In this post I want to put down a marker as to the role I think Twitter could have within education. When previously presenting on the use of Twitter in education I’ve always tried to emphasis its not just about a tool for discussion (in fact I try to avoid the word discussion because 140 characters can seriously hamper the depth you can go into), but instead Twitter which can be easily interacted with via its API and 3rd party services has the potential to be used as the building blocks for a service to support teaching and learning.
Some examples for you.
Does your institution use (or is about to cut) a SMS service to send administrative information to students? If so you could save yourself 4p per text by asking students to follow a Twitter account and receive free SMS updates if they are customers of one of the four big mobile network operators.
Do you use or want to use electronic voting in the classroom but don’t have enough handsets or are frustrated when students don’t bring them in? If so Twitter can be used as a mechanism for collect votes even using the most basic mobile phones.
Making a strategic decision to use Twitter for different aspects of the educational experience I believe students are less likely to perceive it as a gimmick and consequently more likely to take more ownership of it as a tool to support their own education.
A nice diagram I came across recently which illustrates the ‘different aspects of Twitter’ this is Mark Sample’s Twitter Adoption Matrix which featured in his A Framework for Teaching with Twitter post.
(Mark has followed up his post with another expanding on Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, which is also worth a read)
The idea of building applications around social network sites to aid teaching and learning isn’t new. Examples like OU’s SocialLearn and Purdue’s Hotseat spring to mind. Perhaps the issue with these is they are designed around breadth instead of depth, trying to tap into the illusive Personal Learning Environment.
What if instead we ignore the personal and focus on the functional. That is building applications around Twitter to provide students and tutors with the tools to support learning, focusing on formal uses enabling opportunities for serendipitous informal learning.
But why Twitter and not Facebook or FriendFeed et al.? For me it comes down to a couple of things. With Facebook there is the ever distraction of games, friends and family. Twitter stripes a lot of this away. FriendFeed is better in terms of simplicity but you are not restricted by 140 characters. Whilst this makes FriendFeed a better tool for deep discussion it makes it less mobile friendly (i.e. you can read notifications from Twitter on the most basic phone via SMS).
Finally flexibility. My favouring of Twitter’s flexibility is perhaps down to my own limitations as an educational mash-up artist. I find it a lot easier to extend Twitter’s functionality because of the simplicity of the core product and number of examples that can easily be adapted.
Hopefully you are getting my gist. Focus on adopting Twitter as a tool. Think of Twitter’s utility. The utility to collect comments. The utility to collect votes. The utility to send notifications. Through focusing on utility you are creating opportunities for other learning theories to come into play enabling the transition from formal to personal.
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