twitter.jpgAs we move into the last few weeks of the semester our Wednesday Web 2.0 posts will be looking at some of the more “emerging” Web 2.0 services. This means we’ll be looking as some tools that are probably not as well established as things like wikis and blogs, but you’ll get a chance to hear about some of the newer, weirder, and wackier tools out there. Some of these tools are just beginning to creep into instructional use; you may seem some of them in a classroom near you soon, others may simply be the awkward precursors to a new generation of tools that has yet to emerge.

Today’s Web 2.0 tool is Twitter, a web services that has been receiving a great deal of press coverage in the last few months.

What is Twiter?

In a nut shell Twitter is a “micro-blogging” service that lets you post short updates, called “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters (so a combined total of 140 numbers, letters, or spaces.) You might ask “what is the big deal, I know what blogs are, why would I want a blog that limits how much I can say?” Twitter is popular because in addition to being a blogging service, it also includes some low key social networking tools that allow you to easily follow the tweets of people you are interested. Additionally, the Twitter service can communicate with cell phones, allowing one to post and receive tweets from friends via text messaging. Combined these features fit together into an easy to use system for keeping track of small bursts of informations from people you might be interested in. Some people critique Twitter updates as being the more banal content on the web, others see it as invaluable tool for tracking crowds of like minded people.

How are People using this for Instruction?

Proponents of Twitter’s value for instructional purposes point to the immediacy of communication through Twitter, as well as the potential for building informal online community that extend beyonds the classroom. One faculty member at Central Connecticut State University uses Twitter to post short reflection following each class, students use Twitter to follow and respond to the reflections. From a Chronicle of Higher Ed posting about Twitter:

David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media and communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, says he was reluctant to try the technology. Mr. Parry’s first instinct was that Twittering would encourage students to speak in sound bites and self-obsess. But now he calls it “the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching.

Some academics use Twitter as quick informal way to share links to websites or articles of interest with colleagues. Some students use Twitter to follow individuals of interest, be it people in their field of study (especially areas like Communications and Journalism), major presidential candidates, or bloggers and internet celebrities.

Is this going anywhere?

As with many of emerging technology tools, the role of Twitter is still being defined and best practices are far from established. Many instructors are doing interesting things with Twitter as a way to communicate and connect with their students, but the general consensus is that “microblogging” is still in its infancy. For instructors who are interested in this type of communication I might suggest you start with a traditional blogging tool before moving on to something like Twitter. I invite you to check out the articles below for some ideas about how Twitter is being used and why some people think it is a particularly significant web 2.0 tool.

Where Can I Learn More?

7 Things You Should Know about Twitter – Educause Learning Initiative

Twitter Breaks Down Barriers in the Classroom – Ars Technica

Forget E-Mail: New Messaging Service Has Students and Professors Atwitter – Chronicle of Higher Ed

Twitter in Plain English (YouTube Video) – CommonCraft Show

Twitter for Academia

How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense – Wired Magazine

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