Microblogging involves the posting of short and frequent messages.
Twitter is a microblogging tool that intentionally limits messages to 140 characters or less. Twitter users “follow” other users in a basic form of social networking; however, these connections are generally driven by interest and utility rather than a desire to maintain interpersonal relationships. This focus on utility distinguishes Twitter from other social network sites such as Facebook or MySpace.
On Twitter, users post a variety of content ranging from simple status updates to links to academic papers. Posts can be marked either public (the default) or private. Users experience Twitter through a stream of posts from the accounts they follow, and they adjust this stream—by following new accounts and/or unfollowing other accounts—to their taste.
Yammer approximates Twitter but limits networks to people using the same domain name (e.g., georgetown.edu). CNDLS uses Yammer to share bits of information.
Microblogging tools can bolster presence, meaning that participants feel as if other users are in the same space even though they are communicating via posted text.
Twitter in the classroom
Faculty are experimenting with all sorts of ways to incorporate Twitter, which was recently named the top learning tool of 2009 by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, into academic settings. For example:
- Monica Rankin at UT-Dallas finds that Twitter helps to increase participation in her large history course.
- Cole Camplese at Pennsylvania State University at University Park establishes Twitter as a backchannel for students to share background information and questions during discussions in his graduate seminar.
- Mark Tasman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee asks students to follow his Twitter feed outside of class for relevant news items and links to additional readings.
- Gee Akachai at Marquette University uses Twitter to connect her students to professionals in her field of public relations.
- Georgetown University’s Michael Coventry and Jeanine Turner (CCT) recently organized an “unconference” for their large introductory course CCTP-505, in which small groups of students discussing different topics shared their insights and questions to the larger group via a live twitter stream projected at the front of the room.
- This list of 25 Twitter projects for the college classroom offers some additional ideas, such as assigning students to practice foreign languages via Twitter or asking students to tweet in character as literary or historical figures.