Twitter is an interesting extension of some of my previous discussions of how social networking can be used in the classroom and for professional development. On the surface, it's got a lot of the same features as other social networking sites: you can connect with people from all over the world, share thoughts and ideas, develop an online identity, learn how to evaluate source validity, and have fun.
However, as Silvia Tolisano points out in her blog post What About That Twitter Thing?, many schoolteachers and administrators don't recognize the value of Twitter quite as easily as I do. She does a great job of summarizing some of the most common anxieties: people found it overwhelming, irrelevant, or asked, "Who has time for that?" She makes two important points defending Twitter:
- You can customize it. You don't have to view thousands' of people's thought in a huge, never-ending list if you don't want to. You don't have to know how delicious Susie from Nebraka's dinner was. You can carefully select what you see based on your own interests and goals for using Twitter.
- You don't have to 'dive-in.' Becoming part of the Twitter community can be more passive than one would think: you can just read tweets without responding at all. You're not expected to become a Twitter maniac (or, at least, not overnight).
Many of these common concerns are likely part of a larger experience with other social networking sites. Twitter truly is different in my eyes, and serves some of our needs a little better than other social networking opportunities. Darcy Moore's Twitter Love Song points out the fact that "The network is always with you" with Twitter. It's true, you can access twitter anywhere: your phone, your computer, your iPod. Now, that's also true with other social networking sites such as Facebook, but I'd argue that twitter's format- it's rolling 'ticker' of short messages (140 characters or less)- is best designed for on-the-go access. There are no distractions- just a list of information. What's more is that if you're on Facebook, you're probably 'friends' with any number of people- family, coworkers, friends, etc- whose "newsfeed" posts (by no fault of their own, mind you) provide you with useless and uninteresting information. "Dave commented on Shirley's photo." Twitter is an opportunity for you to select what types of information will be there when you open it up on any given device. If I want information that's coming from educators about relevant issues in education, I can tailor it this way. I can even follow the US Department of Education and keep updated on what's going on in education policy.
One thing I noticed in Darcy's Twitter Love Song is the amount of people who mentioned turning to Twitter for help. You don't hear that everyday about social networking. I myself had never thought of it this way. People mentioned that Twitter allowed them to get almost instantaneous responses to their questions, and also that it helped them find answers to their questions without having to look very far at all. What's lovely about this is that Twitter gives searching for answers via technology a more human side. We all know that many 'answers' are really just information from a single source. With Twitter, we can receive many answers from many sources, and watch a conversation about those answers unfold before us. It's an opportunity to develop a nuanced understanding of many sides of an issue- provided that you're following a variety of interested and diverse people.