Twitter Tips: 7 things you should know about.Twitter

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Edward, an instructional technologist in Ohio, was gen-erally familiar with Daniel’s research on active learning at his institution in California, but when they met at a conference and had an opportunity to talk, they real-ized their separate research projects had considerable synergy.Daniel’s  research  team  included  two  others at his institution, as well as three more people around the  country,  whereas  Edward  was  working  alone  on his  project. Daniel found  Edward’s  results  very  inter-esting, however, and invited Edward to combine their two  projects. 

 Because  Daniel’s  team  lived  in  various places, they had already set up a number of tools to facilitate communication  across  locations  and  time zones.  One  of  those  tools  was  Twitter,  a  Web  site that  let  the  team  members  communicate  as  a  group through  mini-updates  displayed  in  blog-like  format. 

The team exchanged e-mail and had conference calls, but  they  met  in  person  very  infrequently.  Daniel  told Edward that Twitter helped the group stay connected in ways that other means did not.Edward  was  skeptical  at  first.  He  set  up  an  account, added  the  other  researchers  as  friends,  and  started participating in their Twitter posts, or “tweets.” 

All were short (tweets are limited to 140 characters), some had nothing to do with the research, and many referred to people,  events,  and  even  long-standing  inside  jokes that  Edward  knew  nothing  of.  For  the  first  week  or so,  Edward  felt  very  self-conscious  posting  tweets.

He  kept  with  it,  though,  and  found  that  the  more  he used  the  site,  the  more  valuable  it  became—his  un-derstanding was cumulative. Even though he couldn’t pass fellow researchers in the hall and exchange a few words,  those  exchanges  happened  electronically.He soon  understood  their  jokes  and  references,  and  he found himself checking Twitter even before he read his e-mail.

Through  Twitter,  Edward  came  to  understand how Daniel had earned his reputation as not only a bril-liant researcher but also an effective team leader. In his Twitter postings, Daniel was able to provide the team with guidance and support while being casual and at times extremely funny. Over the weeks and months of the project, Twitter allowed Edward to experience the dynamic of the research team, developing a sense of who the individuals were—both personally and profes-sionally. He found he was able to discern their moods and how well their research efforts were progressing. When Edward finally met the full team at a conference, he felt as though he already knew them. 

1-- What is twitter.

Twitter is an online  application  that  is  part  blog,  part  social  net -working site, part cell phone/IM tool, designed to let users answer the question “What are you doing?” Users have 140 characters for each posting (or “tweet”) to say whatever they care to say. Many tweets do answer the question of what the user is doing, but plenty of others are responses to other tweets, pointers to online resourc -es that the user found interesting, musings, or questions. Similar to social networking sites like Facebook—which has itself evolved to  include  mini-updates.

Twitter  lets  users  create  formal  friend -ships,  which  collectively  establish  numerous  and  interconnected 
networks of users. In addition, Twitter works with cell phones and other SMS clients, making it an easy way for mobile users to stay in touch virtually anywhere.

2-- who's doing it

Although Twitter launched i,s6, the number of Twitterers and the amount of attention the site has received grew consider -ably  in  the  first  half  of  2007.  A  lot  of  people  are  talking  about  it, and  plenty  are  using  it,  including some  presidential  candidates, well-known high-tech gurus, and celebrities. Although it’s unclear whether college students are using Twitter in large numbers, many IT professionals in higher education have become active users, as have a number of faculty.

In many cases,a Twitterer is not an individual but a group of peo -ple,  an  organization  (or  part  of  it),  or  an  event.Live  Earth  2007, for  example,  a  global  concert  to  increase  awareness  of  climate change, has a Twitter profile that featured updates leading up to the event. Dell maintains a Twitter profile that advertises short-term (a number of hours or days) promotional specials on computers and other hardware.  Opinion Journal, an offshoot of the Wall Street Journal, has a Twitter euters, which posts new headlines with links to the full stories.

3--How does it work

After creating an account, you can personalize your profile page and enter tweets into a text field. Unless your tweets are protected, they appear on a “public timeline” page, which displays all public tweets in reverse chronological order, like a series of “micro-blogs.” Each  tweet  identifies  the  Twitterer,  whose  screen  name  links  to that person’s profile page, showing all of her previous tweets and her  friends’  tweets.  If  you  are  registered,  you  can  add  her  as  a friend, see a list of her friends, and add any of those people as your friends.

Once you have established at least one friend relationship, your Twitter home page shows the tweets posted by you and your friends, though you can still access the public timeline separately. You  can  also  send  private  messages  to  friends  or post  a  direct reply to another tweet. All of the Twitter functions are available through SMS. If you provide Twitter  with  a  cell  phone  number  or  IM  contact  information,  you can “follow” individual users, even if you are not friends with them.

By choosing to follow a user, you will be notified by phone, IM, or both  any  time  that  person  posts  a  new  tweet.  Twitter  integrates with blogs and other Web pages, providing Flash and JavaScript code  options  that  allow  Web  pages  to access  Twitter  updates. Twitter also provides RSS, which allows news aggregators to subribe to individual feeds, which can be one Twitterer’s posts, your friends’ tweets, or the public timeline.

4-- Why is it significant

The  experience  of  using  Twitter  has  been  described  as  walking into a room of conversations and looking for a “hook” to decide if and when to jump in. While some people find the public timeline interesting and collect hundreds—if not thousands—of friends and followers, many see the value of Twitter in keeping connected with a select group of colleagues and acquaintances through a shared space.  Tweets  offer  information  about  a  person—likes,  dislikes, frustrations—that might never make it into a professional conver -sation. Some of the information is trivial, some boring, and some perhaps better kept private, but the sum of all this information can be getting to know someone quite well, warts and all.

For colleagues who don’t live in the same town, Twitter can serve as  a  “virtual  water  cooler”  where  people  talk  about  work,  the weather,  sports,  or  anything  else  that  comes  up.  Twitter’s  net-working component lets you make connections with your friends’ friends, and this dynamic can lead to serendipitous professional or personal relationships with other Twitterers. Twitter creates a new channel of communication, but it also facilitates a new way of see -ing  and  understanding  people:  although  most  individual  tweets 
say very little, ardent Twitterers say that the magic comes from fol -lowing people over time, developing a sense of who they really are and  knowing—at  nearly  any  moment—what  they  are  doing  and 
how they feel about it.  

5-- What are the downsides?

The most common criticism of Twitter is that it enables inane inter -action. Tweets that sathing more than “I’m eating pickles” or “Really tired today” are not uncommon, and, indeed, the value of such postings to the casual user is minimal. Moreover, as an asyn -chronous broadcast service, there is no guarantee that any 
indi -vidual tweet will be read, let alone responded to. Twitter can also be  a  distraction  for  frequent  and  committed  users.  If  you  follow Twitterers on your phone or by IM, or if you find yourself constantly 
checking  the  Web  site  for  updates.

  Twitter  can  be  a  time  eater. If you interact with the site through a cell phone, the SMS charg -es  can  accumulate  rapidly,  and  the  sheer  number  of updates— particularly if you have a large number of friends or friends who are active users—can be unwieldy.

6-- Where is it going?

Twitter  publishes  an  API,  and  applications  are  regularly  being developed  that  build  on  that  platform.  Early  tools  let  users  add Twitter  functionality  to  their  desktops.  Some  newer  applications add  location  information  to  Twitter  data,  letting  users  not  only read what people are doing but see where they are. An applica -tion called TwitterCamp lets users display tweets in large-format displays,  such  as  projectors.  

Other  applications  let  users  post short  audio  tweets—an  idea  that  seems  to  introduce  the  notion of “micro-podcasts.” These and other applications built on Twitter will come and go, with the community of users determining which ones last and which ones don’t. Facebook has become a place where users share considerable amounts of information, and the site offers a wide range of options for restricting how much and 
what kinds of information you see. Likewise, as Twitter grows, it will likely add more (and more detailed) filters to balance the amount of available content.

7--what are the implications for teaching and learning?

Much has been written about the benefits of active learning strate-gies—using  tools  and  techniques  that  engage  students  in  ways other than simply listening to an instructor and taking notes. In the same way that clickers facilitate active learning, Twitter, too, could be used in an academic setting to foster interaction about a given topic.  Metacognition—the  practice  of  thinking  about  and  reflect -ing on your learning—has been shown to benefit comprehension and retention.

 As a tool for students or professional colleagues to compare thoughts about a topic, Twitter can be a viable platform for metacognition, forcing users to be brief and to the point—an important skill in thinking clearly and communicating effectively. In addition, Twitter can provide a simple way for attendees at a con -ference to share thoughts about particular sessions and activities 
with others at the event and those unable to attend.

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