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There is no denying that as new technologies go, Twitter is here to stay (as much as any web tech ever is). With a user base of 175 million, it regularly features in the news, albeit sometimes alongside disparaging comments about users posting what they were eating for breakfast. So is it actually useful, and something that you should be paying attention to? I think so, and here’s why.

What actually is it?

Technically, it’s a ‘microblogging’ tool. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Basically it’s a place where people can post short updates (no more than 140 characters, think the length of a text message before the phones that allow you to type forever). These are (mostly) public on the web for anyone to see.

Why is it useful?

Different people have different ideas about this. Below are some of mine. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

Twitter for CPD

I should probably point out first that my social media accounts (like my email addresses) have clearly defined purposes – Facebook is for personal conversations, and LinkedIn and Twitter are for professional ones. Rarely if ever do the two cross over, which keeps things nice and simple. This means I have a clear idea before I start of the kind of information I want to find on twitter – some people have more than one account to do this kind of filtering.

Although there is undoubtedly a lot of nonsense posted on Twitter, the power of the tool is in the ability to choose who you follow (following someone means you see their updates, or ‘tweets’). For me this is an organic process – over time I might meet people at conferences or see their twitter accounts on email signatures, or recognise names that are well-known in my field. The trick is to gather a list of people that are talking about things you will find useful or interesting (and of course this is why people would follow you, too…)

Following these people gives me a list of updates that I can quickly scan through when I have a few spare minutes (each one is only 140 characters remember), to get an idea of what’s new in my field. Having people follow me means I can post questions, and, if I’m lucky, get answers from someone who knows. It’s also a source of peer review, for everything from informal ideas to papers for publication.

Twitter for marketing

A number of companies, organisations and HE institutions have accounts on Twitter. This allows them to send out updates, as well as track what’s being said about them by other users. You can see some reviews of how universities are using Twitter on Brian Kelly’s blog: he’s covered 1994 Group Unis and Russell Group Unis.

Twitter for learning and teaching

Aside form simply keeping students updated and recommending resources, teaching staff are finding a range of creative ways to use twitter for learning and teaching. The most common ones are:

  • ‘crowdsourcing’/collaboration. Using hashtags (a unique word or set of characters with a # sign in front of it) allows you to collect together tweets posted by a range of different users, as long as they all contain the same hashtag. This could allow you to collect resources and information from a group of students. A great example of this way of collecting information is Tim Burton’s collective scriptwriting project.
  • backchannels‘ and classroom voting. Having a hashtag for an event or lecture gives you the opportunity to display feedback from the audience during the event. Or, if this sounds a bit scary, you can use polling software like twtpoll to ask specific questions on twitter. Any student with a smartphone or laptop can access twitter in the classroom.

Follow the Learning Technology team: @LearnTechUoN

You can get some more ideas from the links below. Also, look out for training sessions from the LT team.

50 ideas on using Twitter for Education (Cooper-Taylor Training)

Eight Reasons an Innovative Educator Uses Twitter (The Innovative Educator Blog)

The ‘utility’ of Twitter in teaching and learning (JISC RSC)

100 ways to teach with Twitter (Emerging EdTech)

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