What I learned on Twitter today…
I’ve had this post “cooking” for a while now…and it comes up again and again every time I try to explain to non-twittering colleagues why I bother? I am finally writing it and collecting pieces into this post – containing what is admittedly old news to many seasoned Twitter users. Anyway, here goes for the new and the seasoned: my take on Twitter.
Okay, when I was first exposed to Twitter last year at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting, I thought it was amusing, but could not see that it would be of any use to me. (Here’s a little Twitter in Plain English intro if totally new to you.) Just another trendy app to learn and toss…Alan Levine (aka CogDog) put it better last year with his Twitter Life Cycle graph. Thoughts like “…this is the most ridiculous waste of time I can imagine – blogging in 140 characters or less??”…kept crossing my mind. But, not to be outdone by my professional community of fine colleagues who were, in fact, twittering faithfully at ELI (like @Brian Alexander-Note: when you reply to something said on Twitter, the reply is preceded with @whomever…so your Twitter identity becomes @your userID/name). So I am @cljennings) – even updating in real time DURING sessions…I created an account.
I tried, I really tried to like it.
But having no recent photo to upload (that brown square with 2 blue “eyes” kept staring back at me – the mark of a newbie), not knowing how to find anyone to “follow”, and generally missing the point – I didn’t tweet for many, many months. I read some jokes about the “fail whale” and smirked…. “See…useless”!
Then, early last fall I got an email from Twitter saying that my colleague on campus was “following” me! Following me?????
How did he find me?
There was absolutely NOTHING there for him to follow!
Well, I do try to stay as informed about new tools and apps as I possibly can – in service to my colleagues here and in constant and perpetual hope that I’ll find something to share with someone who will then find it useful to inform/enhance their teaching…
I felt pressured to tweet. “I have to go back there now…I have to learn this. And I have to understand “why?”
I have to SAY something!
I started trying to find people I had met at ELI, like @Bryan Alexander, @George Siemens and @Gardner Campbell. I looked to see who they were following. I started following more people. (I didn’t find that many around here). I have gradually over time increased the number of people I “follow” to 144. Not many by some Twitter standards, but I can assure you that the people I am following often/usually have 140 characters worth of important things to say. I have tried to emulate them…very tentatively at first…and I am still not sure that I contribute as much as I glean from Twitter.
Pretty soon, I found myself on a list (in the UK no less! How’d that happen??!!): Directory of Learning Professionals (& Others) on Twitter (Twitter DOES share your information…but I digress, more on that later). I logged in and joined the conversation going on during the fall campaign debates (the “back channel”!) I watched as colleagues wrote micro-bursts of thought from conferences they were attending, and I sent out a few from the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference last October. I followed the hadron collider (@CERN) last fall (I wanted to be one of the first to know if the world would end! I have signed up for newstweets from Google, PBS, local new feeds, etc…I’m not going to link to them all – I want you to look for yourself!) 🙂 There are indeed connectivities made possible by Twitter that could never have occurred before. Real time sharing… Real time conversation…and not via usual channels.
I…WAS…HOOKED… There is truly not a day that I don’t learn something new and immediately useful. Like today, for instance, I got this link to a wonderful piece on Twitter itself-from Twitter. Most mornings its: start up the computer, get the coffee, and see what’s new on Twitter to start the day. Some people do literally answer the Twitter prompt: “What are you doing?” Others are constantly pouring in news stories, new ideas, information, links, photos, and writings…all things I learn from. Sometimes people ask the “Twitterverse” questions…in a “Twitterpoll”…always interesting to watch. No, I don’t follow every link to every resource. I have learned which people post things worth exploring. And yes, sometimes people do carry on what are seemingly private conversations that leave me wondering why they don’t just move over to an instant messaging service and get off Twitter….the social phenomenon is a little difficult to always understand. Another downside is that Twitter can be a huge time waster, as noted here by Kathy Sierra. Satisfying the need to “refresh” the page (what you have to do to see new posts) constantly throughout the day is quite the temptation….And try as I might to “fit in” I am rarely responded to when I Tweet (even though I have 118 “followers”), so I feel like a wall flower most times. That definitely does not stop me from watching and learning though.
Another IT blogger I “follow”(Jennifer Jones) – on Twitter and at her blog injenuity, has been creating something on her blog she calls the “OnRamp.” She has recently added links to 2 new pieces on Twitter: Getting Twitter (The Lighter Side) followed by Getting Twitter (The Darker Side). If you still don’t “get it” I recommend starting with Jennifer’s 2 excellent pieces.
I do have to say that I am still not sure what I think about Twitter uses in teaching and learning. Possibilities are being explored by many. I don’t know enough about those possibilities yet to share anything of substance. Still looking and reading. Stay tuned for more on this in future posts…
So, the bottom line is that I have found Twitter to be an incredibly (and unexpectedly) useful tool for keeping current and connecting with a much larger community of IT professionals. I have no doubt that others in any discipline could have similar experiences given the time and inclination. How about you? What are you doing….?