I had questions about Twitter from the get go, questions and preconceptions that kept me at the sidelines observing the conversation but never really intrigued me to give it a try. It was pretty easy to create a Twitter account and I figured out how tweeting worked, considering that prior to this I had not even browsed the Twitter homepage. However it was good that we had some suggested persons to follow as the suggestion list was rather confusing. Anyway, after I signed up for Twitter I recognized l had a follower, just minutes after signing up. I must admit I was excited about my first follower until I clicked on my her only to find out she was sending a link to a porn site. Aawwh, as if I wasn't skeptic enough. Needless to say, I blocked my first follower. Being a new user of Twitter, I really expected to see the 'how to' and 'why to' of the application, but this was lacking – I had to depend on the 'trailfire on twitter' to have these questions answered.
2. Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal learning
As an individual I have followed a small number of persons on twitter and to date I have written only one tweet. Some persons may argue that that really isn`t tweeting, in countering that argument, I would say that every journey begins with the first step. I had two other followers who I assumed surmised I wasn’t worth following and stopped along the way.
While I would have liked to taken more steps in tweeting, I don't think I commanded an audience based on who I was following. I added persons based on the course requirements, then when I tried finding my friends only two persons from my Yahoo friend list had a twitter account. Those friends have posted a combined total of four tweets since I started following them and one seemed to be a spam posting. Maybe it’s due to fact that most of my friends are from Jamaica and Twitter hasn’t quite made an impression on them as much as Hi5 or Facebook. While I can see myself sending tweets to my friends from Twitter - updating them on what is happening at any given time, I would have a hard task to get them from the Facebook to the Twitter mode.
Additionally, as I had mentioned from the start of the course, I am really not enthused by constantly saying 'where I am' or 'what I'm doing' or 'what is happening' and Twitter thrives on the prolific posting of tweets. It just feels like a narcissistic behavior especially if I have nothing worthwhile posting. When I find myself sending text messages it is to ask a question or say something, not just texting for texting sake.
Not because Twitter, doesn’t quite work for me, it won’t work for someone else. I see some advantages of having Twitter if persons are interested in getting breaking news or learning about new technologies as they become available or keeping abreast of the changes within their profession. That kind of information can be valuable and I guess it all comes down to the needs which different individuals have at different points in their lives. If I was still working as a programmer analyst, I am quite sure I would be on Twitter now, getting all the updates on software as they become available and sharing in the knowledge transfer in such environments.
As a student I see how twitter can make my life less difficult and more difficult at the same time. It is important that we get good directions when launching out with such tools, and if it were just left up to me to find persons with relevant experience and insight on Web2.0 tools on Twitter, I would have failed miserable. The recommended list of persons who we were to follow, steered me into the direction of qualified and reputable individuals, but then came the hard part. It got increasingly taxing when I tried to following all the conversations, catching up with what I had missed and clicking on all the recommended links. Then a classmate of ours suggested we used TweetDeck, which I began using to get both Twitter and Facebook updates. Even though I had to sift through the information it was not as daunting since both sites were somewhat synchronized to give me feeds. TweetDeck then started giving me an error that no data was available and then the `taxing` began again.
So, I have learnt how to use Twitter, but I am yet to become the `twitizen` or `twitterholic` that I know some persons have already become.
3. Discussion of the tool in terms of teaching and learning
Putting aside my skepticism of Twitter, there are ways in which it can and has been used in the classroom. Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Twitter states "what we have to do is deliver to people the best and freshest most relevant information possible. We think of Twitter as it's not a social network, but it's an information network. It tells people what they care about as it is happening in the world." (O'Reilly Media, 2009)
Richardson(2009) speaks of Paul Allison's site called YouthTwitter.com, where students post information in a regulated site. Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) did a survey and concluded that Twitter does enhance social presence in an online environment. They further noted the following as instructional benefits of Twitter: connecting a professional community of practice, maintaining relationships (even after a course), addressing student issues in a timely manner, supporting informal learning, writing concisely, writing for an audience. College at Home provides insights on how libraries can use Twitter to engage students in question and answer sessions, update patrons on new materials, share references and to share alerts about requested material to just name a few. Male (2009) highlights the wealth of information that is shared every second on Twitter, the ease with which users can make connections and its reputation for being the best source for breaking news.
Lavelle (2007) speaks of the mixed emotions that Twitter elicits; while some persons are excited that the service allows them to keep in touch with friends, others wrestle with checking messages at odd hours of the night, paying high cell-phone bills and being bombarded with too much information from others. Grosseck and Holotescu argue "Twitter can be time-consuming, addictive, and possibly even encourage bad grammar as a result of its 140-character limit"(as cited in Dunlap & Loweenthal, 2009).
The truth of the matter is, as with all tools, there are pros and cons associated with their use, particularly in an educational environment. As teachers, our learners, the subject matter and the environment in which we teach will ultimately decide how effective Twitter can be in classroom instruction. Each educator will have to answer the questions
How can Twitter be used in my classroom?
Will it extend my learners ability to assess, analyse and synthesize what they have learnt?
Can Twitter improve my practice as a teacher?
Is it appropriate for the present context in which my learners and I are at?
According to Miller (2009) Twitter has defied the traditional model as adults, and not teens have driven he growth with this technology. While I think adult learners would be more thoughtful of what they tweeted and when they tweeted if Twitter was introduced in an adult education program and that they would take advantage of the networking capabilities of the tool, I would only be able to introduce it in this North American setting (my present reality). However if I were to turn my gaze to Jamaicans and their reality, Twitter may prove to be quite costly. While the mobile market there has made great leaps, many individuals 'pay as they go' since they cannot afford the plans that the cell-phone providers make available. Evan Williams also spoke of their recent partnership with India's largest mobile provider to offer free Twitter SMS to the company's 110 million customers and the increase in users based on this. If this became the reality for Jamaica, there is no telling how far reaching its impact would be particularly in the field of adult education. To tweet or not to tweet? It just depends on what works for you at any given time.
Dunlap, J. C. & Lowenthal, P. R. (2009). Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2). Retrieved from http://www.patricklowenthal.com/publications/Using_Twitter_to_Enhance_Social_Presence.pdf
Lavallee, A. (2007, March) “Friends Swap Twitters, and Frustration: New Real-time Messaging Services Overwhelm Some Users with Mundane Updates From Friends.” Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB117373145818634482-ZwdoPQ0PqPrcFMDHDZLz_P6osnI_20080315.html
Male, M. D. (2009). Twitter 101. Retrieved from http://blog.mastermaq.ca/2009/03/09/twitter-101/
Miller, C. M. (2009). Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teens. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/technology/internet/26twitter.html?_r=1
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/twitter-use-it-productively.html - Twitter: Use it Productively
Web 2.0 Summit 2009: Evan Williams and John Battelle "A Conversation with Evan Williams", O'Reilly Media, October 21, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5jXcgZnEa0&fmt=18,