Saturday, 5 February 2011

Getting started with Twitter

It's been really nice to see some early engagement between course participants using Twitter. I'm looking forward to the extra channel it will provide for H807.

That said, I've also been recalling how I felt about Twitter before I did H808. I really didn't entirely get what it was all about. After I'd got to understand it a bit I thought I'd write something which might be helpful for other OU new Twitterers. So, what follows is something I posted in a course forum back in September 2009, but I hope it's still relevant for anyone getting started.

I've recently been dabbling with Twitter, and think I may be beginning to be converted from really not 'getting it', to maybe having an inkling of what it's all about. There are plenty out there who believe Twitter is great for learning... so I want to see what I'm missing out on.

I thought I'd post some basics, and a few observations here, and invite the more active and experienced Twitterers of H808 [and now H807] to help explore its potential and suggest why it might be a valuable elearning tool.

The Basics
  • Twitter is a 'micro-blogging' tool - you make posts (called 'Tweets') with a maximum of 140 characters in length
  • Like everything else 'web', you create an account - from here you can post your tweets and follow those of other Twitterers
  • Twitter suggests you use your tweets to answer the question 'What are you doing?', but reading posts such as "I'm eating a cheese sandwich" is dull (and possibly not very educational!) and so many Twitterers post whatever they like
  • You can follow other Twitterers - this means that any tweets they make are added to your Twitter home page

Taking it a little further
  • You can search Twitter - for whatever you like. It'll return tweets with your search term in (obviously!)
  • You can add hashtags to a word in your tweet, e.g. "I'm studying ePortfolios for #H808 at the moment". This makes it easy to create communities of people interested in the same topic by making it easier for them to find and share info on their topic
  • You can reply to another user's tweet, or address a tweet to them by including @ in front of their username, e.g. "Great presentation by @davidjones at Serious Games conference today"
  • You can 're-tweet', i.e. duplicating/forwarding someone else's tweet, web link or blog post - and it's not cheating! In fact, having your thoughts or comments re-tweeted is a compliment and social currency. Just include RT at the start of your post to indicate that it's a re-tweet
  • All usernames and hashtags in tweets become automatically hyperlinked - so if someone tweets "RT @rob_roy blogging on #eLearning critique", I can click on rob_roy to see all of that user's tweets, or on #eLearning, to see a list of tweets including that tag. This also makes it really quick to move around a community and get introduced to new Twitterers
  • You can add links to your tweets to pass on items which have caught your interest. It's good practice to use tinyurl (or similar) to reduce the length of the URL you paste in.

As I said, I'm pretty new to Twitter. When I had to visit the Twitter web site to see people's tweets, I didn't get round to it much. Similarly, when I only followed one or two friends there wasn't much point - I got more info about them from their blogs, Facebook or other streams. I really couldn't see why it was any use for education. It was 3 things that helped me to start thinking differently:
  1. understanding hashtags and search - allowing me to quickly find tweets that are on topics of interest
  2. getting the TwitterFox [now re-named Echofon] add-on for Firefox, meaning I get updated tweets from those that I follow automatically delivered to my browser - I don't have to go to the Twitter home page (and I don't have an internet phone). There are all sorts of other similar gadgets out there - others with more knowledge will be able to advise better than I.
  3. finding Carol Cooper-Taylor's eLearning blog posting on 50 ideas for using twitter for education

I hope this might encourage anyone who is reluctant about Twitter, as I was. Now, anyone who's already using Twitter have any thoughts on its educational uses? Or on its uses for helping us in studying H808[and H807]?


  1. Hallo Alice,

    your post about Twitter is really interesting and comprehensive, regarding that you consider you as new to Twitter. I am still in the learning process as well, and I am a little bit confused working with two lists now, one for H807 and one for H809 why my tweets that I make for H807 show up in H809 as well, although I thought I allocated them only to H807. I chose the H807 list, send my tweet and it shows up in H809 as well?? Any idea?

    I like your littel trafic map. I once say a similar one from Clustrmaps, but I wasn't sure how to include it in my Wordpress blog.


  2. It took a while for me to get into Twitter, but I found that once I had started following others from the course, the links they'd provide were every bit as useful as the course materials! But it does get a little time consuming!