listen”.  Bradley (2010) comments upon the fact that Twitterati need to follow other Twitterati:  “Twitter is a resource to encourage discourse, to share ideas back and forth. If you do not follow anyone I am absolutely not going to follow you, because you’re not engaged.”  Will that happen between students and schools?  Will teachers want that kind of interaction, though primarily educational, is still on a social network, with their students?  Yes, Twitter is more professional than most other SNS, but I am unsure about that level of interaction with students at a middle school level.  My use of Twitter, if and when I ever get to a regular usage, will be with other professionals.

While I completely support conversation about education and learning and love the benefits of collaborating on best practices, I am still not fully convinced Twitter is for me at the current time.  I cannot bring myself to completely discard the notion of the tool; I am just going to put it aside for now.  Don’t worry Twitter, I am not “un-friending” you, I am just “hiding” you!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1]  
There may be a time for Twitter and I, it is just not now.

References:

Anderson, T. (2009). College students say facebook is the only social networking site that really matters. http://www.andersonanalytics.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=72&cntnt01origid=47&cntnt01detailtemplate=newsdetail.tpl&cntnt01dateformat=%25m.%25d.%25Y&cntnt01returnid=46

Beirut (2009). Why do people really tweet?  The psychology behind tweeting. http://blog.thoughtpick.com/2009/08/why-do-people-really-tweet-the-psychology-behind-tweeting.html

Bradley, P. (2009). Using twitter in libraries. http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2009/01/using-twitter-in-libraries.html

Gervai, Anna (2010). Twitter statistics – finally! New stats for 2010. http://www.marketinggum.com/twitter-statistics-new-stats-for-2010/

Hodges, C. (2010). If you twitter, will they come? http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/IfYouTwitterWillTheyCome/206544

Hope, D. (2009). Twitter hacked by “Iranian cyber army”. http://social-networking-websites-review.toptenreviews.com/twitter-hacked-by-iranian-cyber-army.html

Johnson, D. (2010). Improving the quality of tweets. http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2010/10/14/improving-the-quality-of-tweets.html

Lord, M. (2010). How universities use twitter. http://acadblog.pepublishing.com/2010/02/how-universities-use-twitter.html

Miners, Z. (2010). Twitter goes to college. http://www.usnews.com/articles/education/best-colleges/2010/08/16/twitter-goes-to-college-.html

Walker, Laura (2009). Nine great reasons why teachers should use twitter. http://mrslwalker.com/index.php/2009/03/29/nine-great-reasons-why-teachers-should-use-twitter/

Zhu, L. (2010). When do most people tweet?  At the end of the week. http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/5500/When-Do-Most-People-Tweet-At-the-End-of-the-Week.aspx

Watt, D. (2010). A brief overview of social networks and their best uses for businesses. http://ezinearticles.com/?A-Brief-Overview-of-Social-Networks-and-Their-Best-Uses-for-Businesses&id=5284977

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