I guess I’ll throw my hat into the already overfull ring of people who scratched their heads for months wondering about the value and function of Twitter, and then somehow took the leap to engage in the Twitterverse. Seems like a rite of passage, or perhaps a rite of absolution.
What is Twitter? Do you get it? Why would anyone want to use it? How do you use it? What are the applications in the classroom? These questions ran through my head for nearly a full year, until recently, I – like many others have recounted – took the Twitterplunge. I’ll try to provide a little insight into what finally kicked to put me over the edge.
The first time I encountered Twitter was nearly a year ago at the University of Mary Washington’s 2007 Faculty Academy – a wonderful event put on by the UMW folks at DoIT. At this conference I had the pleasure of seeing Alan Levine talk about Twitter and share some uses as well as his own head scratching journey to take the Twitterplunge…it seems everyone has that story. There was also a TwitterCamp set up for folks attending the UMW event where participants could tweet at each other and engage in some exchange…I watched in confusion. I continued to lurk – inconsistently – at the fringe of Twitter for several months…uncertain and already overwhelmed with more information streams than I could manage. Why did I need this…? I couldn’t answer the question…it continued to stew on the wayback burner.
The second significant encounter I had with Twitter was at the recent 2008 ELI Annual Conference, where Twitter was again featured prominently. The ELI folk had set up a TwitterCamp that could be “followed” by any participants, as well as others not attending the conference. Twitter became a medium of exchange – in the moment – that allowed people to comment and share thoughts on what they were experiencing and thinking about in sessions during the conference. This got my attention. There was an entire stream of ideas flowing among participants that was visible, informative and most importantly…generative. It was a valuable back channel of information and it was here I think I turned the corner on Twitter. I began to “follow” people on Twitter who I saw at the conference, and slowly over time began and continue to build a network.
So what makes it worthwhile for me? Right now there are a few things:
1) I have come to see Twitter as a piece of a much larger conversation. Blogs, YouTube, podcasts…these are all part of a conversation I am attempting to participate in, and Twitter is an interesting complement.
2) Twitter somehow seems to let me learn and get to know a little bit more about the folks I follow. It builds a sense of connection, and for me represents a bit of community building.
3) The network you build on Twitter becomes a resource to support learning and exchange.
4) It allows me to stay loosely connected to folks that I have a relationship with that I might not get to talk or communicate with as much as I’d like.
Yet Twitter still represents a very real challenge for me.
I am valuing the participation as a learning support and a process for connection. However, I’m still thinking that the adoption curve on this one is pretty wacky. Every faculty member I have introduced to Twitter, albeit casually and with hesitation, has rolled their eyes. “Twitter, cute! What do I need that time sucker for?” Perhaps they sense my own uncertainty. No matter how you slice it though, arrival at valuing participation in a networked community is something that takes time and belief that it will be a resource that can pay learning dividends in the future. Part of the challenge – seems to me – lies in creating a context or need where participation in the network becomes a necessity. Are we there yet?