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Social Media & Collaborative Learning – Twitter

Some controversy surrounds the origins of Twitter and who gets credit for it, but the points of agreement are that it started out as a podcasting platform that was made obsolete by the introduction of podcast hosting in iTunes and it eventually morphed into the microblogging platform that it is today (Carlson, 13 April 2011). Twitter is most noted for the 140-character limit of each post, called a “tweet.” Twitter also gives you the ability to reply to a tweet, “retweet,” which is essentially sharing a tweet, mention another Twitter user in a tweet by placing an ampersand (@) before that user’s Twitter handle, and direct message another Twitter user to create a private communication. Also, the list function allows you to create a group of users (Ross, Maninger, LaPrairie, & Sullivan, 2015). Additionally, Twitter uses hashtags, which is a word or string of characters preceded by the hash symbol (#). Hashtags categorize or identify content (Li & Greenhow, 2015). Twitter users can search on a hashtag to find content that has used that hashtag. Understanding the capabilities of Twitter is key to implementing it in an educational or training context.

Twitter in Education

Like Facebook, Twitter can be used to facilitate class discussion. For example, Rohr, Costello, and Hawkins (2015) report on a university health class in which the students were given two assignments involving Twitter during the semester. The first assignment was to use a tweet to answer a question that was posed to the students and to respond to at least one classmate’s tweet. The second assignment again involved making one original tweet and responding to one classmate’s tweet, this time based on a nutrition video that the students had viewed (Rohr et al., 2015). Similarly, Bista (2015) reports on the use of Twitter among grade-school teachers who were taking a graduate-level education class. The participants were expected to post twice/week on the class Twitter page. Many of the tweets involved asking questions about class assignments, but tweets were also used to share ideas and information related to the course, as well as struggles the teachers were facing in the classroom. The participants reported positive experiences using Twitter despite initial misgivings about using the tool (Bista, 2015). These uses of Twitter help to promote engagement in the class content and build a sense of community. As one participant in the Bista (2015) study mentioned, Twitter can be also be used for informal learning after the class is over. Twitter can be an educational experience if you follow people who post educational resources and other interesting content.

This use of Twitter in an education setting is not without challenges, however. Rohr et al. (2015) commented on the difficulty of grading the tweets due to the volume of tweets. In fact, they built an app to automate the process of collecting and viewing the tweets. Other challenges relate to the 140-character limit. Some educators feel that this limit encourages abbreviations and sloppy writing skills while others found that this limit forced them to be concise and focus on the main idea (Bista, 2015). If you are going to implement Twitter in an education setting, you need to be aware of these limitations and make sure that you are prepared to deal with them.

Twitter in Corporate Training

I don’t really see corporate trainings giving students assignments to use Twitter. However, I did encounter a couple of uses of Twitter that I think could be useful in a corporate training environment. The first is using Twitter as for so-called “back channel” communication during a training event. Ross et al. (2015) suggests using Twitter to extend the discussion beyond what happens in the room. Using Twitter in this way gives voice to individuals who may not have the opportunity to comment or may not speak up due to anxiety (Li & Greenhow, 2015). I can see how instructors offering classroom training could include hashtags during their presentations to facilitate the informal sharing of thoughts and ideas outside of the classroom. You can access Twitter on your smart phone using Twitter’s mobile app, which makes it easy to Tweet during a conference or class.

The second use that impressed me is that you can use Twitter for informal learning by using it to create a personal learning network (PLN). You do this by following thought leaders in your professional field. This approach is advocated by Ross et al. (2015). David Kelly, the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank, also recommends using Twittter to create a PLN. He suggests that you seek out topics and people who interest you and engage them in communication by asking questions (Kelly, 2012). Whether you use Twitter for backchannel communication during a training course or conference, or for building your own PLN, Twitter is well suited to informal education.

Using Twitter

Signing up for Twitter is very easy.

  1. Go to https://twitter.com/signup, click the Sign Up button.
  2. Complete the form as you see here:

twittersignup

  1. Click Sign up.

twitterphone

  1. Enter your cell phone number and click Next. Twitter sends a confirmation code to your phone as a text message.

twitterphoneverification

  1. Enter the verification code you received and click Verify.

twitterusername

  1. Enter the username you want to use as your Twitter handle.

twitterletsgo

  1. Click the Let’s go! Button.

twitterinterests

  1. Select the topics you’re interested in or search for topics, and then click Continue.

twitter_importcontacts

  1. Optionally let Twitter find contacts who are already on Twitter using your address books.

tiwtter_maketimeline

  1. Twitter gives you suggestions for individuals and organizations to follow based on the interest you indicated. You can deselect any you don’t want to follow. Click the button when you are ready to continue.

twitternotifications

  1. Optionally turn on notifications.

twitterwelcome

Your Twitter page is created and you a presented with help screen that shows you the different features of the Twitter page. You can add a photo and an avatar to customize your page.

If you’ve got a smart phone, you should probably download the Twitter app so that you can use Twitter on the go.

Learn More about Twitter

References

Bista, K. (2015). Is Twitter an effective pedagogical tool in higher education? Perspectives of education graduate students. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning15(2), 83-102.

Carlson, N. (13 April 2011). The real history of Twitter. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4

Kelly, D. (2012) Using Twitter as a professional development tool. Learning Circuits, 6.

Li, J., & Greenhow, C. (2015). Scholars and social media: Tweeting in the Conference backchannel for professional learning. Educational Media International52(1), 1-14.

Rohr, L. E., Costello, J., & Hawkins, T. (2015). Design considerations for integrating twitter into an online course. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning16(4), 241-249.

Ross, C. R., Maninger, R. M., LaPrairie, K. N., & Sullivan, S. (2015). The use of Twitter in the creation of educational professional learning opportunities. Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice, and Research5(1), 55-76.

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