Microblogging is a classic web 2.0 tool which exists at the intersection of blogging, social networking and social sharing. It involves the rapid exchange of concise information, often including weblinks or attachments such as images. There have been a number of microblogging services over the years, but many have now disappeared, leaving the field dominated by Twitter (see the image above of the blue bird, which is globally recognised as referring to Twitter). One alternative is Plurk; while in China, where Twitter is inaccessible, there are some highly successful alternatives including Sina Weibo (微博). Because it involves quick, succinct sharing, Twitter is often accessed in an app version on mobile devices and thus may be linked to mobile learning.
It is free to set up an account with Twitter, after which you are able to:
- follow those whose tweets (i.e., posts) you are interested in reading, ranging from actors and singers through to politicians, scientists and authors, after which you can see their tweets in your constantly updated newsfeed (note that unlike on social networking services, where friending requires a mutual connection, Twitter permits you to follow anyone with a public account, with no obligation for that person to follow you)
- search for tweets on particular topics by typing a hashtag (introduced by the symbol #) into the search box
- tweet your own comments (of up to 140 characters per tweet in languages based on the Roman alphabet, potentially including links to webpages, or photos or videos as attachments), which can be viewed by others who have chosen to follow you, or who search for any hashtags you have used
- retweet others’ tweets that you find interesting in order to share them with your own followers
- send private direct messages to anyone with whom you have a mutual connection (i.e., you are both following each other)
In education, Twitter is used for a number of purposes:
- backchannel conversation: during presentations or seminars, audiences can use a Twitter hashtag (introduced by the symbol #) to link together their comments, leading to a real-time backchannel discussion between audience members. This could also be of interest to other Twitter users who are unable to attend the live event. Indeed, it is very common nowadays for conferences to set up an official conference hashtag. Where an official hashtag has been set up, presenters may sometimes display a live feed of comments and questions on a screen at the front of the room, usually by using a second data projector; different presentation formats for such tweets can be found through services like Twitterfall and Visible Tweets. A similar backchannel approach can be used in the classroom to gather students’ questions and comments during a lesson.
- polling: Twitter can be effectively used as a polling service.
- building personal learning networks: by finding and following experts, colleagues and/or peers on Twitter, teachers and students can keep up with the latest developments in a given field of study or research, since many people use Twitter to focus primarily on their professional interests (see for example the Tweet Topic Explorer data visualisation of themes derived from keywords in Mark Pegrum’s Twitter stream in the image below). Twitter is thus used to spread information virally in many professional and academic contexts (as well as entertainment, social and commercial contexts). As a result, it’s a great platform on which to build a PLN. For ideas on educational and technological tweeters to follow, see the Twitter Feeds to Follow page of this website.
- quick updates: Twitter provides a channel through which students, parents or carers can receive quick educational or administrative updates from teachers or institutions, and where they can pose questions or send replies.
- online communication: succinct self-expression through Twitter may form part of a literacy exercise for students. Twitter can underpin a number of different kinds of online interaction between students, ranging from collaborative story writing to cross-cultural pen pal partnerships.
Services which can help you to get more out of Twitter include the aforementioned tweet display formats, Twitterfall and Visible Tweets; Twistori, which generates a list of recent tweets containing key words such as ‘love’, ‘believe’ and ‘wish’; Twubs, which allows you to easily aggregate a conversation on a particular topic using hashtags; and Paper.li, which allows you to turn Twitter feeds into a daily newspaper format. A recently popular service with similarities to Twitter is Scoop.it, which displays thumbnails and/or excerpts of shared materials in a magazine-like format; for an example, see the widget from Mark Pegrum’s Ubiquitous Learning Scoop.it embedded on the mobile learning page of this website. It is also possible to cross-post from Scoop.it to Twitter.
For more guidance on how to use Twitter in education, see the following:
- The Twitteraholic’s Ultimate Guide to Tweets, Hashtags, and All Things Twitter (Sue Waters, 2012)
- 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom (Samantha Miller, n.d.)
- 60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom (Lee Crockett, 2014)
- How to Use Twitter for Beginners (Essetino Artists, 2016) [YouTube]
- Top 20 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom (David Sornberger, n.d./tweet by Justin Tarte, 2016) [infographic]
- 25 Ways Teachers Use Twitter in the Classroom (Tori Pakizer, 2016)
- Twitter in the Elementary Classroom (Holly Marich, 2016)
Twitter’s own views of how the service can be used are showcased in Follow Your Interests, a promotional video released on its fifth anniversary in 2011 (see below). More information is available on the Publications on Digital Learning page under ‘microblogging (Twitter)’.
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