What is it?
Twitter is a social networking tool for almost-instant communication through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called 'tweets' of 140 characters or fewer. Tweets are available to the general public or communicated more specifically as users join groups—as followers or followed by others in networked communication.
Twitter users continue to expand its diversity and application. For teachers, Twitter can offer professional support, instant communication with students, and creative approaches to disseminating course content.
All you need to tweet is an internet connection or a mobile phone.
According to CNET news (March 19, 2009), Twitter's growing really, really, really, really fast. Twitter realized a 1,382 percent growth rate between February 2008 and 2009, and the 3549-year-old age group represents the biggest demographic.
Twitter's own forum, Frequently Asked Questions, gives a concise, comprehensive view of what it is and how to use it. A two-and-a-half minute Introductory Video expands this introduction in plain language.
To establish a Twitter account, simply follow the sign up icon to the Registration page where you're asked to enter your name, a username, and password and to agree to the terms of service. Multiple accounts are possible if you choose to separate business, family, and friends.
But does Twitter have value as an educational tool, or is it another cog in the wheel of communication overload?
Twitter for Teachers: A Collaborate Effort to Teach Teachers about Twitter is a comprehensive list of links to quick tips and evaluative articles about Twitter. Links cover a spectrum of Twitter discussion about its applications and management.
Quick Start Tips Information includes methods to use Twitter tools and software to enhance Twitter's application. The conclusion: "Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool for your personal learning, connecting with others and complements your blogging."
The Power of Educational Technology blog offers Advice for Teachers New to Twitter—including links to other twittering teachers with comments, problems, and suggestions. These tips stress the value of Twitter as a professional communication and development tool.
The Twitter4Teachers Wiki helps educators link with others in their specific discipline or field such as social studies teachers, geography teachers, retired teachers, school principals, and more.
Among the reasons Twitter may be more useful for professional networking and professional development than as a classroom tool is cost and accessibility. As The Wired Campus in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out: Twitter costs money—while it works with internet access, the immediacy of the text messaging facility of mobile phones maximizes its use.
For some educators, however, Twitter has become a useful classroom tool. Can We Use Twitter for Educational Activities?, a paper presented at the Fourth International Scientific Conference, eLearning and Education (Bucharest, April 2008), focused on arguments for and against the microblogging platform in education. Twitter is about learning, according to authors Gabriela Grosseck and Carmen Holotescu, but they are clear that guidelines and parameters are critical to successful educational application—as they are with any learning tool. The article looks at examples of Twitter in the classroom and concludes with an extensive bibliography of online resources about educational uses of Twitter.
Educator Carol Cooper-Taylor offers a blog posting on 50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Education. Her tips range from getting started to content to managing your Twitter messaging. Cooper-Taylor also offers ideas for countering negative responses to twitter in the classroom. For example, the criticism, "Twitter takes you away from teaching," is reversed with "Twitter can help direct students' attention to good things" or "Twitter brings great minds together."
For older students, Twitter is another tool that can encourage enthusiasm through communication and promote collaborative learning—as well as provide another opportunity to stress responsible use of networking tools.
David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas, Dallas, believes Twitter, ". . . was the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I've ever done teaching." In Twitter for Academia, Parry offers an annotated bulleted list of uses of Twitter, many of which could be applied to middle and high school teaching.
In Twitter in the Classroom, a Vimeo posting, Christine Morris discusses issues related to uses of Twitter and initial problems with the interface and application—and how these software and training problems were solved. Technology consultant and educator, Melanie McBride, also discusses introducing and using Twitter, in Classroom2.0: Twitter, del.icio.us and participatory learning. Again, however, the focus is higher education with applicability to high school students.
A grand slam site for links to resources on the mechanics, uses, and educational applications of Twitter is 100 Tips, Apps, and Resources for Teachers on Twitter published by Online College Degree. The 100 tips are divided into categories from Resources for Learning Twitter, Twitter for Educators, Making the Most of Twitter, and a variety of activities, tips and applications for the classroom and to help take advantage of all the possibilities Twitter offers for personal and group communication.
While educators frequently ask about the use of Twitter in the K8 classroom, examples are few and its value, inconclusive. K-3 Teacher Resources offers an enthusiastic step-by-step guide—including a description of the learning curve and tips on Twitter etiquette.