It was bound to happen, the increase in Twitter feeds has sparked a number of blog sites on twitter etiquette… er, is that Twittiquette? Brittany Fitzgerald’s recent article on the Huffington Post is just the most recent example, titled “What Not To Tweet: 15 Annoying Things We Never Want To See On Twitter Again.” She notes:
According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, daily adult usage has doubled from May 2011 to May 2012, with 31 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds signed up.The expansion of accounts throughout the last year has many novice users coming to terms with what is considered socially acceptable Twitter behavior. Even experienced tweeters are now confronted with a much more complex system than in 2006, with automated posts, promotional tweets, and constantly morphing features.
So will Twitter just another self indulgent slight of hand? For some perhaps, but I think there are other uses… at least I hope so since I manage several Twitter feeds :0-) First, Twitter may be the fastest way to crowd source a number of exceptional articles online and curate them into regular feeds on a website. I have used Twitter feed widgets on this blog just to manage varying resources on family spirituality, media, neuroeducation and higher education. Now that many quality news sources post leads on stories through twitter you can catch “headlines” even more quickly than before. Of course there is the occasional, “I just got out of bed this morning tweet,” but that only rivals the message board of Facebook on any given day. What you have is a cross between the old telephone “party line” of listening into people’s lives with the more helpful electronic version of the Associated Press or United Press International Wire Services, but with much more focused topics.
In my course on Mediated Religion I found a much better use for tweets. Let’s start with the premise that the brain often goes on “mental vacations” during any static period. Listen to a lecture and normally your attention span is only so long (yes, even before the pseudo ADD of hypermedia today, this phenomenon was a fact of nature). In the past we might doodle on a page, look out a window, make a “to-do” list in our heads, or just stretch while sitting in a chair… or a pew. Cognitive psychologists know you have to pause at times mentally to process a new concept or idea, or just break for extended focus, no matter how much you are in the “flow” of a learning situation: lecture, seminar discussion, even action-oriented learning. If one takes a break, but wants to stay in the flow, the key is coming back to the learning event before you loose complete focus. Teachers help with learning strategies that provide “placeholders” so people know where they are when they return: outlines, visual media, thematic terms. The bad news is that people who “surf” or “facebook” usually loose that fragile mental bridge to the classroom because they spend too much time away from the actual learning experience and loose their place when they return.
Twitter may be the answer for those short mental breaks and also to give people a chance to capture an idea much like they would as notes on a page. The 140 character limit for Tweets provides enough time to break away, but not too much time so students can return to the flow of the class.
In Mediated Religion, I showed several video “case studies” and also held “micro-teaching” lectures during the seminar class. During those times, even during class discussion, students were encouraged to tweet their impressions or small points they considered important. The tweets went to a designated hashtag (#) on the feed by TweetChat. My teaching assistant then curated those tweets nightly. I did not look at them so the students felt free to express themselves. Instead of circulating the content (since the students could see that material already) my assistant then took the total content and placed that information into Wordle (an online program that converts text into word clouds based on the weighting of certain words). The next night I would come into class with the Wordle version of the tweets the previous evening, which sparked reflection and discussion over the material from the previous night. While this process wasn’t perfect (we did need some Twittiquette on this site as well) at least it was a constructive way of using Twitter for educational purposes.
As technology shifts I suspect there will always be a new demand for nettiqette or twittiquette or some other social control. Yet we can use social media creatively both in the class room and between classes, if we choose.