Last night I was tweeting from my new iPod Touch and unsuccessfully typed Twitted (did you know the “d” is near the “r”?). My sister-in-law was being shown this new device, and I wanted to also show her the power of the Twittersphere. Thanks to all who answered my hello despite the misspellings. Within seconds I had responses from points near and far. I have observed others receive more meaningful information, and I have provided some myself, to this powerful network of educators online.

So the readings this week about using Twitter to create community hit home for me. This quote in particular from The Chronicle of Higher Education described my personal experience:

Mr. Parry’s first instinct was that Twittering would encourage students to speak in sound bites and self-obsess. But now he calls it “the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching. … The immediacy of the messages helped the students feel more like a community, Mr. Parry says. “It really broke down that barrier between inside the classroom walls and outside the classroom walls.”

Our grad classroom already exists online. I remember Rob Wall indicating that part of his role in the class was to help create social capital amongst a diverse, geographically distributed group of graduate students. And while we have built some social capital through our twice-weekly online sessions (thanks Rob), I would say I feel a more direct connect with those who also participate on Twitter. My anecdotal observation is that the informal chatter that Twitter supports (more so than a backchannel in class) is better at relationship-building.

Another thread I followed in Twitter was on this similar topic – is Twitter appropriate for all student levels? The consensus I observed from @courosa and @schwier was perhaps not for under-graduate but certainly for graduate students. Dave Parry suggests we need to use the tools students are using to make learning relevant, but he does suggest that there is still a line over which an instructor should not cross. I expect that the younger the students are, the more clearly the line must be drawn.

But because these are open networking sites, what is to stop younger students from joining a teacher’s network? While we would expect that they wouldn’t stay long – in many cases sheer boredom would set in – just as they don’t want the adults participating in their Facebook spaces for reasons of “it’s my space”, there are conversations on Twitter that are not meant for the students. Twitter is not designed in the same way as Facebook. Sure you can block followers. But you can’t group followers in the same ways. It is designed as a more open community. I agree with @courosa and @schwier – what may work with older students and adult learners is not something I would introduce for K-12 learners.

Perhaps Twitter is best left in the hands of the educators where learning is concerned.

[March 4, 2008: I’ve continued this thread on Technology for Learning. Please join me there.]

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