In 2009 and 2010 Twitter was voted the No.1 teaching and learning tool according to pollsters for the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT). The results for 2011 are being finalised and I suggest if Twitter is not at the top it will be snapping at the heels at whatever is. Even though Twitter is a relatively new technology emerging in 2006 its $10 billion price tag is evidence of its popularity although those who criticize its business model suggest it could “potentially go the way of the Dodo” like other short-lived internet phenomena. I think Twitter is here to stay for many years to come and teachers have yet to capitalise on its potential: “People don’t look at Twitter as being educational…yet” (Freedman, p.30). I disagree with this latter statement because there is plenty of research out there to suggest otherwise such as Twitter in Further Education and Learning and Teaching with Twitter but I do think that unlike the accessibility of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies, even Facebook which are slowly being harnessed for education, there is a lack of understanding as to how Twitter could be effectively employed for Teaching and Learning. I once suggested to my son’s primary school’s Head Teacher that Twitter could be used to inform parents about daily classroom activities. Suffice to say the suggestion was not seriously considered.
Unlike Facebook users the Twitterati are more serious about the type of messages they send out and Twitter stands out from the crowd of Web 2.0 jostling technologies because it is regarded as place where professionals meet to network and share ideas. Twitter still gets a bad press however because those who don’t understand it think that all it amounts to is celebrities making banal comments and narcissistic but insignificant revelations about what they had for breakfast (see Steven Anderson’s Ten Misconceptions about Twitter). There is no doubt that this does happen in Twitter but less often than the non-twitterers would have us believe. When I found myself bombarded with irrelevant twaddle from one tweeter I simply “unfollowed” him. Problem solved.
Our question though is does Twitter facilitate interactivity?
A recent report on Twitter in Further Education certainly thinks it does:
“Twitter is a valuable tool for the FE sector. It is free and immediate, so is the most cost-effective way of getting information out there to the world. However, it is also important for interaction – encouraging debate, while also helping to provide a quick, easy answer to a simple or complex question” (Solus, 2011, p.4).
Comments on this report have been positive and reaffirmed the use of Twitter as a useful interactive tool: “…I think it is important for the sector to read this report, but also those beyond FE who are thinking about how to use the interactivity of social media to the full.” Former Minister of State for Education, Children, Schools and Families. (http://solus.co.uk/twitterreport.htm)
However, when I ask myself the same question, I ponder. My initial response like Andy’s in his blog post Rockin Robin is “yes indeedy” but then I pause. Unlike Andy who has established Twitter as a PLN (Personal Learning Network) mine is not. Yes, I have a few followers and yes I follow others BUT because I do not engage with my Twitter account enough then I still feel like the outsider looking in. It’s the locked out of the sweetie shop feel again. Everyone says the sweets are yummy and they look yummy and occasionally I find the odd sweetie wrapper outside but no real sweeties to mull over in my mouth. Enough of the metaphor. This is not the fault of Twitter though, this is undoubtedly my own incompetence at not persevering with the technology.
Steve Wheeler’s blog suggests that you need to “persist with the tool” to give it enough time to build up a critical mass of followers and followed, ensuring that your personal learning network (PLN) becomes effective” (Wheeler, 2010).
For some reason, when I registered with Twitter, over 2 years ago, I found the interface a bit muddling. I think I have the grasp of the @elearningBC (me) and #hudmod (topic) and I use TweetDeck but I’m still not sure who sees what and why I see posts from people I don’t follow? I have made a promise to explore an online support resource on Twitter which should teach me all I need to know. But I am not sure that the interface and usability is the real stumbling block. I think I simply lack that “social capital” (Tufekci, 2008, p.546), that need to network and be seen to network although I feel the pressure to join the crowd. Like so much Web 2.0 you cannot escape the fact that there is an element of self-promotion, blowing your own trumpet, in any online disclosure. What am I doing now but writing in the public domain? Yet, there is an ulterior motive. This is a blog which is part of a TASK I must achieve as part of my MSc module.
I think this reticence of self-disclosure is a psychological stance which other learners may struggle with…but this is a very significant point. If we are to encourage the use of Web 2.0 which undoubtedly promotes collaboration, communication and sharing which supports knowledge and understanding, what about those learners who don’t have a natural disposition to do this online – for whatever reasons? Wenger suggests that Learning is “fundamentally experiential and social” and that it is also to do with “boundaries” (Wenger, 1998, p.227) so I am learning alright but Yacci also suggests that messages in an interaction must be “mutually coherent” and that there needs to be a physical or emotional response by the learner. Only through real engagement can the interactions take place or is it the chicken and the egg quandary – is it the interactions that leverage the engagement. I don’t think there is an answer, the two evidently work in tandem. It is interesting to note however, that as an eLearning trainer I preach the benefits of Twitter but I am not using it to its full potential. Because I do not engage fully I do not get the feedback that is required for interactivity to place or rather I don’t “feel” that interactions have taken place. Yacci cites Berge’s conclusion that “task/content interaction and social interaction as key variables in web-based learning” (Yacci, p9) so I am receiving the tweets, checking out some of the information and reading the content but not getting that social benefit, the affiliation, the VcoP, the PLN, whatever you want to call it!
On a positive note I have just signed up a personal account to Twitter so that I can receive @RealTimeWWII tweets to my mobile which will inform me on a daily basis of real time events that happened in the six years during the second world war. I am hoping this will give me the opportunity to view tweets on my mobile and then look at media coverage and websites. I am not a real history buff although I graduated in history. But to think back now to those days when I had to traipse to the library to search for the relevant books and journals to learn! Now I can sit on the train from work and all that wealth of knowledge comes straight to me, via my mobile, in multimedia format! Generation Me may have their problems, but God, they are lucky!