The tweet life

“Friending”, “favouriting”, “IMing” and lost in a world of verbs that barely existed a decade ago, the learners of today are growing up in a time when the online social networking landscape is as comfortable to them as the playground of yore. In an exemplary new learning culture, some teachers are now incorporating these media into the classroom routine.


Today’s students live their lives by social media. If teachers take the path of least resistance, they can integrate these new modes of communication into the school curriculum. Expanded interaction channels open a virtually instant flow of information between the faculty and the students, among the students and between the school and the wider world. But how do we measure the value of creating a class Facebook page or sending homework alerts via Twitter? Is Twitter a help or a hindrance? What can we learn about messages embedded in these new social media?


Dr Sharon Stoerger, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

Dr Sharon Stoerger of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is an instructional design consultant looking for pedagogically sound ways of integrating technology into curricula. She investigates the educational use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and Second Life. Her ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2011 presentation details the trend towards using Twitter as an instructional tool for communicating with students via Internet-enabled computers and mobile devices. This is not the only benefit of turning to Twitter in school. Using various computer programs, the tweets can later be amalgamated and captured in pictorial format.


Although information visualisation goes back centuries, in its current incarnation it is barely thirty years old, having arisen from the ever-increasing human-computer interaction that defines our age. Data gathered through quantitative and qualitative research are summarily translated into visual formats so that patterns and anomalies in the aggregate data can easily be discerned. The analytic tools are not only easy to use but also freely available, says Stoerger. A notable example is IBM’s Many Eyes project whereby users can upload their own data sets and receive instant output. The classroom Twitter feeds can therefore be subjected to similar treatment and analysis, and this offers a rich source of information for teachers and students. Stoerger recommends Twitterfall and Tweetstats for analysing class Twitter activity because these tools are easy for instructors to use, and the students also enjoy the real time feedback received.


But there may be a more profound use for this statistical information. Stoerger says that at present her work is very exploratory and that more research is needed in the area of visualising social media data for educational purposes. Nevertheless, “Many of our educational institutions remain rooted in promoting skills that were relevant in an industrial economy. Today, the literature and the popular press tout that students need to acquire a different set of skills – ones that are more aligned with a technology-centric society. However, change is difficult, and it can be slow.”


This was the case with Stoerger’s students. Some did not relish the prospect of having to think about using for their education a tool designed for entertainment. In the first phase of research, the students reckoned that using Twitter:


Increases their communication with the instructor and their peers


  • Enhances their feelings of connectivity to the course
  • Supports the formation of a learning community
  • Increases their learning


At the end of a Twitter activity class, one of her students said, “We’re not going to be replaced by machines. But the individual teachers will, I believe, be replaced by communities of learners. In those communities everyone will be a teacher, and everyone will be a learner. We might not even distinguish between them.”


Stoerger is looking forward to sharing the early findings in her work at OEB 2011.  “My expectation for this conference is that I will learn more about the learning cultures individuals from around the globe are imagining, acquire new ideas about alternative educational delivery methods, and share my ideas and vision about ICTs with others.”


Sharon Stoerger’s OEB 2011 presentation is entitled This Is What Learning Looks Like: Using Analytic Tools to Visualise Classroom Twitter Conversation. She will present her work at the “Twitter and Blogging: Is This Education?” session on Thursday 1 December at 12.00-13.00.


Further reading


Tufte, Edward. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Chicago: Graphics Press, 2001. Print.


Many Eyes

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