Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twitter For Educational Networking

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education / Volume 37 /  Issue 4 /  2009  /  255-256 / DOI  10.1002/bmb.20307  / Published Online:  28 Jul 2009
Multimedia in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education  > Commentary > Twitter For Educational Networking


Graham R. Parslow (gparslow@unimelb.edu.au)  / Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology  /  The University of Melbourne / Parkville, Victoria 3010 / Australia

Alan Lew ... , a professor of geography at Northern Arizona University, wrote in August 2007 that Twitter is basically a potential alternative to email, instant messaging and discussion forums, as ways of communicating with students, ... . Instead of being old hat, Twitter has increased in popularity to become the third most used social interaction forum after FaceBook and MySpace. Twitter is named in reference to a flock of birds twittering among themselves with each bird tweeting a short message to the others.

The messages in Twitter are limited to 140 text characters per tweet, so it is not a medium for expressing deep philosophical insights. However, it is easy to have a web link embedded in the 140 characters of a tweet to quickly reach more information. [snip]. Subscribers nominate other Twitters to follow and they can screen who is permitted to see their tweets. Searching by topic or key word can locate specific tweets. [snip] . It is relatively simple to have a whole class subscribe to tweets from a teacher to learn of new activities ... .

The tweets can be sent to mobile phones as text messages as well as distributed via the web. This means that with relatively low-effort teachers can enable an extensive broadcast system. The students do the work to subscribe and provide their phone numbers. Because it is a multiway system, Twitter can be used as a classroom response system and responders might not even need to be in a lecture theatre. [snip]

Jack Dorsey ... created Twitter in 2006.

I asked my second year biochemistry class of 472 students how many knew what Twitter was (80% did), who had used Twitter (10% had), and who had used Twitter as part of a teaching exercise (only one individual). If the class had been set up to use Twitter, I could be more precise about such responses and I would have a record of the feedback. [snip]

David Parry ... from the University of Texas makes the point that if we do not adopt the technology of our students, we will be seen as irrelevant to their lives. Parry is clear that he is not advocating fraternizing with students, but using tools like Twitter to break down the social walls of conservatism that can hamper teaching. Geoffrey Cain ... from the Tacoma Community College says that while Twitter is new there is nothing new about using social networks for teaching and learning.

Real change comes when these tools and networks become so ubiquitous that they begin to shape how we think and communicate ...  a perception duly linked to Marshal McLuhan's assertion that the medium is the message. Not all of our students have embraced Twitter, as I found by asking my students and as David Parry also noted ... . In reflecting on who is leading who, Cain  ... asserts that we have a responsibility to show students how to apply and use new media ... . The phenomenal success of Twitter was not anticipated by its creator ... , but neither was the potential of an idea that Kary Mullis had when he showed how to perform polymerase chain reactions.

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