By Fiona Strawbridge, on 5 May 2010
I have just (4th May) attended an excellent ALT workshop on Twitter in HE led by Matt Lingard (@mattlingard) from LSE, Tony McNeill (@anthonymcneill) from Kingston University) and Alan Cann (@ajcann) form the University of Leicester.
Now I am something of a latecomer to Twitter – at first I thought it was all about posting trivia and simply couldn’t see the point – why would anyone would be interested in my daily doings? However I have been forced to use it as a student on a distance learning course and this experience has helped me to understand its value from a professional perspective. Now I use it to follow other learning technology types which helps me keep up to date and generally to feel part of a broad and active (and interesting) professional community.
The key, it seems to me, is to identify the right people to follow. I started off with a couple of friends and colleagues, and then began to look to see who they followed. At first you feel uneasy about following strangers (will they think I you are stalking them? will they turn you down?) but you soon realise that the power of Twitter is those ongoing links – the more people you follow, and that follow you, the more likely the whole community is to benefit from improved information flow. As your own network of followers grows you can begin to use it to get swift advice – Matt said that he sometimes gets answers to questions he poses on Twitter as quickly as he would by asking around the office (but he does have 720 followers – not sure this would be as effective for me with just 20). And it you’re concerned about blurring the boundaries between personal and professional Twitter networks you can simply set up two (or more! accounts). For myself I like Facebook as a personal network space and Twitter for work(ish) stuff.
Anyway back to the workshop: the morning session was a Twitter masterclass and showed some of the tools you can use to manage how you view – and post – your tweets; in the afternoon we looked at a few case studies. One problem that I faced was that the tools we were shown in the morning were so good that I was distracted by wanting to experiment and tweet using said tools in the afternoon and so missed some of the detail of the case studies. Slides from the workshop are at http://www.slideshare.net/madrattling/twalt-intro and a really nice set of guides to Twitter are at: http://www.scribd.com/Tony McNeill
One problem with Twitter is that it doesn’t provide the best interface for tweeting – it doesn’t automatically shorten URLs, doesn’t let you edit any retweets (RTs), doesn’t present conversations nicely etc, so I was pleased to discover a number of tools which make tweeting – and going beyond the basics – easier:
Tools for tweeting
▪ Brizzly – web-based; allows you to manage multiple twitter accounts in one go; displays mutlimedia – not just links.
▪ TwitIQ – web-based; login using your Twitter account so one less set of credentials to manage; re-expands shortened URL; shortens URLs when you tweet; shows multimedia; expands conversations as threads.
▪ HootSuite - need to download client; supports multiple accounts; allows you to schedule future tweets and so drip feed them out; has an iphone app.
▪ Tweetdeck - need to download client; feature-rich; allows you to set up multiple columns with different searches, Facebook updates etc; has an iphone app.
Finding people and setting up groups
▪ TweepML - Allows you to find a groups of people and start following them all in one go, or just selected ones (try the list of learning technology professionals – http://tweepml.org/Learning-Technology-professionals/)
▪ Widgets - allow you to embed a Twitter feed into a web page or VLE course
▪ Tweetstats – shows your activity online
▪ Mentionmap – shows Twitter conversations as a network
▪ Twapperkeeper – to archive tweets (I hadn’t realised that tweets really are ephemeral and are removed after 2-4 weeks, so you may want to use this service to archive tweets based on a hashtag, keyword or person)
▪ Wthashtag – shows stats based on a hashtag
HE case studies
The afternoon was devoted to a series of case studies of how Twitter had been used to support learning in HE with rather mixed results. There does appear to be some resistance to it from students but it seems to me there is a lot of potential. Some case studies are available from @anthonymcneill at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/27156556/Twitter-HE-Case-Studies and @ajcann at http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/
As an indication of the power of Twitter networks, although there were only 13 ‘in the flesh’ participants at the workshop, 43 people contributed to the conversation on Twitter through the #twalt hashtag. I admit that my network is small at the moment – I am still finding my tweet feet – but I have come away from this excellent workshop with a better grasp of how to manage Twitter.