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IBLC 10 - Question - Do you use Twitter?

I'm finding that a lot of people actively avoid Twitter.  I wondered about people attending...

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David Rush
4 June 2010

I'm finding that a lot of people actively avoid Twitter.  I wondered about people attending this conference.  I checked the first 17 people on the conference Cloudscape.  Only 7 gave a Twitter user name. Perhaps some have a Twitter user name but didn't want to display it on their profile. But this tiny straw poll does rather confirm my impression.

I'll update the numbers as more people join the conference.


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I expect there are lots of Blended Learning types who obtained twitter accounts to try out the medium but then simply didn't use them and don't want to expose an empty account. Others probably tweet outside the HE context and don't think it appropriate to mix their audience. For example, I don't suppose anyone here is interested in (@hertfordscouts). This may explain the low twitter count . 

William Worthington
21:58 on 16 June 2010

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Mark Russell
9:14am 7 June 2010

Hi David, I've been in and out of Twitter for various reasons.  But it's interesting  to note your observations about twitter names not showing up / being given.

Another interesting thing too - I still get new followers even though I haven't tweeted for a very long time :-)



Sarah Flynn
12:03pm 7 June 2010

HI David

I'm a reasonably recent convert to Twitter having tried it for the first time for conference last year. I mainly tweet in a work capacity but occassional ramblings (as much as you can ramble in 140 characters) off-work topics too.

I still think that it has unexplored potential (for me) and looking forward to learning more.


Steve Bennett
2:26pm 7 June 2010 (Edited 2:29pm 8 June 2010)

Hi all

Personally I don't - and what's more, I have some research to back it up!.  I for the life of me cannot see how text messaging, which is what Twitter is, can possibly help learning. Whenever you text, you are basically in a situation of divided attention.  How can you possibly **learn** anything in that situation?

Below are a set of links I have taken from a page on the California State University of Sacremento's Teaching Institute page (How Multitasking Affects Human Learning)

I have copied the links there, below:

 The effect of multitasking on grade performance.pdf

 Multitasking - The good, the bad, and the unknown.pdf

Stanford study of multitasking

Tom Angelo: No such thing as multitasking

Marija Cubric
1:44pm 8 June 2010

Thanks for the links Steve

The effects of multitasking in a project environment have been studied for many years and the research shows that switching between two or more tasks, not only causes delays but reduces time that the individual spends on 'value-adding' work (Cohn, 206)

Mark Russell
3:01pm 8 June 2010

Hello Steve,

As usual - thought provoking and 'edgy'?  Can I push you slightly? Oh, I'm not a great fan of Twitter by the way. I have stopped using it, for various reasons. But here goes a response...

Is Twitter 'really' like texting? Typically texting  is one-to-one. Sure we can include multiple recipients in texting but typically (my use of texting anyway) is limited to one or, at best, a few recipients. Twitter offers the potential to connect (immediately) with a large number of recipients. In doing so I am not only sharing thoughts, ideas, (short as they might be)  but I'm also using the tool to develop my Personal Learning Environment. (Oh, and please, please don't think that's a plea for another run on the 'VLE is dead debate'. Trust me, it's not).

I can add hashtags to my tweets which then allows me to quickly aggregate the thinking, ideas on the hashtag topic. Can I do that with texting?

I'm genuinely not convinced that Twitter is the answer to many things, but I think the has the potential to do something.  You list Tom Angelo in your references. What about using Twitter to respond, using technology, to some of his Classroom Assessment Techniques?

I'm sure we've had this discussion on our Ning but it's useful; to look at the Twitter potential now (12 months on)

Thanks for the links. Really useful. Will come back to these later.





Sarah Flynn
3:29pm 8 June 2010

I am still relatively positive about Twitter - not perhaps as a tool for the conventional full time, school leaver undergraduate but it certainly has a role for me in developing my professional understanding of what is going on in the field.

I suppose it depends by what you mean by "learning" Steve - I learn something almost everytime I log onto Twitter. Not all of it useful, interesting nor that will stay with me eternally but more often that not something that arouses my curiosity and I definitely thinking that there is a place for a tool that can do that in my learning armoury.


Steve Bennett
6:58pm 8 June 2010

@Maria: precisely!  As per the Tom Angelo video, humans simply cannot process two strands of information simulateneously.  They can only switch between the two tasks.  And that is cognitively inefficient.

@Mark: I take your point about classroom activities.  But aren't there much more efficient ones?  EVS?  Raising hands? Asking questions (using one's voice)?

@Sarah: Yes, learning has broad meaning.  The kind of learning I am talking about is the learning of hard, complex and new things.  And specifically to people for whom these things are unfamiliar and difficult.  This is the area where there is a massive gulf between the true learner, and even the most empathetic and understanding of academics.  Basically the academic is **already** expert.  Their brains (should) have a very rich and well established set of neuronal connections.  They find it very easy to add new things to the deep understanding they already have. 

Therefore, when an expert says "learning" - so a certain extent, it is more a case of "updating" or embellishment of what they already have.  Or in other words, a dialogue with a set of other experts.

However, to the novice learner, I would argue, a load of decontextualized 140 character snippets is actually going to be very challenging to integrate into their (ongoing) learning.  For them, learning genuinely is re-engineering their brains. Therefore, they don't possess the pre-existing established depth of knowledge to be able to comfortably integrate such tweets into their understanding.  Therefore, given that cognitive resources are scarce, I would rather they apply them as deeply and as undividedly as possible.

TBH, if they really are tweeting during a lecture, while the lecturer is speaking, I seriously cannot think of a more inefficient educational practice.

Marija Cubric
7:54pm 8 June 2010 (Edited 1:34pm 9 June 2010)

twitter is about a digital trace, isn't it? Can that be useful in the educational context? Perhaps as a tool for supporting group work? (No I would not like to be a 'follower' in that scenario!:) Or maybe a simple electronic voting tool?

Robert Farrow
11:41am 9 June 2010 (Edited 11:47am 9 June 2010)

I think Twitter can be a useful research tool for the following reasons:

1. It allows for highly personalised communciation channels which let you keep up with developments in a particular field: academics, journals, etc...

2. Furthermore, it allows for the odd moment of serendipity, when you find a connection you hadn't apopreciated before

3. It can be used a kind of diary of ideas - one which it is impossible to lose.  Sometimes inspiration comes at inopportune moments - here's a way of capturing thoughts.  If you don't want people reading it, don't let them.

In a teaching context, it's use as a feedback tool has probably been overstated.  But much depends on learning preferences.  I don't think that students should be Tweeting during a lecture, but sharing thoughts through a dedicated hashtag might well be a useful exercise, not least for the lecturer.  It can be quite hard to get students to contribute this way over, say, email.  But a Twitter post isn't really a big ask.  Moreover, it can be good to encourage brevity if it is the result of focused thought.  An archive of these kinds of discussions could prove to be a useful learning log by which students can get a sense of their progress through the posing and resolution of questions.


Robert Farrow
11:47am 9 June 2010


I've added some links on the use of SMS in learning which may be of interest.  For what it's worth, I belive there are quite significant differences between Twitter and SMS.

One more thing - if trying to do more than one thing at once is such a bad idea, do you think students should take notes during lectures, or just listen?  Is taking notes any more distracting than  writing a Tweet?

Will Pollard
12:02pm 9 June 2010

There are times when I just concentrate on Twitter.

Steve Bennett
12:38pm 9 June 2010

@Robert: where are the links?  I can see some value in the encouragement of brevity.  So I can concede, getting students to sum up the 3 main points of a presentation in 3 tweets could be valuable (but on the other hand, that is also something that could be done on a discussion board or via email).

However, regarding two things at once, there is massively less context and task switching between writing on paper (most of the skills required for which are automatic - say writing, and moreover, do not even require eye contact between the person and the paper being written on - as opposed to tweeting which requires at the very least, a wholesale focussing on a particular piece of technology (computer or phone), during the typing of which, you cannot be in any serious way engaged with what is being spoken.

Thought experiment: think of your self in a room and you are speaking to someone who every so often writes something down.  Now imagine that same person every so often texting (or tweeting) something.  Which activity (writing or texting) involves the greatest disruption to the act of communication between you and that person?

Robert Farrow
1:02pm 9 June 2010


I really don't see that there's a difference.  Just because someone uses a pen it doesn't follow that the act of communication is less disrupted - and vice versa.

Writing on a computer or phone is a skill that most people have to concentrate on not because it's intrinsically more difficult but because we didn't grow up using them.  We used pens as children and it took us literally years to learn how to do it automatically.  But for future generations this may not be (or, more strongly, it is unlikely to be) the case.

It's not a matter of efficiency - in courtrooms, for example, the court cleric writes their notes in exactly the way you describe using a piece of technology with a keyboard. It's not two-way communication, but neither is a lecture.

Furthermore, what if I have a disability which means I find it difficult to take notes with pen and paper?  Would this be a sufficient criterion for you to 'disrupt the act of communication'?  Is it just the fact there's a (maybe noisy) keyboard involved that bothers you?  What if I'm writing my notes on a tablet PC/iPad with a stylus and then sending them to Twitter?  Is that less disruptive?

Your original objection was against multitasking and you now seem to be saying that it not about the fact that someone might be doing two things at once, but the kind of thing you're doing (and the level of cognitive adjustment involved in switching).  Personally, I think you've rather overstated the difference between writing and typing and overlooked the fact that some people are able to process information and make typed notes at the same time.  I'd be quite interested to know what you think an undisrupted act of communication is like, especially in a pedagogical context.

(Links in Cloudworks appear at the top in the next colum to the right.)

Steve Bennett
2:14pm 9 June 2010 (Edited 2:14pm 9 June 2010)

I can actually touch type - I am not looking at the keyboard while writing this.  However, recently I marked a set of students powerpoint spoken presentations (recorded).  I found I could easily write feedback on paper while listening to the presentation using a pen - in a way that I (even though I can touch type quite easiy) cannot using a keyboard.  In the Tom Angelo video he says there are things we can do simultaneously: like walking down the street while conversing on a mobile.  But that is only because the one is so automatic that in effect we are only doing one thing.  I am merely stating that to my, anecdotal thinking, writing on paper is more automatic than typing or texting.  However, we don't just need anecdotes.  Look at the research:

The effect of multitasking on grade performance.pdf

It is plainly clear hear, that attempting to multitask results in deteriorating performance.  To quote:

"The students participated in a class lecture and afterwards were given a quiz covering the lecture content. One-half of the participants were allowed to multitask in the form of texting during a class lecture, while the other half of the participants were not. Our findings indicate that the exam scores of students who text in class are significantly lower than the exam scores of students who do not text in class. Thus, multitasking during class is considered a distraction that is likely to result in lower grade performance."

The students participated in a class lecture and afterwards were given a quiz
covering the lecture content. One-half of the participants were allowed to multitask in the form
of texting during a class lecture, while the other half of the participants were not. Our findings
indicate that the exam scores of students who text in class are significantly lower than the exam
scores of students who do not text in class. Thus, multitasking during class is considered a
distraction that is likely to result in lower grade performance.


Mark Russell
2:30pm 9 June 2010 (Edited 2:45pm 9 June 2010)

Great discussion - thanks for being so active Steve, Robert et al.

I was thinking about this post last night and was reminded by the work of Wittrock (spell)- it's cited in Biggs' book. Where he talks about the importance of activity. And that the higher levels of activity (in this case with text) led to improved performance.I'll dig out the reference. The higher levels of activity on the text ranged from (from memory) underlining important words through to restructuring sentences.   Again, ref missing (I'm at my desk most of my text's are at my flat), but there is something about information in short term memory needs processing for it to be transfered into longer term storage. I just see a 'possible' role for Twitter here. I accept that multi-tasking might not be optimal - indeed I'm not advocating it, but tweets don't have to be done whilst we are lecturing. As you say Steve, and as I advocated a while back, it would be highly appropariate to ask students to tweet the three most important things to come from the last  30 minutes of the session- (being mindful of Bligh's work on the use of lectures!).




Marija Cubric
2:38pm 9 June 2010 (Edited 2:41pm 9 June 2010)

Just a thought on  this increasingly interesting discussion - a new theory of learning, called  'chaotic learning' suggests that " the inclusion of learning materials with elements of chaotic learning is beneficial to all stakeholders in the educational process. " (Schoenborn and Neal, 2010) 

David Rush
3:43pm 9 June 2010

My innocent query that started this discussion seems to have opened up lots of issues.

Even though I'm presenting (with Bex Lewis) on Twitter I can see considerable limits to its applicability in HE; more so than Bex as she may say.  For me what this discussion is uncovering is that there are many different
approaches to the delivery of learning and they may vary dramatically in their use of technology.  For instance consider  the statement:   "do we want students to use Twitter in lectures?".  First off do we have lectures?  It might be that a lecturer delivering a particular subject, to a particular audience might judge lectures to be most inappropriate.  Especially if they have a  social constructive cast to their pedagogy.  Using Twitter?  For what?  If it's tweets about breakfast then presumably not helpful.  But looking up tweets using a class defined hashtag?  Tweets to a class audience?  These might well fit into certain approaches.    

I haven't yet had a chance to follow the posted links nor to check out the intriguingly named  'chaotic learning' but thanks for introducing me to them.

On the issue of multitasking, I find that whatever the research says about its effects, many students think that
they can do it.  I suppose in a limited way so do I in that I often have Radio 3 on in the background whilst working.
But my students tell me they work with the television on, and also answer emails, post to Facebook and  so on at the same time.  It may well not be effective but it's what they do.  How do we encourage them to do something different?
Coming back to my original query, the numbers now are still 7 who admitted to being on Twitter and 13 who didn't mention it.


Marija Cubric
4:09pm 9 June 2010 (Edited 4:10pm 9 June 2010)

Hi David

re: your original query, I have a twitter account/username, had been using it not very activelly for about couple of months (last year) and stopped as found the traffic increasingly heavy and decreasingly useful (not implying that it cannot be useful in a particular learning scenarios such as already mentioned 'groupwork' log of activities, or as a simple electronic voting system )



Bex Lewis
11:39pm 9 June 2010 (Edited 8:29am 10 June 2010)

What a great discussion, I look forward to having a chance to read fully, and see how much of this we can bring into our discussion next week...

In March I did a webinar for JISC on the use of Twitter:

I've just returned from a 3 day conference where we finally got people using Twitter, and I think this is the type of event where it has it's strongest use: Personally, I find Twitter incredibly useful, but (as with all tools), it's not for everyone and it's not for every purpose! But for this conference, there was a buzz growing about the potential to allow Twitter to contribute to the debates - the conference gets some big hitters from the media world, and the delegates, if lucky, get to ask one question... Twitter would expand this! 

Twitter gives me access to up to date information, provides a source of informal learning, I can use it on the move, and some students have used it to ask queries on their assignments (as they know I have quicker access to it than my University email). It has given me material to use in job interviews, in discussions, for conferences, and has led to ongoing conversations with people which have led to co-presenting a paper with James Clay (who I hadn't met in person), and the source of a 0.5 contract for the next year...  It's use in the classroom, however, that's harder to classify, and I'm not sure that this is what we'll be suggesting...

Thanks for your contributions to the debate!


Guy Saward
10:42pm 11 June 2010

@Mark - yes, Twitter is basically just texting - emphemeral communication in an established network of connection - with a few added twists on how the connections are formed.  Even the EVS applications is similar to text voting.

Personally I use social bookmarking much more to track and share useful information, e.g. and have been adding to my collection after reading this - thanks folks.

I don't have an open Twitter account as I don't want it to be another channel that I have to continously monitor for urgent interrupts - try "Getting things done" for a view on how multiple channels slow you down.


Chris Kirkland
5:53pm 13 June 2010

Twitter is useful for things that are happening now. I find it useful for astronomy and space events. It is also handy when people with similar interests find an interesting website and put the link there.

Leon Cygman
10:33pm 13 June 2010

I used to be quite critical of Twitter, not understanding its purpose. I thought most of the post I read were quite egotistical and self-centered. (you can read my blog posts about it at The Technology Around Us). Then I came across an article that made me realize that there could be some useful way to use Twitter. It was called found at "Don't tweet that: How not to be a Twitter dork." It explained the better ways to use Twitter and then it all made sense to me - it's not the tool I did not understand, it was the way most people are using it.

Leon Cygman
10:33pm 13 June 2010

I used to be quite critical of Twitter, not understanding its purpose. I thought most of the post I read were quite egotistical and self-centered. (you can read my blog posts about it at The Technology Around Us). Then I came across an article that made me realize that there could be some useful way to use Twitter. It was called found at "Don't tweet that: How not to be a Twitter dork." It explained the better ways to use Twitter and then it all made sense to me - it's not the tool I did not understand, it was the way most people are using it.

David Rush
11:06am 15 June 2010

A tweet from Steve Wheeler led me to this nice apologia for Twitter


Gráinne Conole
9:57am 16 June 2010

Hi I use Twitter alot and find it useful to have tweetdeck on my iphone. One of the things I like about it is that you can dip in and out and not feel that you have to keep up with everything. I also find it useful to set up special searches to keep an eye on particular individuals and/or hashtags.

Robert Manderson
1:28pm 16 June 2010


My 'tweets-worth' on this thread is that although I have a Twitter account, I haven't made use of it because it has been 'crowded out' by my use of Facebook and other 'cloud' information sources which are more educational and 'fun' in my view e.g. Wikis.

As an awareness 'feed' of interesting others' activities, I find it useful and informative e.g. 'following' a previous employing professor in my subject domain which indirectly keeps me at least partially in touch with the 'pulse' of research and related activities.

I'm open-minded as to Twitter's applications, including 'pedagogy'', but see the small granularity and high (or low) frequency of the 'messages' as a problem in the sense that this form of information 'presentation' lacks 'context' and thus the 'structures' necessary for 'efficient' 'comprehension' on the part of the learner.

Best wishes, Rob

Guy Saward
1:43pm 16 June 2010

As an update, I have opened up my tweets so I could contribute at the conference. I need to decide whether I want to continue to use this as a professional communication channel and work out how to stop fragmentation, or whether to close it up again afterwards - but hope all the new people following me find it useful.

As an additional aside, I have used twitterfeed to selectively tweet new delicious resources but am not sure of the value of this.

Bex Lewis
3:09pm 16 June 2010

If you're interested, there's a record of the Tweets from this conference being collected:

William Worthington
10:01pm 16 June 2010

oops- probably should have made a comment rather than added content.   -bill

William Worthington
10:01pm 16 June 2010

oops- probably should have made a comment rather than added content.   -bill

Julia Wells
8:49am 22 June 2010


I have decided to investigate using Twitter in education for the OU course H800, so I have found this cloud valuable, thank-you.

The following research indicates the learning advantage of using SMS :Thornton, P. and Houser, C. (2005) ‘Using mobile phones in English education in Japan’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol.21, no.3, pp.217–28

By extension, it seems to me that using Twitter to drip daily information to English language learners could help with certain topics, for example, Tweeting a phrasal verb in context. Students could respond by using it in their own phrase.

As my students are overseas, Twitter also has a cost advantage. 

Finally, I find that I Tweet when I'm bored, and waiting for something, therefore not in a  multi-tasking situation. Its big advantage, via a smartphone 'app', is that it is mobile, and therefore suited to filling these frustrating parts of our lives.

Marija Cubric
8:47am 28 June 2010

@ steve

Interesting link about brain processing linear vs 'hyperlinked' information

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