Tech Futures: What's All This Twitter About?
Micro-blogging is changing the way classrooms stay plugged in.
Imagine a civics teacher is covering the balance of powers when a seat opens in the Supreme Court. That's a real teaching moment: history in the making. The teacher wants his students to get the inside scoop, actually track the process from nomination to confirmation.
Previously, the options were to follow events live and unedited through an outlet such as c-span-coverage that could drag on for days-or to rely on news reports after the fact. But imagine if that teacher could get alerts as the news was happening, and not just from reporters but legal scholars, lawmakers, or even the White House.
Welcome to Twitter, a new technology that combines the reach of social networking with the speed of text messaging. Through the service, you can follow the daily activities of millions of other members-from CEOs (@zappos) to political leaders (@BarackObama) to celebrities (@TinaFey). (The @ symbol is a feature of Twitter accounts.)
As a platform, Twitter is straightforward. You set up an account, choose users to follow, and then start engaging in conversation via short bursts of information known as "tweets." Before long, people begin to follow you and your network grows-along with the opportunity for more robust and meaningful interactions. Messages like "I'm eating a bagel at Starbucks" give way to "Check out this resource from a professor at Stanford" or "Does anybody understand thermodynamics?" Eventually, you've built a store of information that can be searched, accessed, and referenced.
for educators, the power of Twitter is not in what the platform does, but rather what the creation of a vibrant and diverse network can do. From a high level, your network provides access to people and information that might otherwise be too difficult or time-consuming to obtain. Beyond that, it offers a way to easily engage with your community.
Districts, for example, can set up private Twitter accounts accessible to employees only, giving them the opportunity to push out timely information relevant to organizational needs, while at the same time opening a line of communication between the content authors and their consumers. Administrators can use Twitter to monitor faculty questions during staff development sessions, ensuring the material is both useful and understood. Teachers can use the platform to foster collaboration, helping students make connections among classes and across subjects by encouraging tweets about their lessons in real time. All of this information is exchanged easily and for free, thanks to a short learning curve and no overhead or infrastructure costs to the school or district.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet
there are certainly arguments against Twitter. Among them are concerns about privacy and skepticism of tools that don't just promote but actually require highly condensed communication-issues, coincidentally, that are very similar to those associated with using the Internet in general. Of course, there is also an argument to be made in favor of promoting effective communication-something Twitter, at its best, covers in spades.
there are plenty of excellent resources on Twitter. Here are some of our favorites to get you started:
• @chrisbrogan: social media pro Chris Brogan
• @wfryer: author and consultant Wesley Fryer
• @ISTEGlobal: a host of educators, administrators, and technology professionals sharing resources and advice
• @kenroyal: Scholastic Administrator technology
editor and blogger Ken Royal
• @jutecht: blogger andeducational wiki expert Jeff Utecht