Named after blogging, micro blogging – or micro media – has evolved into the Next Big Thing within the internet scene. Micro blogging means posting extremely short snippets of information – just like in blogs, the most recent post is displayed at the top of the page, the older ones are displayed below.

While there are a number of micro blogging services, the two most notable are Pownce and – much bigger! – Twitter. (For our purposes, most examples and use cases will Twitter-related if not noted otherwise.)

So first up: What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro blogging service where users post information snippets with a maximum length of 140 characters. (Yes, characters, not words.) This equals the length of a SMS message (160 characters) minus 20 characters to enter text commands. Twitter can be accessed from the web, through a client software or from practically any mobile device like mobile phones, PDAs or iPhones. Imagine micro blogging as the missing link between instant messaging (for example ICQ, MSN, AIM, Yahoo Messenger etc.) and blogging (Fig. 2). Users are prompted to simply answer the question “What are you doing?”

Figure 2: (Tom Barrett)

Quick facts about Twitter
What is it: A micro blogging service
What does it do: Allow to send brief messages of 140 characters max (from any device to any other device, or to the WWW)
Users: Roughly 1 million in April 2008 (estimated, figures not officially disclosed)
Who uses it: A mixed crowd, with lively communities of internet and IT consultants, designers, and educators
Company:Obvious, San Francisco, USA
Founder: Evan Williams, founder of Blogger.com

Why would that be useful? Why would anyone want to read what I’m doing right now?

Excellent question, and also the main point most users (including the authors of this newsletter) cannot understand when they first look at Twitter. Twitter allows – once the user’s network has reached a certain critical mass – to gradually build, foster and extend relationships; to evaluate, judge, and build personal reputation; to stay connected with a large social network through ambient intimacy, i.e. getting an intimate impression of other users daily lives through “passive” communication. Says social media consultant Laura Fitton: “For a contrived, weird and techy way to communicate, Twitter’s “passive conversation” fosters very natural, gradual relationship-building.”


This brief video by Common Craft Show gives a great overview.


Strengths Problems
  • Great way to extend your social network
  • Profit from exchange with others in the field
  • Peer-filter provides relevant information
  • Very engaging
  • Communication may seem superficial and irrelevant in the beginning, and it can indeed be.
  • Due to its “live” nature, Twitter has quite a potential to distract.
  • Information overflow.

What are the challenges when introducing micro-blogging to the classroom?

There is a number of issues you should be aware of when introducing Twitter to the classroom:

  • Twitter is distracting
    One of the main problems with Twitter is that the constant stream of information and conversations can be quite distracting. It takes time to get comfortable with Twitter and to use it efficiently. Also, some teachers won’t be comfortable with the idea of a backchannel where their students can exchange notes and chatter during class.
  • Using Twitter via mobile phone costs money
    If your students use Twitter via their mobile phones, they might be charged for their text messages. Consider using a computer-based Twitter client instead.
  • The Internet doesn’t forget
    Just like blog conversations, Twitter messages get archived and syndicated. This also means that everything posted on Twitter could – potentially – stay available on the web forever. Keep that in mind when posting.
  • Twitter isn’t for everybody
    Some love it, some hate it: Twitter is one of those tools that not everybody is comfortable with. Some won’t like the way information flows by, some will have concerns about privacy implications (please keep in mind that you can protect your posts so only your friends can see them). Both are valid points. Forcing students to use Twitter wouldn’t lead to good results. Experiment together with your students to find out what works for you and them.

How can micro-blogging be useful for education?

  • Exchange ideas with other educators
    With a quickly growing community of educators on Twitter, you can easily exchange ideas with other educators. No matter if you are looking for ideas, a solution, literature recommendations or teaching materials – one of your Twitter colleagues might just have the answer or know where to look for the right solution. It’s as easy as watercooler talk.
  • Follow professionals
    “Students can follow someone else who is on Twitter, who interests them. For example if they are thinking about journalism they should follow NewMediaJim who works for NBC and Tweets about being on Airforce One, covering the Middle East etc. This is a rare inside, “real-time” view into journalism,” says University of Texas’ Professor David Perry. He presents more useful usecases for Twitter on academHack.
  • Get instant feedback
    Through Twitter, you can stay in touch with your colleagues and students – and thus get instant feedback. Looking for an informed opinion about your curriculum? Ask your colleagues in your own or another school. But you can also use Twitter as a backchannel to an ongoing presentation. Even while presenting yourself, your students might share interesting ideas or feedback through Twitter. Admittedly, watching a Twitter stream while teaching a class that might need quite some practice, and it certainly isn’t the right thing for everybody.
  • Foster exchange of ideas with researchers around the world
    Through Twitter, it’s easy to follow loosely what other research teams are focusing on. Since communication via Twitter is so light-weight and non-intrusive, it’s much easier to follow discussions and status updates from other researchers than one-on-one communication. Thus, opportunities for collaboration as well as synergy effects are more easily discovered and exploited.
  • Coordinate spontaneous events
    You are thinking about calling a spontaneous meeting, or just noticed there’s something interesting on TV? Just twitter it and your students, colleagues or co-researchers know what you’re thinking about. This is just the first step into the conversation.
  • Stay in touch with your students
    Twitter allows for a very easy, simple way to keep students updated on homework, assignments, events and notifications without knowing their mobile phone numbers. Students can control the communication, so it’s very non-intrusive. Students can also easily get feedback from their educators or each other, and they can set up spontaneous meetings or study groups on the go.

A perspective: Teaching With Twitter

Introducing Twitter to the classroom was “…the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching,” says David Parry, a professor at the University of Texas, Dallas. “The more we can reach out and use the communication tools students are used to using, the more we can show the students that education actually does matter and that what goes on inside the walls of this institution matters for the rest of what’s going on in their lives.” Watch a brief introductory video with David Perry on Chronicle.com (2:30min).

Recommended resources:


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