What is Twitter? It is a free social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send messages called ‘tweets’ that are up to 140 characters in length (Wikipedia). That is the ‘dictionary definition’, but the best description I’ve heard about Twitter was by Charlene Kingston we she said:
“Twitter [is] like a huge cocktail party. It’s like walking through a large party and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk past people. You invited these people to attend your party for a specific reason. However one they arrive, they are free to talk about anything on their mind”
Reflection on the process of learning about the tool
I got invited to my first Twitter ‘party’ almost a year and a half ago. A friend of mine, who was instrumental in getting me to join Facebook, also invited me to join Twitter.
Well, I can agree with the sentiment “The one thing you can say for certain about twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression” (Johnson). When I finally arrived at the ‘party’ is was a lonely, frustrating experience. It was like showing up to the opening of a new club that is hyped as being ‘all the rage’ but when you get there, it’s obvious you don’t know the dress code, none of the music is familiar, no one will converse with me and I can’t even find the bathroom. I felt like I was literally ‘dancing with myself’. I simply didn’t ‘get’ what this was about and decided to leave, feeling like a party-pooper.
Over a year later, I was re-invited back to the club to attend another ‘twitter party’ when I started this course on Web 2.0. After my first experience, I was reluctant to try again, but signed in once again in September (after forgetting my old name and password) and started sending the odd tweet. I still felt like I was standing in the middle of an unfamiliar room randomly babbling inane comments to myself, hoping someone would hear me and respond back. Since we were required to add a dozen or so people, I did so as soon as possible, but felt a little strange following people I didn’t know and ‘lurking’ in on their conversations. The random, short 140 character messages seemed very cryptic with their abbreviations and symbols and I had a hard time understanding what was being said. It felt like there was a radio playing in the background that I wasn’t quite tuned into.
The conversations started getting clearer and the party started to liven up a bit once I listened to Mack Male’s illuminate session from this past summer at U of A and I followed Joanne’s trailfire with its extremely helpful hints on how to get started with Twitter. The symbols stated to make sense (# is a hashtag that helps to categorize messages, RT stands for ‘retweet’, @username allows messages to be sent directly to another user). I also learned how to maximize the 140 character limit by shortening URL codes using the services tinyurl, bit.ly and tr.im.
I realized that if I wanted to have more fun at this party, I was going to need to invite more people and try to entice others to follow me as well. I tried to update my settings page, by adding a photo of myself. The first three photos I tried were all too large, even when I attempted to resize them. I got very frustrated and decided to just change the design of my background instead. On Mack Male’s advice, I also decided to check out http://www.twitterlocal.net to find out if anyone in my tiny town (population 3, 000) were also on twitter. I got frustrated again when I realized I didn’t have the Adobe AIR version 1.5 to support it and simply didn’t have the patience to download yet another program. Instead, I tried a quicker approach of searching using the hashtag #Jasper to see what was being said around town. Sadly, it was all advertisements from local hotels. (I’m not sure what I expected really, there is only 1 main road through town, and elk walk about freely downtown – it’s not exactly a thriving metropolis!). Since none of my personal friends (other than the initial person who invited me to join) is using Twitter currently, I tried twitter’s ‘yellow pages directory’ http://twellow.com next to look for people with common interests. I found 444 people who listed rock climbing as their favourite activity and started following a few. I also checked out the Twitter4Teachers Wiki that Joyce Valenza recommended, which was created to help educators find other educators that teach in the same content area. I found a few interesting people to follow there as well.
The busier the party started to get, the more overwhelmed I started to feel about the hundreds of messages I was receiving. It was “like being at a party and hearing every conversation talking place”, exactly as Steve Hargadon described. I needed help organizing these messages into something that was manageable for me to follow, and I was finding the Twitter website very inefficient. I decided to download “Twitterlicious” which is a much smaller pop up screen that hides in the system tray when it’s not needed. It also displays the status of the messages, so I know which tweets are new and which ones I’ve missed.
I am now just starting to feel like this party could turn out to be very interesting! I also am starting to feel like my tweets are progressing from inane babble and useless updates on my daily routine to more purposeful messages with pass-along value. I still feel like I need to work on my social etiquette and personal ‘style’ and continue to build my lists of people I follow and who are also following me.
Twitter as a tool for my own personal learning
When I first started using Twitter, I just didn’t ‘get’ it. It appeared to be senseless babble in an overcrowded room and I couldn’t understand how to make sense of it all. With all of the tools that have been introduced to us this semester, Twitter is the one that I have struggled with the most. It may have something to do with my first negative experience, but it could just be that I am currently very happy using the social networking tools that I currently use (mostly Facebook) and didn’t see the need for adding more conversations into my life. However, as Charles Arthur points out “As with any other social network, [it is] whatever you make of it”. Have spent more time using Twitter and reading about it, I can now understand and see its incredible potential for spreading “as it happens” news, asking questions of colleagues and peers, following people or topics you’re interested in, passing on interesting things to read, observations about life or linking it to advertise my new blog posts.
I’ve come to realize that the quality of Twitter experience depends entirely on who I follow and what my personal goal is in using this social networking tool. In the beginning, I only added friends that I knew, figuring it was a simple social networking tool that would allow me to talk with friends and family. Then I began to follow people in the entertainment industry, and comedians to get my daily laugh. Once I realized how incredibly useful it can be to find current news and information, I added several media outlets as well like NY Times, Life and the Huffington Post to get my daily news fix. Finally, I have added several educational journals and experts in the field of technology and education to keep me updated on the trending information in the field of education. It’s incredibly interesting and helpful to hear the latest ideas and conversations that are happening in this field. I’ve tried to keep the list of people I follow fairly broad in variety, but manageable in number so I still have enough time to read the posts and respond. Currently, I have more people I’m following than followers, so I’m listening more than speaking right now and not fully utilizing the whole resource to the best of its (and my) ability. As Phil Bradley comments “Twitter is a resource to encourage discourse, to share ideas back and forth”. To become a more active participant is one of my goals over the next few months.
The other unique ability that Twitter offers that is a great benefit over the other social networks is that it can be accessed on a mobile phone or other devices, making it computer or web free. I have not yet explored this option yet, as my cell phone is exceptionally old, but my boyfriend purchased a new phone yesterday, and I can’t wait to try!
Twitter as a tool for teaching and learning
Although Twitter is currently blocked at our school, I can see the potential for its use in the classroom. I would encourage many of my science students to follow current news stories and real-time updates of space exploration with NASA’s astronauts or participate in events like NASA's Space Station crew tweetup that occurred on October 21, 2009 (Wikipedia). To connect with NASA on social networking sites try this link: http://tiny.cc/tRcWR . Social studies teachers could use it to follow current events and “as it happens” news items like the 2008 Mumbai attacks, or Public Health Department updates on H1N1 flu. Language teachers could use it as a hands-on activity for students to practice succinct writing (without abbreviations!) and converse in a second language. It could also be used as an alternative means for students to communicate their ideas and opinions.
Dr. Monica Rankin, a history Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, has her students ‘tweeting’ in class as a means of expressing their views and opinions. It is a large class of 90 students, and this has been a very productive means of sharing a lot of information very quickly. The restriction of 140 characters forces the students to focus their messages on a central point that the teaching assistants collect, and respond to at a later time. The other benefits noted by the students are that this collection of comments can be used as a study guide later and they can follow the conversation remotely if they are not physically in class that day (YouTube).
As a teacher, there are many ways that I could see Twitter benefiting my practice. It allows for many open conversations and could be treated as a ‘virtual staffroom’ where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals (Walker). It could also allow me to get information on conferences, or even ‘attend’ them remotely (College@Home). Twitter could also be a great brainstorming tool since it is ideal for sharing ideas and getting instant feedback. You can gather a huge range of ideas and constructive criticism very quickly (Walker). Using Twitter could also help me stay on top of the latest technologies as well as the latest news and best practices from other professional in the field of education. Finally, I could also see using it as a means of reflecting on my own teaching practice. “Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other” (Walker).
As a librarian, there is a multitude of ways that I could use Twitter to promote what is happening in the library. It could be used to produce updates on newsletters, reviews on new books, information on author visits, winners of contests, post updates on fundraising activities or update the calendar of events (Scott). It could also be used to highlight general information about opening and closing times, give information on staff, link to images of the library, share best practices with other libraries, take feeds from BBC, CNN or other news alerting services or raise awareness of new resources the library has to offer (Bradley). The possibilities are seemingly endless.
Having tried Twitter for the second time this semester, I am starting to realize the potential it has in my personal and professional life. I not only recommend its use, but am starting to advocate for my friends and colleagues to use it as well. However, as Phil Bradley comments “the usual Web 2.0 caveat remains in force – if you don’t see a value in it, don’t use it, and come back in 6 months to try again”. I’m certainly glad that I did come back to enjoy the party.
Bradley, Phil. (January 29, 2009). Using Twitter in Libraries. Retrieved from: http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil-bradleys-weblog/2009/01/using-twitter-in-libraries.html
College@Home. (May 27, 2008). Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved from: http://www.collegeathome.com/blog/2008/05/27/twitter-for-librarians-the-ultimate-guide/
Hargadon, Steve. (February 2009). Microblogging: It’s Not Just Twitter. School Library Journal. Vol. 55 Iss. 2 page 15. Rerieved from: http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/pqdweb?did=1639656541&sid=3&Fmt=3&clientId=12301&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Johnson, Steven. (June 5, 2009). How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live. Time. Retreived from: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604-000.htm
Kingston, Charlene. (April 2009). Twitter for Beginners. Crow Communications Ebook. Retrieved from: http://www.crowinfodesign.com/downloads/twitter.pdf
Male, Mack D. (March 9, 2009). Twitter 101. Retrieved from: http://bolg.mastermaq.ca/2009/03/09/twitter-101/
Scott, Jeff. (April 29, 2007). Twitter Update or How I was Able to Exploit the
Latest Social Networking Site Without Really Trying. Gather No Dust: Libraries, Management & Technology. Retrieved from: http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/2007/04/twitter-update-or-how-i-was-able-to.html
YouTube. (May 2, 2009). The Twitter Experiment – UT Dallas. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WPVWDkF7U8
Valenza, Joyce. (March 1, 2009). Meet Mr. Tweet and More on Applying the App. School Library Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1340000334/post/1940041394.html
Walker, Laura. (April 16, 2009). Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools. Tech & Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.techlearning.com/article/17340