microblogging rocks

in his blog on “the twitter experience” (in german), michael kerres suggests that twitter, one of a growing number of browser-operated microblogging tools “is not suited to support teaching/learning processes and should not be used that way either. it is rather an amusing accompaniment, smalltalk while learning and working – and that’s ok after all, isn’t it?”

actually, i do think that’s ok, too – but having been around on twitter for a (short) while now and using it daily since, i would like to analyse this new spectre of social media with respect to serious use both in class and in business.

twitter in class

at our school, bruce spear is already using twitter (with blogs) as part of his graduate course “business english”very successfully. when he is asking students to create their own blogs and tweets, he creates an “atmosphere of cooperation” quite unlike what we are used to at most learning institutions today. when the students have created their own blogs and have begun to swarm out, says spear:

“Then they’ll find some interesting stuff and be all excited to share it with you and the others, and by then you have linked them altogether and can point others to them, rewarding everyone for discovering good stuff and set up an atmosphere of discovery and sharing.  Lots of show and tell, everybody likes to show their stuff.”

twitter can be a useful tool in this context to microblog about blogs and interesting finds. not everything deserves an entire article posting. once you begin, you’ll be surprised how much you can say in 140 chars or less. besides, most of our students have ample experience in communicating briefly what matters to them most – via SMS, chat, and various social networking sites.

twitter for teams

i use twitter myself for exchange of quick bits of information within our school’s 7-member e-learning team, usually in tandem with other tools like our own blog, a wiki and a newsforum inside a learning management system (ILIAS). within project-based team work, twitter has its own place as a useful addendum for rapid-fire comments often more emotional and more direct than well-thought out articles, emails, etc. – when polling or quickly sharing impressions, twitter clearly wins. i have now taken to using twitter to send encouragement notices to team members quickly, and i will do the same with students in the future.

twitter for communities

most social media tools enable communities to grow, gather and share content etc. this is a common place among most modern users. Twitter and twitter-like tools (yes there are others: e.g. identi.ca, )create a soi-disant “public timeline” that is a giant nexus of bits of information untainted by too much … of anything. but the wrapping – a joke, a quote, a pic – still adds to the value of the message and makes a big difference to the sharing process.

over the past few weeks i could personally watch a number of communities, like maschendraht or ldl grow impressively by having twitter as a news  and not-so-news channel backbone.

twitter for managers

if you are like me – a freak or gourmet (as you wish) of information displays and visualisation, you’ll love the different ways of finding out about the growth of your network (twittercounter), the growth and character of your follower’s flock of interests (twittersheep) or contributors to any topic (twitterscoop) – and this is only the very tip of the info iceberg. particularly useful for business use though – because it is now possible to follow the grapevine itself, give it a name and a shape. twitter channels and shapes the informal information flow – the first tool to do this with such simplicity and effectiveness. that informal flow we’ve been agonising over as professionals in knowledge management for decades! watch barack obama – trensetter extraordinaire – he’s on twitter, of course. and he’s got a management job to do.

after all that – kerres’ view of twitter as “amusing accompaniment” seems too shortsighted for serious discussion. there is music in the air, and it’s tweet.

twitter for innovators

it is the collective use of several web 2.0 tools that stands for innovation – new both in character, feel and result: the formula

ftp + gopher + [your favourite protocol of the 1970-90s here]

does not yield the same as

wiki + twitter + blog + del.icio.us + [your favourite new
web2.0 tool here]

it will be our, and our students’ job, to figure out over the next 5,000 days what exactly we can get out of this, and whether it is going to solve any of our real problems. i believe it can, so let’s get to it. the list of things i have learnt about and people i have met (with not only social but professional gain) over the past few weeks in what amounts to a time total of perhaps 1-2 days is a-ma-zing to me. and i am used to expanding my virtual universe! on the same token, i can imagine that twitter and co. can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. especially considering the large amount of salespeople who are also there spamming the airwaves. fortunately there is a sufficient number of kind and gentle mentors out there to make it easier for you.

5 thoughts on “microblogging rocks”

  1. There are two things I like to add.

    I don’t like Twitter being called “browser-operated”. The one thing that is so important when talking about Twitter is that it’s not tied to the browser and can be used virtually from anywhere. As @birkenkrahe mentioned before, students like to use it with their mobile phones (via sms or nowadays via mobile internet).

    The other thing I want to share is what I thought after a very short discussion with my favorite HR lecturer a few days ago. I talked to her about new soft skills in the time of web 2.0. More specifically she said that she doesn’t get the point of Corporate or Executive Blogs. And that’s exactly my point (and I know this is kinda off-topic but): the problem of these web 2.0 technologies is not how to use them but what to do with them. So the new skill that students have to learn is: writing short and pregnant (*g* I know this is wrong, I just love this German mistake soo much) – but in a way that helps people get involved. For example like @birkenkrahe mentioned, by not telling everything to get into a discussion. I’m sure that blogs, wikis and micro blogging will be a very important tool in the corporate world just a few years from now. Especially when the “generation @” (or what ever you like to call us who grew up with these techologies) will be in higher or top management positions.

    So to get back to what michael kerres – quoted here – sais: Twitter is very useful when you look at it from a long term perspective.

    @birkenkrahe: could you please write in German from time to time? 😉

  2. @tads – thanks for the additional points – well put. as a nice example for another lecturer who only recently got the hang of blogs (not yet of twitter): see http://hemueller.wordpress.com/ on executive pay and performance issues. it is amazing and encouraging to see how different people embrace the new paradigm. corporate blogs (not my central concern in this article) are rather successful when run by teams and communities rather than by individuals. way extending the limited journalistic paradigm into community space.

    oh – about the posting in german: no can’t do. language button permanently stuck on “english” position 😉

  3. hi, thank you for the interesting examples for using twitter in a context for learning.

    When I wrote “is not suited to support teaching/learning processes and should not be used that way either” I did refer to part of my personal work context: distance education > supporting learners in our online-master progamme.

    We are experiecning that students start to ask for help via twitter, I am not shure whether twitter “in general” is the “approriate” channel for this.

    With my statement, I want suggest, that we (in our department) might stick to supporting students within forums, via video-/audioconferences or via ICQ (those are our typical ways of interacting with students, nowadays).

    At the moment I think we (in our online-programme) should not encourage our students and online-tutors to use twitter as a tool for interacting with each other on topics like assignments, examinations etc. But again: let us all use twitter for the fun of it, for building social relations, for finding useful information, yes, and: learning can come along, anyway 🙂

  4. @mkerres first of all thanks for helping me to sort my own thoughts on the topic! i can follow your arguments – interesting use by students – my guess is that the students will do what serves their purpose anyway, with or without guidance. and if you structure the use of new tools for them, you might stand a better chance to influence the terms … but i might be wrong (not running an online programme – would love to hear more about it some time). good luck!

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