Educators see Twitter at the hub

Twitter infographic

Authenticity in learning can be understood as the extent to which the learning is situated within a practising community of people who share some united interest in the knowledge being sought or produced, and a common idea of its meaning and value, “…who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2006) Sociology is an integral element of the authentic learning environment.

  On Twitter’s 140-character limit…

Several authors have argued that rather than this being a drawback, this characteristic offers benefits for learning. Educause (2007) suggests this helps develop skills “in thinking clearly and communicating effectively”. Rankin (2009a & 2009b) notes that this forces students to focus on a central point. Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) argue that communicating in this style is a “professionally useful skill for students to develop”.
…However this aspect of Twitter, …has also been blamed by academics for contributing to declining English writing skills (Kelley 2010).

There is now plentiful evidence that a growing number of educators, and many more who think of themselves as stakeholders in education generally, are using social networks, and more than a few sites and software applications have emerged to compete for parents’, students’, teachers’ and administrators’ attention, everywhere, all at once. There are powerful new ways to create, manage, and share your own resources and an overwhelming number of great resources available from others. While a site like Pinterest may drive a great deal of traffic to blogs the micro-blogging tool Twitter’s unique feature set has helped establish its role at the hub.

3 Ways Social networking impacts and supports learning

Social networking platforms and tools are already impacting and supporting learning in at least three ways. First, social networking itself is a tool with a skill set for learning. Second, social networking can be used to deliver and enhance curriculum. And third, social networking can be utilized to create learning experiences in collaboration with others. Teachers find individual articles such as 30 Twitter Hashtags For Science Lovers and 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom immensely helpful, but if my own timeline is an indication, they do add up! Most of probably hundreds of such no-doubt wonderful ideas often get swept away in the “digital noise.” A classroom teacher’s bookmarks can include Edmodo, YouTube, and Facebook, Teachhub, PBL-Online and Edudemic, but it’s increasingly clear that Twitter is the choice to join these spokes at the centre.

New Twitter users commonly describe an experience curve that travels from scepticism, trial participation, conversion (getting it), dramatically increasing usage and connections (Levine 2007, Stevens 2008, Seimens 2008, Shepherd 2009) through to potential overload (Sierra 2007).

Teachers use Twitter to plan field trips, chat with industry professionals, connect classrooms, facilitate research, post supplementary materials, to engage students in the classroom, parents outside the school, and colleagues and administrators in networks they can design according to need and interest.

It’s not surprising to learn that “design of teaching strategies and practices related to virtual engagement and collaboration is instrumental to achieving positive educational outcomes,” but some early research suggests not all are equally ready, that students may need “…to improve their capacity to initiate self-directed, collaborative practices as a means to more effectively take ownership of their learning” through incorporating new technology. (Junco, Elavsky, and Heiberger, 2012). Similarly for teachers, learning to use Twitter to grow an effective Personal Learning Network (PLN, a.k.a. Community or PLC) is not the same as learning to use it as a tool in a learning situation, in or out of the classroom.

What you Tweet, when you Tweet it, the length of your Tweets, whom you retweet and who retweets you are all factors in getting established on Twitter. You can over-use hashtags or under-use them, and good use of images in tweets can make your tweets up to twice as engaging.

TweetStats is a service that reveals a great deal of information about how people actually use Twitter. One tab shows how many Tweets happened, when, in reply to whom, from what kind of device, and top retweets for a particular user. On another you can visualize the data as a word cloud1 (called a TweetCloud, naturally) of top mentions and topics, and once you’ve done so for an account you can track follow and unfollow stats from that point forward. If you have an idea of a rubric2 demonstrating engagement and on-task behaviour, or other standards you wish to establish, either for your personal learning community or a learning experience you design, TweetStats can already report some enlightening information. It seems to me this is a direction in which educators can push for development, or show initiative by launching their own open source projects.

As a stakeholder in on line education, what other sets of data would you like to see in statistical reports? Must diagnostic, formative and summative assessments be built in? How would you do that? What would it look like?

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Notes

  1. From visual design, a word cloud is a form of weighted list, a visual representation for text data. Usually the importance of each tag, word or phrase being highlighted is represented by variations in font size or color.
  2. A rubric is a measuring tool that experience designers can use to assess participant learning and engagement. Using a set of criteria and standards directly tied to the stated learning outcomes, educators can assess each student’s actual performance. When a rubric is agreed-upon and communicated prior to the student’s work being completed, it serves as a model or exemplar, and makes the grading process clear and transparent.

Reference

Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989). “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher, 18(l), 32-42.

Davis, Gordon B., Editor (1986) Understanding The Effectiveness of Computer Graphics for Decision Support-A Cumulative Experimental Approach, Communications of the ACM, Vol 29 (1) 40-47.

Dugan, Lauren (2012) How Frequently Should You Tweet? [STATS] posted October 30, 2012 on AllTwitter The Unofficial Twitter Resource http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/how-frequently-should-you-tweet-stats_b30568.

Ferriter, William M. (2010), Why Teachers Should Try Twitter (Meeting Students Where They Are), Educational Leadership, 67(5) February 2010, pp 73-74;
[Available on line http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/Why-Teachers-Should-Try-Twitter.aspx, retrieved 2012-11-30].

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael; and Heiberger, Greg (2012), “Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success” British Journal of Educational Technology [Early View, Article first published online: 1 MAR 2012 available from author’s site: http://reyjunco.com/wordpress/pdf/JuncoElavskyHeibergerTwitterCollaboration.pdf, retrived 2012-11-30]

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Webducate [‘webducate.net’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review http://webducate.net/2012/08/twitter-in-learning-and-teaching-literature-review/, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

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