Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Bird Monster Named Twitter

Twitter is a “free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send “ updates” or “tweets” (text based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website”(Stevens, 2008). Gabriella Grosseck and Carmen Holotescu (2008) see Twitter as a mashup of personal publishing and communication.Twitter has drastically changed how information is created and shared. Since Twitter began in 2006 it has morphed from an “alternative” form of communication to being used by mainstream young people to now being utilized more by the general public. Through these changes, many sites have been developed to enhance the world of Twitter. Some of these sites are Tweetdeck (groupings), Twellow (directory), Twitter Notifier, Twitty Tunes, and many more (Stevens, 2008). Twitter is more interactive than blogging. (Stevens, 2008) and can be used with several different apps such as Firefox. Delicious, Flickr, Facebook, Google, etc.(Stevens, 2008).

When I began my journey into the “bird monster” land I had never seen nor experienced such a creature. I really tried to become engaged in the world of Twitter but as many people would say, I just didn’t get it. Stevens says that to understand the attraction of Twitter you have to “have your finger on the pulse of what is pumping the lifeblood through the Internet” (Stevens, 2008). I guess my pulse finder needs to be repaired because I just couldn’t see the attraction. I tried. I signed up for a Twitter account the first week of class and signed up to follow the people that had been assigned. I faithfully checked my account for the next two weeks of class. I did find that there were some intriguing comments that I wanted to follow. My frustration was with not being able to keep up with the Tweets. My job does not allow me time to check my account during the school day and by the time I could check it at night nothing made sense to me. I could not find the beginning of a conversation and coming in half way through did not make sense. The problem is you can only see the most recent tweets and when the page is full the rest are gone. So unless you are constantly checking your Twitter account a piece of information that was referred to may be gone. In a world where a person barely has time to go to the washroom and rarely gets lunch I do not have time to “follow” people on Twitter. Another problem, for me, was that I was not interested in hearing about personal conversations that I was not a part of. It felt like I was eavesdropping on private conversations. The information meant nothing to me because there was no context for me. I realize that if you have time to keep up and include yourself in the conversation it will have meaning but once again I do not have the time when needed.
Not being one to give up easily, I persevered and tried another approach to seeing the benefits of Twitter. I turned to the Trailfire to help me understand this bird monster. After viewing the Trailfire, I was less confused about the technical aspects of Twitter but still did not see the point of it. So the next step was to listen to Mack Maile’s Elluminate session about Twitter. I found listening to Mack very enlightening. I was beginning to see the relevance of the hashtags and learn some of the abbreviations but I still had trouble “getting it”. Then I went to the Leading and Learning Conference in Red Deer this past Friday and Saturday where Will Richardson and Alec Couros were two of the guest speakers. They both included information about Twitter in their sessions and I can now understand the appeal. It is still going to take some time to cultivate a group of people I want to follow (my own PLN) but at least I now see the interest and the relevance. Since coming home from the convention I have been following Alec and Will and even though I do not really care about how good Alec’s limo driver could discuss politics, I am trying to see something beneficial. I can now see the appeal of Twitter to a generation of people who are constantly “connected” to their digital world. Being connected to a PLN allows people to constantly know what is going on in the world that they are passionate about and increases a person’s digital social presence (Dunlap and Lowenthal, 2009). I will continue to follow Alec Couras and Will Richardson because I now feel like I have a connection. Maybe for me it was about needing to make a connection first. Even Will Richardson in a 2008 blog post titled “On the Twitterialization of Blogging, Networks, etc.” said that he only followed people whom he had met in person.
As with all Web tools there are positives and negatives. Grosseck and Holotescu (2008) see Twitter as beneficial for promoting individual’s blogs, marketing/PR, endorsing politics, keeping aware of the news and networking. Stevens (2008) says that one of the benefits of using Twitter is the immediacy of the information giving a person a sense of connectivity. However, Stevens (2008) also laments about the time consumed keeping up with Twitter and sees one of the biggest flaws of Twitter is it frustrates people whose lifestyle does not revolve around having the time to maintain their Twitter accounts. This is echoed by Will Richardson in a 2008 blog post titled “On the Twitterialization of Blogging, Networks, etc.” where he talks about “Twitter Guilt”. He refers to the guilt one feels when they do not read others posts because they are not interesting etc. He talks about needing to block out the “noise” on Twitter so that he can find relevant posts. In the same post Will also wonders if we are dumbing down reading and writing. He admits that since he started using Twitter he reads less and blogs less. Is the easy access to 140 character, grammatically incorrect, spelling challenged posts going to impact the literacy of the future generation? I guess we will wait and see if we have another “whole language” fiasco.
It seems as though Twitter has changed to a bird monster that just needs to be understood and tamed.
I do not know if I will use Twitter in my personal life. It may be one of the tools that I am now aware of but does not fit my lifestyle or occupation. It is very time consuming and almost seen as addictive (Grosseck and Hotescu, 2008). However, if I chose to use Twitter I could use it to follow or engage in conversation about:
1. The news as often things are reported as soon as someone hears about an event and you do not have to wait for the next newscast.
2. The trends of movies and books
3. Travel ideas and deals
4. Real estate (constantly looking to increase our holdings)
5. Wines
6. Restaurants
The key will be to cultivate a PLN that I am engaged in. Will Richardson in his 2008 blog post titled “On the Twitterialization of Blogging, Networks, etc” says that the people he follows he knows and has met in person. I have learned from my experience that I need to feel a vested interest in the people in my PLN. Right now I feel like I am a bytstander watching the bird monster. I do not fully understand it and therefore see it as a monster. Once I engage with it more I will hopefully want it for a pet.
I can see Twitter as being used as the social barometer for gauging the public outcry surrounding political announcements, events, people and issues. I can see the appeal of people wanting to keep up to date information on celebrities, politicians or global issues. It is the notion of creating a constantly connected PLN to maintain a watchful eye over the interests of humanity that puts a person’s mind at ease.

As an aside, can you imagine the influence on public perception by the microblog posts of celebrities or people with large numbers of followers? If someone with a large number of followers tweets about something they enjoyed like a movie, book, restaurant, travel destination, etc., that one small Tweet could create a feeding frenzy. Just imagine the power of social media and a FOAF.

Twitter has many possibilities for use in the classroom. Twitter can be a “real time” way to teach students to connect with the world. Will Richardson (Leading and Learning Conference, 2009) advocates for a need to teach students about creating an online or digital presence. Students need to learn to participate in the digital world and we as educators need to provide a safe environment for learning this new literacy. Students need to learn to access everyday experts in the field they are passionate about. Stevens (2008) as well as Grosseck and Hotescu (2008) and Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) would agree with Richardson (2009) and suggest that using Twitter in the classroom can:
1. Enhance the dynamics of classroom conversations by giving everyone a voice anytime, anywhere (even the shy students)
2. Create bonds between students in the class as well as beyond the classroom between people of any age or walk of life that are passionate about the same things
3. Get a sense of the richness of the world
4. Provide instant assessment and feedback as Twitter is always on.
5. Track people, events, words, etc.
6. Be used to disseminate assignments, announcements, etc
7. Be a source of information
8. Track conversations between people
9. Facilitate project management
10. Support reflection
11. Be more efficient than RSS feeds
12. Encourage fact and perception checking
13. Augment research and reference checking
14. Encourage metacognition
15. Force a person to analyze and synthesize their thoughts into a succinct statement
16. Address issues in a timely manner
17. Create writing for a real audience
18. Connect learners with a community of professional learners
19. Maintain ongoing relationships and makes connections to people who may have otherwise never met
However, when using Twitter in the classroom teachers need to be aware that there are potential issues. The disadvantages of using Twitter according to Grosseck and Hotescu (2008) are:
1. Reinforces poor grammar and spelling
2. Twittering during a lesson can be too distracting
3. Time consuming
4. Potential response rate is limited
5. Addictive
6. Not going to enrich deep or meaningful learning
7. On call 24-7
8. Allows much faster spreading of rumours
9. Privacy
10. Spam
Teachers can also benefit from using the power of Twitter to develop PLN’s for Professional Development. Grosseck and Holotescu (2008) discuss that Twitter can be used to build a true educational community to share ideas, resources (lessons, assessments, books), best practices, philosophies, etc. Teachers need to be cognisant of the possible disadvantages of the tool but will also benefit from using Twitter in the ways mentioned above.

Before using Twitter in the classroom Grosseck and Hollescu (2008) and Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) recommend to:

1. share with the students the language of microblogging and what it all means
2. think carefully about the purpose of it’s use and what topic to support.
3. not be afraid of re-tweeting something so that people who have just logged in are up to speed
4. learn and teach Twitter self-discipline.
5. be flexible and prepared for the direction that the tweets can take you.
6. be very open about what worked or didn't, and why/why not.
7. consider trying Twitter use on a pilot or trial basis, with a selected group
8. use a mix of the old and the new (it must be meeting the intended learning objectives of the lesson by alternative routes).
9. include students in the evaluation of the approach.
10. remember Twitter is a network of people. Be willing to share, engage and provoke thought
11. encourage students to participate – don’t demand
12. model effective Twitter use
13. build Twitter use into assessment
14. continue to actively participate in Twitter yourself

I realize that my comments in this blog post may be viewed as me being reluctant to use Twitter but I would rather be honest than use this blog as a work of fiction. Not every tool is going to be seen as useful. A person needs to pick and choose the ones that suit their needs. I have tried to see the benefits of owning a bird monster and even tried living with one for a while but right now a bird monster just doesn’t feel right.
Couras, Alec. (Nov. 20, 2009) Leading and Learning Conference in Red Deer, Alberta.

Dunlap, Joanna and Lowenthal, Patrick. (2009) Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence. As retrieved Nov. 18, 2009 from
Grosseck, Gabriela and Holotescu, Carmen. (2008). Can We Use Twitter For educational Activities? As retrieved on Nov. 18, 2009 from
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
Richardson, Will. (Nov. 21, 2009) Leading and Learning Conference in Red Deer, Alberta
Richardson, Will. (2008) On the Twitterialization of Blogs, Networks, Etc. As retrieved on Nov. 20, 2009 from
Stevens, Vance. (2008). Trial By Twitter: The Rise and Slide of the Year’s Most Viral Microblogging Platform. As retrieved Nov. 18, 2009 from