Trawl the Web for tips on how to use Twitter and you will be inundated. There are tips for businesses, marketers, celebrity-wannabes, teachers, etc.
Perhaps a bit less common are tips on how NOT to use Twitter.
I have one such NOT tip and I use a segment of an Edutopia-produced video of Ngee Ann Secondary School to illustrate. But some disclaimers first.
No video paints a complete picture of the story it tries to tell. Ngee Ann Secondary is definitely not representative of schools in Singapore (no matter what Edutopia titles it). Some brushstrokes are wrong too (e.g., Ngee Ann Polytechnic is featured in the video).
Back to how not to use Twitter.
I get that we want to leverage on the mobile tools that learners already have. I support that cause.
But I am critical of strategies that are not rigorous and I refer to this segment in the video above (2min 29sec to 3min 15sec).
Anyone who has been on Twitter long enough knows that an egg avatar indicates a very new account, a mass-created account, or an account whose subscriber takes little or no ownership of it. If you are going to leave a digital trail in the form of a video, leave a wise one.
The example also showed a teacher asking a question and telling his students to tweet True or False answers. What value is there in doing that?
Do we want to leverage on the mobile tools that learners already have? Yes. Should we ask them to tweet when they can answer yes or no more immediately? I think not.
The teacher may have linked Twitter to a poll or quiz and that provides statistics, but the value was added to the teacher. The teacher might state with greater certainty that, say, 62% of the class understood the concept and 38% did not. What is the real value to the learner?
This is an example of technology use in the classroom. But there is no technology integration. It looks cool on the surface, but I think it is harmful in the long run if this sets the standard for practice and if the practice is perpetuated as acceptable or even sold as a “best” practice.
For technology to be integrated, it must be indispensable and bring value to the learner.
If there is some other way of answering a true/false question, then Twitter is not integrated. If Twitter is used simply because it is available as a mobile app, then it is not integrated.
How might Twitter bring value to students?
The cop-out method is to say students prefer short-form communication and to use that in class. That meets students where they are at, but it also keeps them where they are.
What students need to learn is how to be concise, how to summarize, or how to reflect on learning. The brevity imposed by Twitter is a means of achieving that.
To do that requires learners to move from simple understanding to complex and back to “simple” again. There is a construction of information and a deconstruction. The second process of simplification is a reconstruction. These are thinking skills that are far more important than content knowledge.
How should one NOT use Twitter? To do something you can already do plainly, traditionally, or with some other better technology.
How might one integrate Twitter into learning? Take advantage of the technical affordance of Twitter (140-character limit) to create social affordances (negotiate meaning) and pedagogical affordances (teach summarizing or critical thinking skills).
How should we NOT use Twitter? To pander to superficial needs.
How might we leverage on Twitter? Use it to teach students when NOT to use Twitter and how to use it responsibly.
In short, you should not use Twitter because it is cool or because students prefer short-form communication. You use it to teach them how to struggle with a problem and distill concise solutions.