Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blog Post #8 Twitter (EDES 501)

Reflections on the Process of Learning About the Tool

I signed up for Twitter the first week of this course and began following people as outlined by Joanne, and of course picked a few people of my own to check out once and awhile. Just before I joined Twitter I had been watching one of the Late Night talk shows where Shaquille O'Neal had been a guest. He was talking about his Twitter experiences and all his followers, so I thought, what the heck I like basketball and I'm sure it would be pretty interesting following him. A short while later I learned I wasn't even following the real Shaq, which made me think how do we really know if we're following who we think are? Most likely these problems would only arise in the case of celebrity-type people, but who knows, if one was at an international library/ technology convention, the likes of Joyce Valenza and Will Richardson may be considered "celebrity."

I'll admit my first, well let's be honest, most of my experiences on Twitter have been riddled with frustration and anxiety. In the beginning I joined thinking this was just a place to let people know what you're doing, where you going, etc. and one of my friends said you have to write really short messages. So I thought, how hard could this be. I joined up, chose the look and feel of my page, added a picture of my Dad's race car (Opel - as we affectionately call her) and started checking out some of the people I was following. Well, that confident, god I'm gettin' good on this here computer feeling, quickly vanished and was replaced with, what the . . ., what are these symbols and abbreviations all about? And some of the things people were writing about - WHO CARES!! I really thought, as many people still do, what the heck is so appealing about Twitter?

BUT, I thought, I have to give this a chance, even if it is only to satisfy course requirements. My first tweet, really most of them, I'm sure also exuded the who cares factor. Knowing that a lot of the students at the high school were members of Twitter though, I knew it was something I needed to be aware of and try using. Throughout this course I have tried to visit Twitter as much as possible, although with each week's specific topics, working, and family life I know I haven't given it a fair shake. I do know more about it than any of my friends, family, or colleagues, but have not yet reaped the rewards of somebody like Mack Male. It wasn't until I started listening to the Mack Male Twitter session on Elluminate did I really start learning some things about Twitter. I really wished I had listened to it a lot earlier when Joanne first gave us the link, because I quickly learned what the # and @ symbols meant and also what was. I now know what a Hash Tag is and why anything related to Edmonton is #yeg as that is what the airport code is (which I found out because during the elluminate session people were asking the SAME questions I was wondering!). Mack also gave three different ways to find out what a hash tag is: click on it or respond to someone to see what it's all about; visit " to find out what they mean; or, simply search Google. Good ole' google!

Another aspect of Twitter that Male discussed that seemed to clarify things for me was the fact that Twitter is more for "real time" information. It's not a good resource for going back to find something, that he said, is why we blog - use Twitter to direct people to your blog. Makes sense! When he scrolled down on his Twitter page he showed how real time it really was, as down the whole length of his page the oldest reply was somewhere around "sent less than 30 seconds ago." I also learned that a "twoosh" is a perfect 140 character tweet, compared to the Nike Swoosh, and that a "tweetup" is an actual event that is set up for people on Twitter to meet face to face. So slowly my confusion and anxiety are morphing into feelings of less confusion and anxiety. I still do feel a little out of the loop sometimes when check out some of the people I am following who have been on twitter for awhile. There is still a lot of lingo, abbreviations and acronyms I am not familiar with, but that will just take time on my part for my exploration of the tool. Instead of a meaningless status update, I tried to post something of a little more interest, at least to me, in regards to my last few tweets. I wrote about our Animoto videos, a good resource I found at go2web20, and the fact that I made a "twoosh!" I mostly just wanted everyone to know that I knew what a "twoosh" was.

Of course I also watched the Twitter in Plain English video as I feel the simplicity of their information is always aimed directly at me! At the end of the video two other suggestions came up, like they always do, one being "Twitter Whore." Curiosity getting the best of me, I had to watch, thinking if it's REALLY inappropriate or too racey I can just turn it off. It was pretty funny! Basically making fun of how some people probably do use Twitter, a touch embellished, I'm sure, but it was quite comical. Obviously not something to be used in an educational setting, but I'll admit I did share it with my husband and a few friends. BUT, it did make me think, what if you were showing this at school and "Twitter Whore" automatically comes up as another recommended video? What would you do? I guess that is another good reason to have some sort of classroom blog or wiki so that you can embed good video's right into your classroom site. so you don't run into that problem. I also looked around the Twitter Wikipedia page as I thought that would be a good starting point for someone who really doesn't get it. I found Twitter is a place for not only posting status updates, but for spreading news, asking questions, and following people or topics of interest. Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter and part owner of Pyra Labs, Blogger, and Odeo (also invented the term "blogger"), stated, "What we have to do is deliver to people the best and freshest most relevant information possible. We think of Twitter as it's not a Social Network, but it's an information network. It tells people what they care about as it is happening in the world." Now, I know from following some of the people I've chosen to follow, that a lot of the information on Twitter is definitely not that "fresh" or "relevant." Like anything though, it is what you make it. If you choose to follow people with similar interests, chances are the information will be better and one won't be left wondering, "Who cares?"

I was also pretty excited to find, during our last discussion assignment, that one of my resources also mentioned ways to use Twitter. Karen Bonanno's presentation on The Role of the 21st Century Librarian along with discussing other Social Networking tools, described uses of Twitter for the school and school library. She presented five ways to use Twitter by posting: (1) New resources notices, (2) School Library Events, (3) Alerts for Web Links, (4) Links to news and current affairs, and (5) Info to stay up to date professionally. My question is though, how do you get colleagues, staff and admin, to join Twitter? I guess you could make it mandatory, but from my experience, those situations don't often work out very well.

My thoughts regarding Twitter have definitely changed since the beginning of this course when I joined and started following people required for this course. I am certainly still exploring and learning new things all the time, but I do have a better appreciation for its purpose. It really just isn't about people telling others what they're eating for breakfast, it is more a space to share good information via links and URL's and keep up to date with current events.

Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Personal Learning

In terms of Twitter and my personal Learning I found it quite interesting how much information supporting the pros and cons regarding the uses of Twitter that were available. Apparently there are a lot of people out there who have an opinion on the subject. According to Wikipedia, A Market Research Firm, Pear Analytics, analyzed 2000 tweets over a two week time period. What they referred to as "pointless babble" made up 811 or 41% of the tweets, whereas tweets with "pass-along value" consisted of only 8%. However, Danah Boyd (Social Networking researcher) likened "pointless babble" more to "peripheral awareness" or "social grooming." An excerpt from the Wall Street Journal regarding the tool stated that Twitter did, "elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been the early adapters." It goes on to say that it can be a good way to keep track of what your friends are doing when everybody is so busy, "but some users are starting to feel 'too' connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cell phone bills and the need tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they are having for dinner."

Of course I found many positive and educational uses for Twitter such as the American Red Cross exchanging minute to minute information about local disasters. People fleeing from floods and fires able to tweet their locations for loved ones. Also, a top story article from CBS news online that features a Principal from New Milford High School in New Jersey teaching students to tweet. Eric Sheringer states, "I can honestly say it's the most powerful learning tool that I've ever experienced in my education career." He feels there is nothing like it for sending out quick messages and getting immediate responses. Another teacher at his school uses Twitter to get help and resources from teachers around the globe.

Lee Kolbert's blog, A Geeky Momma's Blog, posted a discussion about, "Twitter in School's; What Does It REALLY Look Like?" I saw this post while checking my RSS feeds as well as a funny YouTube video, "Twitteleh" which depicts a Jewish man keeping his mother happy using Twitter.

Kolbert writes, "Twitter is the new black. Everyone is doing it! Well, everyone except, of course, our schools." She goes on to outline the obstacles facing those educators who do see the benefit of implementing technology into our classrooms: (1) How do you get Administrators on board?, (2) How do you get Parents on board?, (3) Content - how do you determine what you will tweet?, (4) Privacy - do you protect your updates? She gives a few suggestions for each point made and then she has created two spreadsheets that give information on School Districts using Twitter and Classroom Teachers using Twitter. These spreadsheets have, "since proven helpful to many educators as we all continue to argue for reasonable awareness as it relates to our school districts using Web 2.0 and social networking tools. " This blog post is definitely worth the read when debating the importance or uses of Twitter in education.

Another blog post I came across promoting the use of Twitter in education was an article written by David Zax in the October 2009 issue of ASEE Prism (American Society for Engineering Education) posted in Tomorrow's Professor Blog, called "Learning in 140 - Character Bites." Zax declares that, "Twitter can improve teacher-student communication, in and out of class." He writes about an Aerospace Engineering lecture-style class that half-way through allows the students to log onto to Twitter and write in their questions about that day's topics. The instructor then sifts through Tweets and by the end of the class discusses the most common question or issue raised. In the same article Zax talks about Gordon Snyder, Director for the National Centre for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts, and how he assigns his students "hashtags" to allow one another to easily find their tweets so students can keep tabs on each other's notes and thoughts. Snyder sees Twitter, "As a way to keep students engaged at school." Keeping students engaged - isn't that what we are trying to do as educators? I really do believe if we intend to keep our 21st century students engaged, we really do need to take a look at what we are teaching them and more importantly HOW we are teaching it to them.

Ending this section on a funny note (as I like to do), my brother-in-law sent me an email with the song, "Tweeting On A Jet Plane" attached about some pilots who somehow missed an airport in Minnesota by 150 miles. Sung to the tune of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jetplane" it is pretty funny.

Discussion of the Tool in Terms of Professional Learning

The very first reason in the Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools, trailfire Joanne posted for us was, "Together we’re better: Twitter can be like 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." Collaboration is a big buzz word around here in our district as of late, not sure about other districts, but in SD #73 there seems to be an increase in the time allotted for subject teachers to come together to discuss what is and what is not working. And not only teaching staff, administrators, and student support workers are collaborating as well. So the idea that perhaps colleagues could be connected in seconds to discuss concerns and issues regarding students sounds like a pretty efficient way to do that. Of course the most obvious obstacle would be to persuade people to first join Twitter, then to take the time to learn how to really use it.

Above this post is yet another embedded YouTube (as you can see I absolutely believe YouTube has an educational value) video, "The Twitter Experiment." Dr. Monica Rankin from the University of Texas at Dallas talks about Twitter and how she implements it in her History class. Her main reason for using it is that it allows her to pull more people into her discussion in the limited 50 minute time-frame for her session. All entries are displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom throughout the session for the class to discuss and probe further. Some students were also interviewed to get their take on using Twitter in class. One compared a traditional lecture without using Twitter to the fact that maybe only three students would feel comfortable participating in the discussion. Using Twitter you can have more than thirty students making points or asking questions, allowing those who may not contribute orally to share their thoughts and ideas. Another student stated that he used it as a study aide, where he could go back and look at the significant terms that were tweeted that day. Rankin also saw an increase in class discussion as students could use their computers or cell phones to participate. I can't even imagine how excited students would be at our high school if they were ALLOWED to use their cell phones in class. As it is now, if they get caught using them in class, they get them taken away for the day. Rankin mentioned that the 140 character limit can be a concern, but it also forces the students to narrow their focus and really think about their "central point," removing any irrelevant information. She also talked about a period of time when she was away, she was still able to participate in class conversations via Twitter. The interview ends with a comment I feel pretty much sums up how implementing anything new into education feels, not just technology, "I'm going to have to come to grips with the fact that it's going to be messy, but messy doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be bad."

Will I be using Twitter at school anytime soon? Probably not, but that doesn't mean I do not see the educational value that Twitter can have in the classroom or library setting settings. Most of the examples I found of teachers using Twitter in the classroom were taking place at the high school or college/university level. Personally I will probably be trying to implement other Web 2.0 tools initially, as I know more about them at this point, and feel more confident teaching them to others. The 100 Tips, Tools, & Resources for Librarians on Twitter post from the Lone Wolf Librarian Blog, lists many useful ideas and links to websites, blogs, and wikis for using in Twitter libraries and classrooms. The information is classified into the following categories:
1. Resources for Learning Twitter
2. Ways to Use Twitter in the Library
3. Library Talk About Twitter
4. Librarians Twittering
5. Tools to Enhance Your Twittering (ie. Tweetdeck and
6. Educational Twitter Tools (ie. QuoteURL, TwitPic, and OutwitMe)
7. Find Twitter Applications
8. Advice to Help Improve Your Twitter Experience

For me personally, some of the suggestions from this site I see myself using Twitter in the library would be: posting new book arrivals, posting Library events, staying in touch with other librarians, and sending alerts when material is available for patrons or if material is overdue. In the end I don't think it matters in what order educators try implementing Web 2.0 within their classroom, just that they start doing it. If we want to stay afloat in this digital abyss of the 21st Century world of technology, we as educators, have to keep abreast of the tools themselves and the way students are using them. Are you gonna swim or sink??

1 comment:

  1. I was amused by the quote about the percentage of "point less babble" on Twitter, which on the upside can be thought of as "peripheral awareness, and social grooming," which brings us right back to the saying "one man's garbage is another man's treasure." - On another note, I too learned a lot from Mack Male. One of my favourites was posting "sleeping" as a tweet, so people would know that he was sleeping, and not expect him to answer. What was humourous about it was that I would see the post "Sleeping" and next to it it would post the time stamp saying 4 hours ago, then because I have have Mack on my Twitter list which feeds to my blog, I would keep getting this post that alerted me to that fact that Mack was still sleeping seven hours later, etc. Clearly he is a night owl (and a brilliant one at that).