Friday, May 1, 2009

Twitter or Tweet?

My youngest daughter has said twitter or tweet numerous times in her life. All in attempt to get a bag full of what she calls "the good stuff." Chocolate gold. Sweet satisfaction. Candy to the lay person. Of course, when she says twitter or tweet, she is trying to say trick or treat. Her speech teacher assures me she's doing better.

What is Twitter? How is it useful? How can educators use it? Can we use it as an instructional tool? Is it just a waste of time? All common questions; All fair questions. Let me enlighten you with an answer that should help everyone: I don't know. (Any flashbacks to Mr. Hand writing that on the board? That crazy Spicoli)

I use twitter and I have no idea if it's useful. Or if it can be used by educators. Or if it could be an instructional tool. Or if it's a waste of time. But, I am willing to explore these questions. (If you are a audio learner, you can scroll down to the bottom and watch/listen to Rich Voltz explain how twitter is used.)

What is it?

Here's the skinny of it: it's a social network where people can update (called a tweet) in 140 characters or less. (That's about 1 or 2 sentences.) This can be done from the website,, or from your mobile phone. The update can be literally an update of (A) what someone is doing at the moment, or it can be (B) used as a sharing of information. Examples:

A. Going to Walmart to pick up toilet paper, then off to White Castle!

B. Worried that web 2.0 tools may create cheaters? "Unauthentic assessment will produce cheaters." Awesome blog!

Twitter is simple to use. Sign up for a free account and start searching for people to "follow." This can be done through twitter, although, you are more likely to find people through blogs you read, facebook, or friends you have. People can choose to follow you as well, although you have the option of blocking them. Updates will come to your webpage on, or you can choose to have them go to your phone as a text message.

How is it useful?

The usefulness of twitter is still up for debate. See this article for each side of the argument.

The bottom line is Twitter is useful if you want it to be. For me personally, it's a complete waste of time for me to send or receive the "what are you doing right now" updates. For one, I am not that interested in what my friends are doing. And for two, my wife and kids could care less what I am doing, let alone anyone else. I'm not that interesting, and quite frankly, neither are any of my friends. However, I have personally found twitter to be useful as a professional development tool. More on that later. (That's what people in the media profession call a teaser. A hook, if you will. I know that will keep everyone reading. Who wouldn't want to know how twitter can be used as a professional development tool?)

How can educators use it?

Through conferences, articles I've read, or suggestions from other educators, I began following a few blogs this past fall. Upon learning about Twitter at a conference in January, I noticed that most all of the blogs I was following had a Twitter update on them. So I signed up for an account, then went to each of the blogs and simply clicked on the "follow" button. Booyah, I was following three prominent leaders in education. Each one sends a few tweets a day with a link or some helpful tool to use in education. Many of them have been helpful, some not. Users can organize their favorite tweets on Twitter by starring them, creating a favorites list. Or, if you are already using an RSS feed reader, you can have all your twitter updates forwarded to your reader where you can do the same thing.

I've gained valuable knowledge through Twitter. I've found valuable people to follow and those that weren't worth following, I simply deleted. Like most things in life, Twitter seems to give us whatever we put into it. It can be a very helpful tool. A suggestion if you're curious: find other people in your position to follow. If you're a teacher, find a few interesting blogs and follow them on twitter. Give it a shot. Decide for yourself.

Can we use it as an instructional tool?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. But I know this: it's always good to seek the advice or your building administrators before attempting to do so. One of the blogs I follow is from a teacher in Maryland who uses technology in an effort to eliminate paper. ( Beyond that, he offers some very interesting ideas for engaging students. Check out his blog and you will see him using Twitter for immediate, anonymous responses in class (research indicates that students who can anonymously respond in class will participate and be more engaged), collaborate on projects and even take Latin exams via Twitter. Is it proper to use Twitter for these instructional strategies? I don't know, but if it engages students and helps them learn, it's probably worth looking into.

Is it just a waste of time?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. I think it will be different for each of us. I have found a groove in which Twitter is one of my top three resources for current information on education. A friend told me earlier today, "twitter sucks. It's a waste of time." It appears as if each of us will have to decide on our own.

For a quick tutorial on twitter, Rich Voltz put together this video. Rich is a retired superintendent in the state of Illinois who now leads educators in implementing Web 2.0 tools in schools. He's a tremendous resource for all educators.

For an interesting sound, check out the Black Keys doing Stack Shot Billy. This group is one guitar player and one drummer pounding out some power rock blues stuff.

My top three most awesome reasons for being a Red Sox fan: 3. Dustin Pedroia is 5'5 and the reigning MVP. 2. 2004 World Series title and 2007 World Series title. 1. Manny Ramirez is now on the Dodgers.

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