E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - Microblogging is a classic web 2.0 tool which
exists at the intersection of blogging, social networking and social sharing. Because it involves rapid, succinct sharing, it is very often used in app versions on mobile devices (see Going Mobile below).

- ► what - Microblogging involves the quick exchange of concise information. There have been a number of microblogging services over the years, but many have now disappeared, leaving Twitter (see icon on the near right) dominant internationally. In China, where Twitter is inaccessible, there are some highly successful alternatives, including Sina Weibo (微博) (see icon on the far right).

Twitter allows users who've signed up for a free account to:
  • post short status updates known as tweets (with up to 140 characters per tweet in languages which use the Roman alphabet) in their Twitter stream, often including links to webpages, photos or videos
  • follow others in order to see their tweets
  • retweet (i.e., repost) interesting tweets
  • converse with other users, either through public tweets or through private direct messaging (though the latter is only possible with users you follow and who also follow you).

- ► why - Microblogging services like Twitter have several major educational uses:

  • Backchannel conversation: during presentations, audiences can use a Twitter hashtag (introduced by the symbol: #) to link together their comments, leading to a real-time backchannel discussion between audience members. This can also be of interest for other Twitter users who are unable to attend the presentation. Some presenters set up an official hashtag and display a live feed of comments and questions on a screen at the front of the room, usually by using a second data projector. Accomplished presenters may attempt to weave responses to these tweets into their talks, though this can be quite challenging to do. A similar backchannel approach can be used in the classroom to gather students' questions and comments during a lesson.
  • Building PLNs: by finding and following appropriate experts and/or peers on Twitter, students and teachers can keep up with the latest developments in a given field of study or research. Twitter is used to spread information virally in many professional and academic contexts (as well as entertainment, social and commercial contexts). As a result, it's a great platform on which to build a personal learning network, or PLN.
  • Quick updates: Twitter provides a channel through which students or parents can receive quick educational or administrative updates from teachers or institutions.
  • Online self-expression & collaboration: Succinct self-expression through Twitter may form part of a literacy exercise for students. Twitter can underpin a number of different kinds of online interaction between students, ranging from collaborative story writing to cross-cultural 'pen pal' partnerships.

Tweet Topic Explorer (2013).png
Visualisation of Mark Pegrum's key Twitter themes (01 Aug 2013)
Given recent media interest in the role played by Twitter in political events like the post-election protests in Iran in 2009, the Tunisian revolution in 2010/2011, or the Egyptian revolution in 2011, it's worth noting that Twitter is increasingly being used as a quick, efficient global communications tool by activists living under repressive political regimes. This may affect the openness of some governments and some educational institutions to the use of Twitter and similar services by teachers and students.

Twitter's own views of how the service can be used are shown in a promotional video released on its fifth anniversary in 2011 (see the bottom of the page).

- ► how - For tips on how to use microblogs in education, see Educause's 7 Things You Should Know about Microblogging and 7 Things You Should Know about Twitter. For a detailed account of how to use Twitter, see Sue Waters' The Ultimate Twitteraholic’s Guide to Tweets, Hashtags, and All Things Twitter. For more ideas on educational possibilities, see:

- ► where - You can quickly and easily set up a free microblogging account on Twitter. Another similar microblogging service is Plurk, while Weibo (微博) is useful in China and/or for speakers of Chinese.

- ► going mobile - Common microblogging services, notably Twitter and Weibo (微博), are available in mobile app versions.

- ► examples - You can see Mark Pegrum's Twitter stream here. You can also see a visualisation of key topics in his Twitter stream in the image to the right. There is a list of experts on digital culture you may like to follow on Twitter here.

- ► variations - Twitter has been made even more useful by a variety of applications that work with the data it generates. You can search Twitter using the inbuilt search box at the top of each page, or using a search service like Topsy. TweetVolume lets you check the frequency of use of chosen terms on Twitter, and Twistori (see image at the top left of this page) generates a list of recent tweets containing key words such as 'love', 'believe' and 'wish'.

If you want to display a Twitter feed on a second screen during a presentation or class, you could set up a hashtag and then use services such as:

  • Social Wall Tool (a simple, easy to use tool showing one tweet at a time)
  • Twitterfall (a simple, easy to view linear display of the most recent tweets)
  • Monitter (another simple, easy to view linear display of the most recent tweets; temporarily offline)
  • Visible Tweets (a dramatic dynamic display showing a selection of recent tweets one at a time)

Twubs allows you to easily aggregate a conversation on a particular topic using hashtags. Paper.li allows you to turn Twitter feeds into a daily newspaper format.

The very popular service Scoop.it displays thumbnails and/or excerpts of shared materials in a magazine-like format; for an example, see the widget from the Ubiquitous Learning Scoop.it embedded on the m-learning page. Tumblr allows you to create tumblelogs, which are something of a cross between microblogs, blogs and social sharing.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about microblogging, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The image at the top left shows an excerpt from the Twistori site, which displays Twitter feeds based on six key verbs. The image at the top right shows the icons for Twitter and Weibo. The data visualisation of key Twitter themes was created with Tweet Topic Explorer. I owe the Twubs link to Terese Bird.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.