Plenty of people draw the conclusion that ‘young people don’t use Twitter‘. Huh? Sure, many don’t, but a growing number do use the short messaging platform to keep in touch with their peers. After all, if you have Internet access, either via your smartphone, or through a infrastructure service, it’s far more cost effective than paying for every one of those text messages (of course, if you have been smart enough to get a Blackberry you can send free IM’s to your BB owning friends through their messenger service).
I find it so frustrating that for many teachers, they don’t see Twitter as a means of communicating their message, and instead regard it as interference; a noise that must be filtered or blocked out. For the tuned in teacher, there is much potential in amplifying the messages associated with their curriculum delivery, and also in branching out beyond the ‘walled garden’.
So, in the early stages for a teacher using Twitter, is it ‘all about the connections’? Maybe, and maybe not. For the Twitter newbie, there aren’t many connections. There may not be many until you have really got the hang of the tool. Just using an app like Twitter is enough challenge for some users, let alone getting comfortable with the social communication aspects. Later on, you’ll soon find some Tweeps to follow – but only when you’ve figured out what ‘following‘ is all about, of course.
What I’m leading towards here is the idea that in the first instance for a teacher who is communicating to a known group of learners perhaps there is, in fact, the need for only one connection – to the VLE. Why? Well, if learners really aren’t using Twitter, then don’t try and force them into it; that just isn’t going to work. Instead, get that Twitter stream exposed to learners through the appropriate course in your VLE. Punch a great big hole into that course with some content from outside!
Many learning environments include the option to include publishing of an RSS feed alongside your learning materials. It’s certainly not a new or particularly technique, and your friendly VLE admins will be pleased to help get something like this setup (they, after all, want to make sure you make the most of the tools the provide for you). There is one important thing to do: specify either that the RSS feed display your Tweets and nothing else, or displays all Tweets that include a particular hashtag (a keyword). In this way, the content is filtered. No distractions.
Next step? Start publishing content – via Twitter! It doesn’t have to be much at first. Maybe a few prompts for learners – reminders about assignments, study tips, or pointers to reference materials, and perhaps some links to external content. Watch it magically appear in our course. If you have published your RSS feed carefully, and explained to your learners why it is there, all they need do is keep their eye on it when they sign up for interesting content that you have Tweeted.