I was driving down the interstate about a week ago when I noticed a billboard I had never seen before. Ashton Kutcher was petitioning for people to follow him on Twitter. I actually researched his efforts and just read that his advertising campaign has gained him more than 1 million followers. The rise in Twitter's mainstream popularity has been amazing, especially considering the site has only been in existence for 2 years. But can Twitter be useful for something other than finding out every superficial move of your favorite celebrity?
I became a Twitter user (Twitterer? Tweeter? Twooter? The jargon is still killing me!) for the last 4 weeks. Before this project, I thought that Twitter was a colossal waste of time. While I still believe that for the most part, there are ways that it can be educationally valuable. I read several articles concerning ways that it could be helpful to me as a teacher. I followed several teachers who used Twitter to collaborate and send pertinent links. I even Tweeted myself, including both personal information and material that could help my classmates, such as the article concerning the Tweeting of the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday.
I learned that the majority of people on Twitter really don't have much useful to say. Unfortunately most of the Tweets that I received said something along the lines of "I am in class" or "I am studying". Am I wrong to think that even the posts about every-day events should be somewhat unique and interesting? I tweeted the unusual things that happened to me, such as my saga a few weeks ago when my car and motorcycle broke down on the same day. However, unless someone knows me or is stalking me that information would not have much value to them. I also found those who do have something useful to say usually say too much. It is hard to find the useful links when there are users sending out several in one sitting! I tended to unfollow any user who Tweeted more than 2-3 times a day.
I believe the main educational benefit of Twitter is as a group collaboration. Teachers can follow eachother and share links, project ideas, lesson plans, and anything else that might be helpful to their fellow educators. Twitter enables teachers to submit their own ideas and methods and get instant feedback. It also opens them up to a social network outside of their own school, city, or even country. Connecting with educators around the world to share knowledge makes Twitter an invaluable tool. However, the same functionality could be performed with Myspace, Facebook, or any other social networking site. What makes Twitter the most viable option is its current popularity, which is impossible to gauge whether or not it will remain in the future. If everyone (and literally their mother) is still a fervent Tweeter a few years down the road, there will be vast social networking possibilities for educators.
There are several negative aspects to using Twitter. The most crucial to me is that there is no way to separate the good information from the drivel. The use of hashtags helps but is often too specific. The main solution I can see to this problem is to create a Twitter account solely for educational purposes and only follow teachers that do the same. However, that would take a great deal of outside effort to organize and might be overwhelming for teachers who are not as technologically savvy ("I need more than one Twitter account, why?"). I also found that I got bored with Twitter very quickly. I was excited at first when I began Tweeting but lately the novelty has worn off. I went into Twitter daily to check the postings for this project, but I rarely made a post. I also think the interface of Twitter can be superfluous, especially if you are following a lot of people who tweet often. As I stated before, I deleted most of the people on my list who tweeted several times a day because I had to wade through so many things that did not apply to me to find the things that did.
Many people are using Twitter in creative and unusual ways, though. Dr. Strange posted the links I found to both the Twittering plants and the Passion of the Christ on his blog. I especially liked the article on the class blog about the professor encouraging his students to pass notes on Twitter during class. I think that would be extremely distracting! Twitter is also being used by police to inform the public about important issues, some of which can be read about here. A few more bizarre uses for Twitter are listed here, including a Tweeting washing machine.
While I can see the positive uses of Twitter, I doubt it will be a tool I will use in the future, personally or professionally. Personally, I am just not interested in writing every mundane thing I am doing and reading similar updates of others. I do not care about what celebrities are doing in their spare time. I also do not see Twitter as being anything other than a temporary fad which will gradually wear off in popularity. I prefer Myspace, where I can converse with my friends without a character limit and can post more detailed information about myself, such as my pictures and favorite songs. Professionally, I will probably not utilize Twitter either. While it may work for other teachers, I guess it is just not for me. However, I would be open to using it in the future in one of the exclusive teacher groups I described above.