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Tweeting in Learning


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Conceptual Background/Research

Setting up a Twitter account

In order to use Twitter, users must have a Twitter account.  The Twitter community is composed of users from all across the world.  Users can choose to create their own smaller communities by ‘following’ other users.  But, to get into any of the communities on Twitter, a user must have a Twitter account.


Setting up a user account on Twitter is simple, quick and involves creating a unique user ID that others in the Twitter community can view.  Potential users of Twitter must setup their account at www.twitter.com.  Users can get to the setup page through various Twitter programs available on many smart phone devices.  When a user want’s to setup a new account at Twitter, they must complete four items: (1) a full name, (2) a user name, (3) a password and (4) an email address.  Once these items are complete, and a unique user name is created, users are ready to do what Twitter is known for, ‘tweet’.  


Tweeting is the means by which users communicate with each other on the Twitter network.  General Tweets are limited to 140 characters and can include only alphanumeric characters.  Users can send out tweets to anyone at anytime of the day or night.  Users that choose to follow other users, are called followers.  Twitter users follow other Twitter users and receive tweets whenever a followed user tweets something.  Got that?  Lets say it again with an example.  When User A tweets that they are eating dinner, anyone following User A will receive a message on their Twitter account with User A’s message.


Twitter is a social tool, used by users around the world.   In 140 characters or less, people share ideas and resources, ask and answer questions, and collaborate on problems of practice; in a recent study, researchers found that the main communication intentions of people participating in Twitter could be categorized as daily chatter, conversations, sharing resources/URLs, and reporting news ((Java, Finin, Song, & Teseng, 2007; McFedries, 2007).


Using Twitter in a primary school

Using Twitter in the elementary classroom seems like a strange idea at first. How is it possible for young children use a social networking site to develop their own learning and is it appropriate or safe?  In both case studies (Kurtz 2009 and Waller 2009), Twitter was used to develop student learning in a primary classroom.  However, they were not used for the same purpose.  


Jeff Kurtz in Washington State, USA, used Twitter for a twofold purpose. The primary purpose was to develop students’ writing and editing skills. Students were led to use language creatively and descriptively but within the 140 character limit of Twitter. The teacher modelled this at first and then used it as a whole class writing activity. The class would micro blog constantly throughout the day to describe their learning activities. The class would revise and edit the posting together as a class before tweeting.  It then developed to students being able to write down in a notebook their own ideas for the tweets and editing them themselves before the teacher tweeted them.  Students were editing and revising their own writing and were writing for a purpose and an audience. (Kurtz 2009).  He also worked on teaching internet safety as he did not limit their followers, but left it open to the public domain.


His second purpose was to keep parents and families engaged in their child’s learning.  Parents and grandparents could read on Twitter what the students were doing and would ask them about it at the end of the day.  The teacher also uploaded audio recordings of the class reading and singing. Children would show their parents what they did at school that day and the parents became more involved in their child’ learning. (Kurtz 2009)


Martin Waller in Stockton, United Kingdom, used Twitter to help children reflect upon their learning and develop their metacognition.  Students were encouraged to describe classroom activities and to tweet them on the public domain. The students’ tweets and subsequent comments were used to develop classroom discussion about learning and how they learned and what they enjoyed about learning. (Waller 2009)


In both cases, Twitter was used on at least a daily basis, if not several times a day. Twitter impacted students learning in positive ways.


Integrating Twitter in a high school classroom

Integrating Twitter in a high school classroom can have it's good and bad points. (Grosseck, Holotescu 2008) The teacher must be very careful by making sure that the Tweeting does not get out of hand or inappropriate.


Because there aren't many articles that document research on integration of Twitter in a high school classroom I will be using it in my classroom as research and including the page as an example.


Using Twitter in higher education 

Twitter is a form of Internet technology that has become extremely popular with a wide audience variety from school children to professionals. With the approximately 96% of American college students being reported as Internet users in 2008 (Williamson, 2008),  it should be utilized effectively in higher education. Using this site to supplement classroom instruction allows teachers and students to continue discussions and information transfer outside of class, provides a means to get to know each other better, and allows users to track specific subject matter with instant feedback.


Once an instructor and his or her students have created Twitter accounts, it allows for a unique and powerful way to continue the communication flow outside of classroom instruction. All students should subscribe to follow their instructor's account, enabling them to receive instant updates about the course. Such information can be used for an instructor to pass along a schedule change or correction to the syllabus. When sending out such a tweet, the instructor can also request for student users to confirm they have received the new information. Because all of this can be accomplished through a wireless device, this exercise can be accomplished almost anywhere without having to log onto a computer. With roughly 90 percent of undergraduate students being cell phone owners (Williamson, 2008), this is a feature that can be taken full advantage of. This same information sharing process can be accomplished in reverse by having students post questions to their class or instructor. Chances are more than one student had the same question and information can be viewed simultaneously by all subscribers.Twitter presents a means to disseminate information in an expedient and easy manner.


Instructors can also use Twitter to encourage discussions after class by posting a topic as a tweet and then requiring all student users to comment on the matter. Because of the 140-character limit, students will need to effectively pass their ideas without adding extra, non-essential information. Students will then see ideas posted by others and have a chance to reflect and respond, effectively cooperating in an on-line blog. Ideas are transferred instantly and a great deal of information can be shared in between weekly classroom sessions. While some students might be intimidated in the classroom setting due to a larger audience or fear or interrupting the instruction, use of Twitter encourages participation of all users and minimizes hesitance.


Classes utilizing Twitter will get to know each other better than those not because of the increased communication between users. Standard classrooms might be limited to one or two hours per week, while Twitter presents a near infinite amount of time for information sharing. Through on-line discussions instructors and students will get a greater understanding of each user's beliefs along with a knowledge of background information through sharing personal experiences. Acquiring such knowledge helps instructors to get a better feel for his or her class and aids in constructing new approaches for more effective instruction. The students will be able to get to know each other better than with traditional classes and find students with similar views, which would be most beneficial when looking for partners for group projects. Twitter presents a means for the instructor and students to share information and get to know each other better, benefitting the instructional process.


Another benefit of Twitter is the ability for users to track specific information instantaneously, providing yet another means to gather data for research. A Twitter user can utilize a feature that tracks keywords and will receive an update each time a tweet is posted that uses that keyword. The same feature can be used for gathering information on conferences or meetings. Users also have the ability to follow professionals or famous individuals. This would be beneficial in research of a topic by being able to receive constant updates from subject matter experts whether it be from investigative reporters to getting political updates from the President (Parry, 2008). Twitter is not a substitute for traditional research and all information should be checked for reliability, but it does present an additional means to obtain information for research purposes.


There are countless ways in which Twitter can be utilized in higher education, with more and more ways developing each day as features change and users become more imaginative. This Internet service provides a means for instructors and students a way to share information instantly even with use of a computer, encouraging communication outside of classroom sessions. This allows for all users to get to know each other better and presents a new way of gathering information for research. Utilization of this service is one that is highly recommended for higher education settings.


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