Edward, an instructional technologist in Ohio, was generally familiar with Daniel’s research on active learning at his institution in California, but when they met at a conference and had an opportunity to talk, they realized their separate research projects had considerable synergy. Daniel’s research team included two others at hisinstitution, as well as three more people around the country, whereas Edward was working alone on his project. Daniel found Edward’s results very interesting, however, and invited Edward to combine their two projects. Because Daniel’s team lived in various places, they had already set up a number of tools to facilitate communication across locations and time zones. One of those tools was Twitter, a Website that let the team members communicate as a group through mini-updates displayed in blog-like format. The team exchanged e-mail and had conference calls, but they met in person very infrequently. Daniel told Edward that Twitter helped the group stay connected in ways that other means did not. Edward was skeptical at first. He set up an account, added the other researchers as friends, and startedparticipating in their Twitter posts, or “tweets.” All were short (tweets are limited to 140 characters), some had nothing to do with the research, and many referred to people, events, and even long-standing inside jokes that Edward knew nothing of. For the first week or so, Edward felt very self-conscious posting tweets. He kept with it, though, and found that the more he used the site, the morevaluable it became—his understanding was cumulative. Even though he couldn’t pass fellow researchers in the hall and exchange a few words, those exchanges happened electronically. He soon understood their jokes and references, and he found himself checking Twitter even before he read his e-mail. Through Twitter, Edward came to understand how Daniel had earned his reputation as not only abrilliant researcher but also an effective team leader. In his Twitter postings, Daniel was able to provide the team with guidance and support while being casual and at times extremely funny. Over the weeks and months of the project, Twitter allowed Edward to experience the dynamic of the research team, developing a sense of who the individuals were—both personally and professionally. He found he was ableto discern their moods and how well their research efforts were progressing. When Edward finally met the full team at a conference, he felt as though he already knew them.
What is it?
Twitter is an online application that is part blog, part social networking site, part cell phone/IM tool, designed to let users answer the question “What are you doing?” Users have 140 characters for eachposting (or “tweet”) to say whatever they care to say. Many tweets do answer the question of what the user is doing, but plenty of others are responses to other tweets, pointers to online resources that the user found interesting, musings, or questions. Similar to social networking sites like Facebook—which has itself evolved to include mini-updates—Twitter lets users create formal friendships,which collectively establish numerous and interconnected networks of users. In addition, Twitter works with cell phones and other SMS clients, making it an easy way for mobile users to stay in touch virtually anywhere.
Who’s doing it?
Although Twitter launched in March 2006, the number of Twitterers and the amount of attention the site has received grew considerably in the first halfof 2007. A lot of people are talking about it, and plenty are using it, including some presidential candidates, well-known high-tech gurus, and celebrities. Although it’s unclear whether college students are using Twitter in large numbers, many IT professionals in higher education have become active users, as have a number of faculty. In many cases, a Twitterer is not an individual but a group of...