Will this twittering come to any good?

Twitter is suddenly flavour of the month, as even your Grandmother will tell you (mine told me yesterday, at any rate). Boosted in recent months by high profile twitterers Steven Fry (http://twitter.com/stephenfry) with 122,000 followers and counting, a reformed Jonathan Ross (http://twitter.com/Wossy) with 56k and US President Barack Obama (http://twitter.com/BarackObama) topping the lot with 225k – although since his inauguration he’s been rather quiet. Both Fry and Ross also recently brought Twitter into the real world, the former tweeting (via a proxy) a speech in Apple’s London Store, taking questions from Twitter as well as a live audience (see the #fryappletalk tag stream); the latter taking a random word from Twitter and planning to insert it in the Bafta ceremony on 8th Feb. To give it the final official sanction, the BBC ran a major news item concerning the microblogging site last week following tweets covering the US plane landing in the Hudson River.

At the University of Leicester we’ve been trialling our own Twitter revolution, providing small groups of students with iPod Touches (courtesy of a succesful bid to the JISC HEAT3 scheme) for four weeks, and asking them to tweet their location and activity, and (optionally) anything else they wanted. The aim was to find out more about the modern student experience (where and how they go to study and relax). This is not the first use of Twitter in education, I should note (see Diane Skiba’s roundup and check out the Twitter stream to any conference worth its salt nowadays), but it is still a fledgling area.

Working with Alan Cann (who introduced me to Twitter last year and gives a good intro to it) and Jo Badge in Biological Sciences, and Stuart Johnson in the Student Learning Centre, we have so far trialled the service with a first year undergraduate science group, and (currently) a postgraduate cohort in Museum Studies.

The undergraduate group took a little time to get started, but started to introduce study and social tweets in amongst their location/activity ones (such as ” is rather worried about the assessment tomorrow and is preparing herself for failure” and the rather illuminating “has the words ‘russian bride’ written on his hand, and can’t remember much of last night…. Now for chemistry revision”). 

What’s been fascinating me, though, is the postgraduate group in my own Faculty. A group of ten Museum Studies students, all taking a module on Digital Heritage which I teach on, they launched themselves into Twitter from the word go. It has become their way of discussing seminars, bouncing ideas, co-ordinating study sessions, sharing links and references, etc. (“Reading about kandinsky and art and music. How apt on an iPod”; “will send you those articles about e-games and museums”; “we’ve re-arranged for Wednesday at 3pm” ): watching the Twitter stream is a fascinating insight into the way modern postgraduates operate. Furthermore, their tutor created a special Twitter account of his own, and uses it to make them aware of his availability or any extra sessions or events: in turn the students use it to ask quick questions and clarify points of study.

It will be very interesting to see whether this constant and clearly useful dialogue continues when the iPods are returned in a week – I suspect it will, given that many tweets are sent from mobile phones or laptops rather than the devices themselves – but regardless, it’s a wonderful example of how an engaged, specialised peer group have embraced and turned Twitter to their own advantage.

More results and reflection to follow.

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