Image via CrunchBaseA number of us here at Tacoma Community College are using Twitter. Recently one of our faculty who is new to it said "I doing this but I don't know why yet" which is a fair thing to say. On the surface, it looks (and can be) fairly superficial. As a matter of fact, the Common Craft video on Twitter is pretty ridiculous. If I saw that video first, I would not have created an account. I thought I really didn't care what you were having for lunch; it turns out I am wrong about that, but the video is an overly simplistic view of Twitter that does not do the power of the simple or the network creation capabilities justice. It is quite possible that when the video was made no one really knew how this tool would really be used.
1. It's Simple
Twitter is one of those tools that nearly does nothing. It is extremely simple. I do not need to hold a two hour seminar to teach students or educators how to use it. It is a microblog. You can follow people and people can follow you. You can tell people what you are doing in 140 characters or less. Brevity is the soul of wit. Twitter forces you to be concise. I can easily create accounts and I can place a twitter feed on my blog or website very quickly. It is low bandwidth.
Twitter is a great way to link people back to your blog, business, or other website. It is also a way to be alerted when something is happening in your network of interest to you. And you also get a lot of mundane details about people's lives and vice-versa, but here is why that can be important too. Let's say I am trying to form a team and I need to talk to someone, I may know that John eats lunch at his desk every Thurs. because he tweets that now and again. I may not remember why I know that information, but it is Thursday and somehow, I know he will be at his desk. This mundane information gives me an idea of when students are studying, when people are going to work and puts me in the ebb and flow of their day no matter what time zone they may be in.
Image by GustavoG via Flickr
Twitter doesn't just allow you to create networks but as you add people to your following/follwers list, you begin to see messages to and from people you may not have thought of following or meeting before. Instructors can leverage this in some very powerful ways. If a new student opens a teachers followers list and follows everyone on that list, those new students are then following a list of professionals, students from the previous classes, and those who have graduated and are working in the field. I have an example from a Health Information Management's social networking map. This is an easy way to increase the interactivity of a course.
There are a number of good introductions to twitter for educators, tools to harness the power of it's simplicity, or to find other educators on twitter, but the motherlode of all links to all things twitter is at Jane Hart's microbloging page.