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Twitter in Higher Education

Twitter in Higher Education



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Published by Tony

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Published by: Tony on Sep 22, 2009
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Twitter in Higher Education
 A recent article in the spoof newspaper
The Onion
(2009) had the title 'TwitterCreator On Iran: “I Never Intended For Twitter To Be Useful”’. Although the piecepokes fun at Twitter’s alleged triviality, it raises a serious point about how usersinterpret technologies in ways that are very different from the uses for which thosetechnologies were original intended. Twitter is a striking example of technology’s“interpretive exibility” (Pinch and Bijker 1984) and is now commonly employed forsuch diverse purposes as reporting, campaigning, public relations, marketing,serendipitous professional networking, and enabling 'backchannel' conversations inconferences.Over the last twelve months, Twitter’s prole has increased dramatically as a resultof its use in two major events that made headlines globally. The rst event was theterrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008 about which many present on thescene tweeted updates. Mumbai quickly became a 'trending topic' (i.e. a subjectabout which a high number of posts were being sent) and the tweets by local'citizen journalists' were used by mainstream media organisations such as the BBC.Use of 'crowdsourced' reports were not without controversy (Herrmann 2008;Sutcliffe 2008), but marked a turning point in the perception of Twitter as a seriousform of social media that could inform more conventional forms of reporting.Mumbai, claimed one report, was “Twitter's moment” (Cauleld & Karmali 2008).The second event was the protest movement in Iran triggered by the allegedelectoral irregularities in the presidential elections of June 2009 that, it was claimed,gave unfair electoral advantage to the eventual winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Twitter was used by many Iranians bring to worldwide media attention therepression of the Iranian state against protesters. A national protest movementbecame a global one as a result of Iranian Twitter coverage of unfolding events
being picked up by twitterers outside Iran, many of whom tinted their avatars greenin solidarity with the protest movement (Johnson 2009).
Fig. 1: example of green-tinted avatarhttp://twitter.com/Joga5
What is clear from these two examples is that interpretation of the technology by itsusers was not conditioned by the 'inscribed' or 'preferred' interpretation of Twitteras a simple status update or notication service. It's interesting to speculate that thechange from Twitter's initial self-description as a service that enabled users toanswer the question “what are you doing now?” to the injunction to “Share anddiscover what's happening right now, anywhere in the world” was, in part at least, inrecognition of Twitter users' varied readings of the technology.It is not the purpose of this study to discuss in detail the wider uses of Twitter andits impact on media practices and political campaigning. Rather, its aim is to exploresome of the ways in which Twitter’s unintended uses might relate to learning,teaching and assessment in HE, especially relevant in the context of emergingresearch ndings that recommend that academics interrogate the potential of Web2.0 and social media to undergraduate and postgraduate learning. A recent JISC report, for example, stressed the value of
lending the use offamiliar personal technologies – such as iPods, MySpace or mobile phones – withinstitutionally based technologies and traditional practice – such as VLEs, face-to-face classes and lectures – in ways that make learning more efcient, spontaneousand meaningful” (JISC 2007: 25). Peter Bradwell, in a recent book on the'borderless university', mentions Twitter specically and argues that “Twitter, the'micro-blogging' site, is developing past its 'what I ate for breakfast' phase into auseful resource for sharing links, brief ideas and commentary” (2009: 29) and istherefore of great interest to educationalists in all sectors.
In section 1 of this study, I will consider the key features of Twitter as well as therange of third-party applications that enhance or extend Twitter functionality. Insection 2, I will cover current uses of Twitter for learning and teaching as well assome of the issues that have been raised about the appropriateness of its use inHE. Finally, my conclusion will raise a number of questions for future research.
1: Twitter explained
1.1: Twitter: microblogging and social networking
Twitter is a social-networking and micro-blogging service developed in SanFrancisco and rst launched in October 2006. Twitter posts, or, ‘tweets’, are nolonger than 140 characters in length and can include hyperlinks. One becomes aTwitter user, or twitterer, by creating a personal account and by posting tweets to apersonalised online news feed, or, as it is more commonly known, a 'timeline' whichdisplays them in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent at the top). The defaultsetting for Twitter accounts is that user timelines are public unless the accountholder decides to make them private, in which case, they are only accessible toapproved followers of that account. If a Twitter user decides to follow anothertwitterer, then they will receive that person's tweets on their timeline. Twittertimelines, therefore, comprise of both tweets by the account holder as well as theusers they are following.Part of Twitter's popularity is its ease of use and versatility; although Twitter a wasdeveloped initially as a web-based platform, tweets can be sent via a computer orvia a mobile phone as an SMS message. On some mobile phone networks in somecountries, users can receive tweets from selected users they are following as textmessages. In the UK, for example, both Vodaphone and O2, allow tweets to bereceived as SMS messages. There are now many free desktop clients (i.e softwareusers download and install) for Macs and PCs (e.g. Tweetdeck, Tweetie ) and mobile‘apps’ (e.g. Twitteric, Tweetberry) for various types of 'smart' phones (e.g. iPhone,BlackBerry, Nokia) that make sending, organising and reading tweets easier.

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