Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting to grips with Twitter as I enhance my PLN

To those who think that Twitter is a piece of cake, let me tell you that sometimes the simplest thing is the most difficult one to understand and eventually master. Believe it or not, I signed up for a Twitter account about two years ago – yes, you read it well: two years ago! – but I started to tweet last week. I’d been a by-stander all that time. Why did I take so long to have a go at it?

Cat watching bird in cage ca. 1880
George Eastman House Collection
I know what you may be thinking; "Oh, dear, you're just like the silly pussycat on the photo. You've just been watching the bird twittering." Me? No, no at all. Keep on reading and you´ll see there are other more powerful reasons.

Actually, I suppose two misconceptions were at play. First, I thought that Twitter was meant to follow showbiz people and that kind of stuff. Plain ignorance here, you see. Then, every time I tried to use the Twitter web application, I felt alienated by how fast an overwhelming number of tweets were posted. I just couldn’t keep up reading.

It felt like as if I were trying to have a conversation on a noisy, crowded dance floor in which I was surrounded by pogo dancers jumping up and down. Do you get the picture? That’s why I didn’t dare to use the Twitter application on my mobile.

What I find quite awkward about Twitter is that you’re deprived of all the non-linguistic, or paralinguistic, elements that play a key role in a face-to-face conversation. That is, there are no body language, gestures or intonation which you can infer meaning from. Sure, you can still use some symbols to show your mood to your interlocutors. Yet I don’t think there’s much more than this.

Moreover, I think the purpose of Twitter and its design introduce some extraneous elements in human conversation: the issue of brevity, the immediacy of exchanging messages, the disruption of the conversation turns and the skill to encode and decode the messages fast and as they are intended.

In other words, you’ve got to think fast, come straight to the point and type in your thought, fast. No wonder you’re prone to make some unintended typos or other kinds of mistakes (Maybe, this could be turned into an educational purpose). Finally, you’ve got to be able to spot the replies to your tweets in an ocean of unwanted tweets in order to follow your thread.

I just wonder whether there are some linguistics researchers doing conversational analysis on Twitter. They should. I think it could be interesting to learn about how Twitter affects the patterns of social interaction and literacy.

Coming back to the point, all these nuisances make it very easy to misunderstand the meaning of the messages, or give others a wrong impression. What I mean is that, most probably, the sender takes for granted too much shared background knowledge between them and you as the recipient. So some things are left unsaid because it’s assumed that you will be able to infer the intended message almost automatically. This includes recognising any mistakes for what they are.

So, for a beginner Twitterer like me, it’s not being as easy as I thought it would be to get familiar with this tool. I wonder if anyone else doing etmooc is also feeling this way.

Anyway, despite my initial prejudices, I started tweeting all the same. Then about two days ago, after watching Michelle Franz’s BBC again and re-reading Sue WatersThe Twitteraholic’s Ultimate Guide to tweets, hashtags, and all things Twitterarticle, I learnt how to set up my account and send tweets to specific contacts.

I also downloaded and installed the TweetDeck on my desktop. This application made it easier to filter out unwanted tweets. I’ve learnt that you can tweet directly from there and manage your Facebook messages as well. It also allows you to add or remove followers and manage your lists.

Just a few minutes ago, I had one of the most enriching experiences on Twitter. I logged in from my TweetDeck and started tweeting with the tag #etmooc. The thing is that my tweets were getting nowhere because I wasn’t using the tags #etmchat and @etmooc.

In no time, two advanced twitterers, Laurie Renton and Jess Henze, helped me out and I was able to tweet the right way. But then, I got another problem: I couldn’t read the tweets that weren’t addressed at me. I was missing most of the tweets because I hadn’t added a specific column for the chatroom on my TweetDeck.

Again, the same experienced twitterers, together with Sue Waters, gave me a hand. The three of them were very positive, supportive and encouraging. I felt they took care of me. They didn’t need to, but they chose to do it.

By sharing their time and expertise with me, they prompted me to move further in my learning curve. I had to read their tweets and get what they were aiming at quickly. Then, I had to perform some actions to solve the problem quickly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to keep the conversation going. All this process resulted in both learning something specific and creating new connexions with more able peers.

I won’t bother you with theories of learning in this post (good overviews on video are Diego Leal Fonseca’s Conectivismo y Aprendizaje en Red and George Simens’ Connectivism: Socializing Open Learning). I just want to say that I think my PLN got broadened tonight. It expanded not because of the actual number of connexions but because of the quality of those connexions. I think I’ll remember very well what I learnt tonight. Most importantly, I’ll remember who I learnt with.

Now, as an educator, I can see the potential of Twitter as a microblogging tool. This application lets you spread relevant news (for your audience, not necessarily for you) in very few words and fast so that you can reach a broad audience.

A tweet, in a way, is like the headline in the front page of a newspaper; if it catches your attention, you go to the page where the whole story is printed. That is, a tweet is meant to start social interaction and maybe develop conversation in few turns.

However, I still think that if you need to say something wordy or more complex, you’d better use Skype, go to talk over the phone or meet the person face-to-face.

So how can I ‘exploit’ this tool in my PLN?

At this very moment in my own learning path, I wouldn’t use it with (secondary) students. I wonder…
Would I tweet them reminders of deadlines?
Would I tweet them about the topics I know they find interesting?
Would I set a chat room and have them talk over these topics?
Would they feel confident and comfortable enough? (They’re mainly elementary-to-pre-intermediate learners of English)

Would it be appropriate to use Twitter within my teaching context? (In the province of Buenos Aires, in 2006, DGCyE issued a ban Resolución No. 1728/06 on using mobiles at schools)

How would the school community react?

I’ve got too many questions on my mind but not a single answer yet. That’s why I think I need to try out Twitter a little bit more with my peers until I get confident enough to move on.

I’ve just started to use it to ‘spread the word’ about topics and other stuff I know my co-workers find relevant and I got only one reply. I know, I know; I’ve got to be patient. After all, on this side of the world, we, teachers are on summer holidays, you see.

Anyway, I’ll keep experimenting with this tool to ‘find out’ what else can be done with it. I mean what educational purposes and uses can be implemented in my teaching context.

Beware people; now, you’ll see me more often on Twitter ;)


  1. Hi Max

    Most people starting out with Twitter find it hard to get use to initially. I remember when I started that it wasn't until I developed connections and had conversations with others on Twitter that it started to click for me.

    Hang in there, use it for your own personal learning and you'll work out how you want to use it.

    BTW glad my Twitteraholic post helped! You deserve an award for reading through it as it is long!

    Remember if you need help just send an @suewaters at me. In following so many that sending an @ is the best way of making sure I see your questions.


    1. Hello Sue! Thanks for reading my post and writing a comment on it.

      You’re absolutely right. If I want to get used to Twitter, I’ve got to hang in there chatting to others. I’ll try to do so an hour a day - as if I were going to the gym. If I’m in doubt, I promise I’ll tweet my queries to you using the ‘at’ symbol.

      As regards the blogs entries you wrote on Edublog (esp. the ones about Twitter and blogging), I find them extremely useful; a must for a newbie.

      They’re long but they are written in plain English. They include lots of examples and links so that you can decide whether you’re ready to move on and learn something a bit more complex.

      The tasks are simply great. The completion of each of them helps you determine whether you’re ready for the next level or not.

      I suppose you must have spent very long hours grading and sequencing those tasks. Together with the text, they work like cognitive scaffolding that enables you to build up new knowledge out of your already anchored previous knowledge.

      Haven’t you ever thought of turning these blog posts (the longish ones) into interactive e-books of some sort? Well, if you haven’t, I think you should. I’ll read them and I know a bunch of other people who’ll read them as well. I’m not trying to flatter you. :)

      I´ll save the links to your blogs on Delicious (I’m learning how to use social bookmarking, you see) because these posts are for me like dictionaries or grammars. You don’t usually read a dictionary or a grammar from the beginning to the end in only one sitting. When you’re in doubt, you skim and scan these books till you find the topics you’re not sure about. You just closely peruse what you need to learn. I know I’ll have to revisit your blog.

      THANKS for everything.

    2. Hi Max

      Thanks and glad these types of posts help! My main role is to support educators in the use of technology. My day is spent writing step-by-step "How to" documentation and in my situation this are the types of posts I need to write.

      There is actually two Twitteraholic posts and both of them took a long time to write. They've both been very popular; the original one was slightly more than the updated version which is more comprehensive than the original.

      For me the more interesting aspect is the story behind the Twitteraholic post. I don't often have an opportunity to share the thought process of how a post comes into existence. You can read about it here - Once you've read that you'll understand how more amazing the Twitteraholic post is.

      We have considered ebook formats. The challenge is online tools are being updated constantly and the more places you've shared the content the more updating you have to do. My life is spent updating documentation. This is why you've added a PrintFriendly option so readers can download the PDF to read on their devices.


    3. Hi Sue!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      This comment actually shows how important it is to comment. Why?

      As I was reading your comment, I noticed I missed the update to the guide. I’d read just some sections because I’d been lead to them by clicking elsewhere. Besides, I’ve never noticed the button that lets you download the blog entry as PDF. How useful this button is! I wonder where I can get one for my blogs…

      So thanks to this comment, I went back to the latest version of the guide, made sure I wasn’t missing any trick or tip and downloaded it for later reference. I know, I’ll have to go back to that guide.

      Now, as regards the true story behind the guide, pls, read my comment directly on your blog. You’re so right in so many ways…

      Thanks for your commitment and support :)

    4. Hi Max

      The PrintFriendly option is really great. We have it set up so our users can just activate it in Plugins if they are an Edublogs Pro user.

      Here are the instructions for adding it to blogger -

      I'm not sure how many people use it. I think they are more likely to use it once we make them aware how handy it is. You can also use it to email the posts etc.

      Thanks for the comment! I still remember back to that first post and think of my insanity. Writing the post while traveling, juggling work commitments, and with a broken hand (yes it really hurt).

    5. Hi Sue!

      THANKS again. I went to the site and installed the widget on my blogs. It’s simply fabulous.
      I’ll make sure my readers (esp. the students on my other blog) become aware of this widget and get familiar with its use.

      I’ll keep you posted :)

  2. Hi Max,
    My journey has paralleled yours in many ways when it comes to Twitter. @suewaters stuff helped me as well as I am following her. Tweetdeck has made a huge difference.

    For students, the chatroom idea might help them see how things connect in a more filtered environment. I participated last night (my first time ever) and I found that actually jumping into a chat helped me see why this tool works and some potential uses.
    good luck on your journey- I'll be following you ;D

  3. Hello Allison. Thanks for reading my post and writing your comment. You’re absolutely right; there are potential educational uses on Twitter.

    For instance, this tool makes you be precise and concise when you’re typing in your message. Besides, you’ve got to find a way to make up for the lack of the usual non-verbal elements that help you infer meaning in a face-to-face conversation.

    Another interesting issue might be to explore how the participants connect with each other. I mean, the communication strategies they apply to start the interaction, keep it going and end it, how they build their public persona and identity as the conversation develops, how they manage the turn-taking, and so on.
    What do you think? Have you found out other potentially educational uses?

    Maybe, all these topics are not new at all. Yet I think they are relevant in relation to Mark S. Granovetter’s The Strength of Weak Ties (1973) and how technology can help us enhance our PLN.

    After all, though it’s being discussed whether knowledge resides in the human mind, the connexions on the network or some sort of non-human device, I couldn’t help thinking that, up to now, the only ones who can make choices to establish certain connexions are us; the whimsical, irrational human beings.

    So, I believe there’s a feedback loop between us and the technology we use. We adapt technology to our needs, but then the extensive use of that technology somehow affects us. For example, I start using Twitter to send educational news to my co-workers, and then I extend the use to chat with friends and relatives, or the other way around.

    What I wonder is how does the extensive use of Twitter impact on the patterns of interaction these people and me? Does this tool make the ties stronger or weak? Do I expand my PLN? If so, how? Few stronger connexions or lots of weak ties or some sort of dynamic balance is struck? Are the changes in my PLN sustained over time? If so, how?

    Allison, I can’t believe your comment made me think all these things. You inspired me. I’d like to know more about you, so I suppose I’ll be visiting your blog soon.

    Thanks for making me think this lot! :)

  4. Wow, you really said it all in this blog post. Sue is truly amazing, I think she lives and breathes comments and blogs and I wish I were her. What a great job to proctor and teach so much! My experience was very much like yours, except, I thought I knew what I was doing on twitter. Hashtags help so so much! You did a great job summarizing all of my thoughts as well with the twitter chat experience. It's a pleasure to be part of such a great teaching and learning community. Ah, to your questions, through google plus, twitter and blogging, I think you will find that your PLN will expand. That's what happened to me, but not overnight. The more you share, the more it grows. I personally have found my PLN has changed since 2008, some have gone by the way side,some are consistent and some have become what I would consider friends. Great blog. I look forward to your posts.

    1. Hello Sherry!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, you’re right when you say, “The more you share, the more it grows.” I believe as our PLN
      expands, we also grow as an individual and develop as a professional.

      I think the key ‘ingredient here is the human element’ and that’s why I find it quite intriguing that, along the lines of connectivism, knowledge resides in the connexions and that we’re only kinds of nodes…

      Anyway, I’ll keep reading a bit more about this.

  5. Hi Max,

    I have to admit that I actually prefer the overwhelming sea of tweets. As with anything on the internet, there's more content than you can possibly consume. So I always assume that anything unimportant will get lost at sea, but anything that matters will have lots of retweets, people will have replied to it, and if a particular hashtag is trending it will catch my eye as I skim. My approach is to read the first dozen or so tweets, and then skim for people I know who always post interesting things, and for words and hashtags that catch my eye. Sure, I might miss a few things, but I also don't end up reading the posts about crazy lines at Starbucks or public transit grievances.

    The number one think that irks me is the 140 character limit. Sometimes a particular thought requires a second or third tweet to contextualize it or elaborate, and if a person only reads the first one (or reads it before you've posted the second), they might misinterpret the post, leading to a frustrating exchange of tweets that are essentially restating exactly what I said in the second tweet.

    On the other hand, it is a fantastic way to network and create a PLN. There are a number of people who I follow but don't follow me, and despite that lack of reciprocity, I have found out about many useful resources through their tweets. Also, I've noticed that even when I post something really interesting or useful, it rarely gets replies or retweets. The interaction might be one-directional, but it still is worthwhile.


    1. Hello Emily. Thanks for posting your comment and sharing your ‘Twitter-attack’ strategies with me.

      You made me realise that, on microblogs like Twitter, information overflow isn’t necessarily a negative thing. You explained why this is so in your comment: in a vast sea of tweets you’re more likely to find something that suits your needs.

      The thing is that you’ve got to use certain ‘Twitter-attack’ strategies; precisely, the ones you shared with me in your comment above.

      That is, one has to learn to let things go by, stay focussed on one’s aim and follow a series of steps to deal effectively with information overflow. That way, you only pick out what’s relevant for you.

      Thanks for teaching me your strategies.

      Now as regards patterns of interaction, you might find this post relevant:

      “The rule of engagement: Be authentic” by Jonathan Groves, assistant professor, Drury University, Springfield, Mo.

      In this short article, Prof. Groves puts forwards a four-level framework to analyse the types of interaction on Twitter and he goes on to relate them to authenticity and degrees of engagement.

  6. Hola Max, descanso un poco del inglés ya que para mí es todo un desafío. Al leer tu entrada me siento tan identificada con cada cosa que mencionas que pienso lo podría haber escrito yo misma.

    Sólo cuando he participado en cursos masivos pude vivir una experiencia gratificante con TW y en la cual me he sentido partícipe. De otro modo siempre termino usando esta red para leer y acceder a información sin hacer parte de la conversación.

    Agradezco también un par de vínculos que sugieres, especialmente el de @suewaters, para tener muy en cuenta.

    Me alegró ver que nombrabas a Diego Leal ya que ha sido quien me impulsara a meterme de lleno en la red y creo es el gran articulador entre el Norte y el Sur.

    Estaré atenta a tus posts y nos vemos en TW!

    1. Hola Verónica.

      Muchas gracias por leer mi post y comentarlo.

      Escribime en inglés o español según te sientas cómoda. Yo soy de Buenos Aires, Argentina, por lo tanto, esa es la variante del español que hablo y escribo. Si algo de lo que escribo resulta “ambiguo” o “raro” o “poco comprensible” (modismos típicos de los porteños, etc), no dudes en decírmelo para que pueda aclararlo.

      Bueno, a mi me alegró ver que no soy el único de ‘ascendencia latina’ en este tipo experiencias de

      Lamento no haber podido interactuar un poco más con vos el miércoles pasado; realmente, estaba perdido en un mar de tweets, ‘pescando’ los tweets de ayuda que me enviaban algunos Twitterers con mayor experiencia.

      Siento que estoy aprendiendo mucho en un corto periodo de tiempo. ¿Te pasa lo mismo?
      Estoy aprendiendo a dominar la ansiedad de querer leer todo y hacer todo. Poco a poco, estoy 'dominando' el uso del blog, Twitter y Delicious (content curation) en conjunto. Cree unas recetas con esta herramienta: IFTTT. Te la recomiendo. Te hace la vida más fácil. Sue waters tiene un tutorial en:

      A Diego Leal Fonseca no lo conozco en persona. No recuerdo exactamente cómo lo ‘descubrí’ en Internet. Si te digo que vi el video de él sobre el conectivismo (el mismo que recomiendo en el post).

      Entonces, lo googlie y encontré su página web y de ahí fui a uno de sus blogs (por ej.

      Me pareció no solo interesante y relevante sino tan movilizadora (thought-provoking) la calidad de sus reflexiones que decidí seguirlo. Ahí me enteré del CEIBAL y otros proyectos en los que participó y aún participa.

      Bueno, me despido, pero en breve te voy a estar visitando en tu blog.
      Gracias por compartir.