I hit a milestone quietly today. I posted my 15,000 tweet. It’s not a milestone I’m going to celebrate, nor will anyone else, but it got me to thinking. What if we had students with 15,000 tweets?
I’m not talking 15,000 descriptions of their breakfast, or what they are wearing, or any number of fairly inane things, but 15,000 useful links or fragments of conversations with other people. I’m also not talking about retweets, which while useful, are not really me writing anything, but just agreeing with someone else’s statement.
I scanned through 100 of my tweets at one point and realized that I post about 11 words per tweet, not including @replies or #hashtags. So in 15,000 tweets, I’ve posted about 165,000 words, of which maybe a little less than 10% are retweets. I can actually see the impact all of those tweets has had on my writing. I would say that from my first tweets through to my last tweets, my writing has improved; I’ve learned brevity. I’m not saying that everyone of those tweets has been high quality or that 15,000 tweets would be more effective than writing a 150,000 word novel, but they have made an impact on my writing.
If our students took the time I did to sort through information, decide on what’s relevant or interesting, and post it on Twitter, they would become better researchers. If they spent the time in conversations with other people, they would become better communicators and more aware of what’s going on globally. Posting tweets would literally be helping them become informed global citizens.
I read an article that suggested that texting helps improve student’s spelling, and I think Twitter would do the same thing, except it would also help in many other areas. When you send a text message, it goes only to a single person. When you post on Twitter, it goes out to your entire network. The advantage of the network message is that everyone has the potential to give you feedback on what you sent. As a result, your potential feedback is multiplied by many times over text messages. Furthermore, tweets include hyperlinks to other information, and references to other people, and categorization information, all of which are critical aspects of building the semantic web.
There is the argument of course that tweets are shallow pieces of information, but what I have noticed is that as people tweet, sooner or later they realize they will need a blog to act as a container for their longer thoughts. It is difficult to convey a complicated message via Twitter, but you can link to your thoughts expanded and collected in full on a blog fairly easily. So I see blogging as complementary to tweeting, and I think you can easily argue that blogging should help students similarly see improvements in their writing. It’s another form of public reflection, and another way of getting feedback on what you are doing.
So I say, when people ask you if students should tweet away, I say let them. They just might write a novel or two.