I am reaching new levels of understanding the significance of Twitter on education. 

Keeping in line with my interest in leveraging social media to make learning more, well, social, I’ve been intrigued by some ideas I’ve seen shared on Twitter and other blogs that highlight the importance of participating in a Twitter backchannel while you are presenting.  I fully agree that this both stimulates greater discussion and breaks down the formal hierarchy between “presenter” and “audience” (an important element of social/participatory learning).  The question I’ve had is “how”? 

I was really thrilled when I found Keynote Tweet back in January, a simple script that a user can download and integrate into a Keynote presentation which allows for tweets to be sent automatically when a slide is played in presenter mode.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at using it and have since read that a recent Twitter API update has rendered the tool dead.  Boo.  Powerpoint users have more options (double boo, as I’m not a PP user) and you can check out those options on Jane Hart’s blog.

While I really like the idea of auto-tweets being sent in sync with slides, as it is more likely to promote relevant discussion in step with the thoughts brewing in the room at the time, I’m going to have to shift gears until I find a replacement for Keynote Tweet.  If you know of one, please share!

As an alternative idea, I’m going to schedule tweets using one of the many free tools that provide this service.  The two I’ve played with recently include Twuffer, twAitter, and LaterBro.  The concept is simple.  Sign in with your Twitter account, type your tweet (remember, 140 characters or less), and select the date/time you want it to be sent.  That’s it…really.  The only other critical thing to remember is to include the appropriate hashtag in every tweet and share that hashtag in your presentation (in the corner of every slide, for example).  The hashtag (“#” followed by a sequence of letters/numbers) is needed by the audience members to search for your tweets and reply to them. 

Now this isn’t a new concept in the cutting edge circles of social media but it is new to education (at least from my viewpoint).  I see a lot of potential for this practice in presentation-driven environments like conferences but also in large lecture settings.  I think about students who are unable to attend a class and how these tweets could keep them connected at a distance and even provide them with an opportunity to participate, in some way.  The scheduled tweets could be questions you’d like to pose to students that may link back to earlier material or probe for opinions about topics. 

Information Curation
What I’m not sure about right now is how successful this is going to be if the audience at the conference doesn’t use Twitter.  So, perhaps stressing the relevance of Twitter as both a popular tool and a path to developing an essential 21st century skill is a good approach.

Mashable reported yesterday that 450,000 new Twitter accounts are being created daily.  177 million tweets are sent each day or 1 billion each week.  Twitter is more than annoying, superficial updates about banal activities.  It’s a rich resource for sharing resources with your peers, having resources sent to you, following interesting people and organizations — ultimately, curating your own information feed.

Historically, a curator is a person who is granting an important role in a museum, designated as the one who will oversee the selection process of art works that will be included in a particular exhibition.  Moving forward, living independently in the 21st century will require us all to be our own information curators.  I always find it intriguing how much more relevant art-related skills are becoming in our digital, global society. 

Encouraging or requiring our students to use Twitter to curate their own personal learning networks is one of the greatest contributions we can make to their toolkit of 21st century skills.  But, first, we must step up, participate, and learn to curate our own.

Wanna play?  Here’s a good, basic “Getting Started on Twitter” overview written by Dave Fleet.

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