Twitter is a microblogging website that allows users to update their status ("What am I doing?") to the world using 140 characters of text. Many educators use Twitter to share information about their discipline or research interests. Educators who are members of professional organization like MERLOT use Twitter to share about upcoming conferences. They also use Twitter during a conference to let others know about key information in presentations.
Educators will determine their own learning goals when using a microblogging tool like Twitter. It is possible that a teacher may have students use twitter to post short reflections about a topic being covered in class.
Target Student Population:
Currently Twitter is most popular with older people so graduate level college students might be the best audience for using Twitter. A better alternative for K-12 students may be Edumodo as it has been designed to be used within a private online environment.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Twitter does require some training. It would be helpful for educators and their students to read articles about Twitter prior to using it. A list of resources can be found at: http://www.twine.com/twine/12vxy2xc1-3xx/twitter-and-education
Type of Material:
Twitter could be considered a collection or repository because educators can choose to "follow" updates by other educators who are sharing new information about their discipline or research area. Users can also search twitter for real-time updates on topic of interest.
Teachers may want to have their students conduct searches on topics of interest and then "follow" the updates of people posting about a particular topic. Professors have used Twitter as a way of creating a back channel in their classroom, where students can ask questions and make comments during a lecture. At a certain point, the professor will stop and ask a moderator to share questions and comments from the back channel.
Users will need basic web navigation skills. For best use, they will also need to learn Twitter commands and etiquette which can be found on many web pages including: http://twitter.zendesk.com/forums/10711/entries/13920
Evaluation and Observation
The content quality of Twitter is determined by the search terms used and which updates a user follows. Twitter can be a great source of information when experts in a particular field make frequent tweets (updates) about their research.
Some users sign up for Twitter and then quit using it with a couple of days because they can't figure out how it can be useful to them. There are web pages dedicated to helping new users get connected. For example: http://ithinkmedia.com/Printer/Blog/Articles/100-Educators-to-Follow-on-Twitter/ shares a list of 100 educators to follow. However, it might be helpful if Twitter included a wizard that helped people find information about their interests when they sign up for an account.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
Twitter has tremendous potential to be used as a real-time searching tool for educators and students. An advantage that it has over typical web search engines is that real people with real expertise are recommending content. Users who "follow" the updates of experts in their field may get valuable updates about current research.
Even when an expert has been identified and followed, he or she is not required to tweet (provide updates) about his/her discipline. Instead, the expert may choose to share about a personal interest. It is possible to "unfollow" someone's updates. The point is, it may take a while for teachers to tweak who they follow in order to get their desired information. This is where having a Twitter tool like TweetDeck may come in handy as users can add columns of updates about key words rather than just seeing a single list of updates from those being followed.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Twitter is extremely easy to use when only discussing its basic functionality. Signing up for an account is easy and new users are given appropriate prompts as to how to post an update and how to follow other users.
Teachers who only learn Twitter basics may quit using Twitter shortly after they begin because they can't see how it can provide useful information. It takes a significant amount of time to build a list of users to follow. It also takes time to determine which Twitter tools will provide the best search results. The immediate summary provided by a search engine is hard to duplicate in Twitter without a significant time investment on the part of the user.