Twitter Basics for Students

Twitter Basics for Students

Have you heard of Twitter? Do you like to tweet? Most likely you’ve utilized social networking websites such as Facebook. So why would you consider using Twitter? To enhance and increase connections with classmates – and potentially your instructors, as you may not find it easy to network with students on other sites and it is very unlikely that your instructors will appear on your friends list. What if I told you that this can help you develop an academic network and support system? By the end of this post I believe you will want to give it a try and more importantly, you’ll likely find it can be an effective personal learning network.

In my post, How Social Networking Relates to Online Learning, I discussed the rise in popularity of Twitter since its launch in 2006. While Twitter doesn’t publicly share the number of user profiles that have been created, there are an estimated 100 million active users each month and it is projected that by the end of the February 2012 there will be a total of 500 million registered profiles. The question then becomes: why is Twitter so popular? It gained a lot of attention initially for its use by businesses, celebrities, and the news media. Businesses connect with and respond to customers, celebrities increase their appeal by interacting with the public, and the media disseminates news and information updates quickly to the public.

Initially students are likely to look at the Twitter network and not find it as “fun” as other social networking websites such as Facebook because there aren’t clever apps or games available. You have followers instead of friends – and instead of clicking a “like” button to indicate your interest in something that’s been posted, you’ll re-tweet it to your profile page. Twitter may also seem more restrictive at first since you are limited to messages that do not exceed 140 characters. While celebrity use of Twitter gains a lot of attention, it doesn't really tell the whole story about the use of Twitter – especially if the tweets contain nothing of substance. I encourage students to investigate, review, and explore the Twitter accounts of their schools, instructors, and other students as a means of discovering the full potential of Twitter to create an academic community.

Twitter Perspectives

Let’s consider some recent academic uses of Twitter and why you may find them useful as a student.

•    In the article In One Online Class, Twitter Brings Students Together, Theresa Billiot talks about the potential Twitter holds to develop a community and from her experience she shares that “it enabled my students to communicate with one another during the semester as they shared their successes and struggles.” One method of accomplishing this is the option to add a photo to your profile – a head shot – that helps to “humanize” the tweets posted and “make the process more personal.” I realize that the thought of including a photo may make some online students uncomfortable if they prefer anonymity when interacting in a public forum, which the online classroom allows.

•    Tyrell Mara suggests, in A Guide to Twitter for Students… Lessons for All!, that “Twitter is about connecting with people you find interesting, influential, and may possibly share synergies.” You can develop a perceptual feel about a person from what he or she shares through both posts and a bio, which is featured prominently at the top of each profile page. As you set up your bio, consider how it provides “an opportunity to stand out among the rest and give a taste of what you stand for,” according to Mara. This is very true – people are more likely to interact with you if they find there is a connection, either through your background or your messages.

•    In 5 Unique Uses of Twitter in the Classroom, Ryan Lytle shares an example from Alyssa Hammond, an adjunct professor at Bentley University who created a social media course. "Students need to know how to use Twitter for their own personal branding because people are using it and really gaining a lot of notoriety," Hammond says. This is a potentially positive aspect of utilizing Twitter – to connect with others in a field related to your career or professional interests.

•    Zack Whittaker noted in Why every student should be on Twitter, that students who are seeking employment or career advancement may find “there are a vast number of Twitter accounts to follow with not only advice, but job offers, and connections to those who are in the industry to sell yourselves to.” I’m not certain I agree that job offers are found on Twitter; however, you can certainly find job leads on occasion. This statement also provides an important reminder that if you follow specific industries and potential employers; you should be cognizant of what messages you are posting and how they may be perceived.

•    Sue Burzynski Bullard, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shared in @Twitter Is Where J-School Students Need to Be how she utilized Twitter in her class as a means of developing a concise message. Bullard concluded that “producing a good tweet also meant employing good editing techniques, including finding the focus of a story and summarizing it concisely to entice others to read it.” The benefit of this approach is that it causes students to re-think the use of short text message phrases and create statements that are easy to read and comprehend by all readers. 

Twitter Tools

Here are some of the basic features (or functions) of a Twitter profile:

•    Create lists – You can develop categories by subject or interest and add profiles to the list. When you view the list all tweets from those profiles will be available, which allows you to quickly scan the updates for information that is of interest to you.
•    Develop a list of favorites – Any time you read a tweet that you would like to save (including your own tweets), click on the star (located above the message) and it will be added and saved to your favorites list.
•    Utilize the Advanced Search feature – this allows you to search for profiles by words, people, or places.
•    Use hashtags – Any time you create a tweet and want to link it to a popular category, use a hashtag (#). You can also search the Twitter stream with hashtags. For example, if you are conducting a career search, try searching for #career and you’ll receive a list of tweets in which the authors have included #career in their messages. It is a method of linking subject matter tweets together for easy access.

Cool Tools for Twitter

If you are looking for additional methods of using and interacting with Twitter, here are some cool tools to use:

•    HootSuite: This free service allows you to view multiple “streams” or your lists, all at one time. It is a quick and easy method of reviewing the latest updates to your lists.
•    TinyURL: If you want to share a link to a favorite website, you may find that the 140 character limit can be quickly exceeded, so TinyURL takes care of this by providing a shortened version of the URL you would like to include.
•    TweetDeck: TweetDeck is similar to HootSuite because you can utilize it to view and track multiple lists. An additional feature that TweetDeck offers is an ability to upload a list of tweets you’ve created and have them scheduled for release at specific times.
•    Buffer: This is another service that allows you to create multiple tweets and then schedule them for posting at specified times.
•    SnapBird: This is an expanded search feature that “allows you to view tweets, mentions, and direct messages dating back to your first day on Twitter, as well as your friends’ tweets and user favorites.”
•    Friend or Follow (FoF): Use this free app to determine if those you are following are following you in return, if this is a personal preference of yours for your use of Twitter.
•    Twopcharts: There are several features available on this website, including Twopscore, which allows you to sign in and develop a score for your profile. This score analyzes your tweets, the number of times your tweets have been mentioned, the number of replies, etc. If you are concerned about how actively present and engaged you are with other users, this score may provide you with some insights.

Twitter has a potential to help you connect with other students, along with your school and instructors. It provides you with a networking tool and allows you to also find resources, including career or job resources. For online students, you’ll find that development of a community is an essential element of success. A Twitter account is easy to set up and soon you too can be posting messages on topics that you are interested in. You’ll learn to develop messages that clearly and concisely convey your intent, which can strengthen your overall writing skills. Are you ready to tweet?

What has Twitter been of benefit to you as a student? Share your feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Kate Kunz/Corbis


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