As a social media platform, Twitter is extremely easy to use and quick to adopt. Users distribute short snippets of information in a dynamic stream that is accessed on a desktop or mobile device. Twitter’s format options allow for a variety of ways to communicate. Users demonstrate transliteracy skills when composing tweets using #hashtags, @messaging, RT (retweets), micro-blogging, and link shortening and distribution.
Twitter has evolved from a simple message delivery system where users shared odd and seemingly meaningless information. For example, in the early days of Twitter users often shared trite thoughts such as what they ate for dinner, or that they just saw a bird in the sky, or that they had a sore tooth. That is no longer the norm nor is it tolerated. Now users can follow political parties and politicians, national radio such as CBC or Jian Ghomeshi, a CBC radio personality. Professional associations tweet links to policy updates, job opportunities, or upcoming events. Health organization tweet alerts and service announcements. Sports organization like the Giants baseball team use Twitter to connect fans with upcoming game dates, individual athletes, statistics, and real-time game coverage.
Formal Information Instruction Sessions
Twitter’s social media platform is used by millions by choice. It is an organic tool devoid of stiff and formal demands. Learners are engaged in structures, patterns, and language that are familiar and of their own authorship.
Twitter content generated by learners in the classroom is original, real-time, real-world, diverse and highly-dynamic content. Twitter offers collections of digital content that learners then parse, evaluate, and synthesize into new knowledge.
Passive or Active Engagement
Creating a #hashtag for a session allows Twitter to be used as a passive or active learning tool. Learners can engage, view, evaluate, tweet, connect, and produce during and after the session. The librarian instructor designs pedagogical structures for a variety of roles and activities for the learner by task or group. For example: the class can be divided into two groups assigned different #hashtags. Each group is given a specific activity and individuals contribute to the backchannel conversation by tweeting their successes, observations, links to information, answers to tasks, and/or peer-to-peer conversations. At the end of activity, each group can review the #hashtag conversation created by the other.
Twitter analytics are available from Twitter and a few, 3rd party applications. These have powerful real-time monitoring tools that encourage complex problem-solving, audience analytics, and trend transparency that can work for learners in any course, topic, classroom, or grade level.
Twitter is familiar. Though there might be some pushback from one or two students who, on principle, do not want to use Twitter, most are more than too eager to use it or are already using it. The demand on the librarian instructor to establish procedural protocols and etiquette is reduced so that students immediately focus on content and task.
Customize or Personalize
Twitter accounts are free. Profiles can be personalized with specific names, avatars, colours, images, and following choices. During an instructional session tweets are unique and differentiated from others by the use of #hashtags that are assignment or topic specific.
Twitter accounts are open and digital. Old tweets fall off after a period of time so librarian instructors archive a session’s #hashtag in a blog or Word document for review and referencing by the subject instructor and other students. While respecting privacy and some degree of anonymity, it is important to plan for the archiving of tweets. It is important to establish foundational in-class etiquette. For example, tweets must have a positive message and tone. Tweets may contain links to appropriate class materials and resources. Tweets cannot share personal and private information of any peer or instructor.
Twitter is digitally connected to various other platforms. Learners can tweet an Instagram photo of their search results or keyword search string, or link a tutorial video to Facebook or a WordPress blog. This kind of connectivity allows more than one platform to be used simultaneously, encouraging higher-level critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creation. Transliteracy skills.
Using Twitter in an instruction session provides an instant audience for the librarian instructor and the learners. Using @ messaging, #hashtags, and direct access to experts, mentors, associations, and institutions can provide instant visibility for a student’s work.
Posting short messages hourly, daily, or even weekly is not necessary or even advised to use Twitter. Using Twitter as an observation tool, with categories of trending topics, #hashtags, and lists, is valuable.
There is some recent research published in support of using Twitter in education and instruction. The following are practical guides for using Twitter in instruction.
Twitter for Academics: An Introduction, by Katherine Linzy, University of Evansville.
Engaging Higher Education Students Using Twitter by Amanda J. Rockinson-Szapkiw, Liberty University
Twitter in the Classroom: A manual for Teachers produced by the University of Pittsburg