Twitter as Writing Prompt

I personally love the idea of using Twitter as a prompt for blogging. One form of digital writing compliments another. Send students to Twitter to find what people are saying on a given topic and then take some of those quotes back to the blog for responses. They could, of course, simply reply on Twitter, but taking the Tweets to a blog for response allows for more involved reactions and, we hope, more depth of thinking.

Students don’t have to blog to use Twitter for writing prompts, though, not even of the deep thinking variety. They could write their responses in a journal, or they could type them in a word processing document. The act of mining Twitter for ideas and thinking through those ideas in writing will be the same either way.

They might also look for creative writing prompts on Twitter. Photos make great writing prompts, for example, and Twitter is filled with photo-bloggers linking to their sites. One of my current favorites is @unhappyhipsters.

I also love the Twitter-related sites that pull in Tweets for comic purposes, such as the site Tweeting Too Hard. A good creative writing exercise might be to write a scene with a character who might have written one of those tweets (without actually stealing the tweet, of course). Another of these sites that leans toward hilarious is favstar.fm. Not all of the tweets are PG, however. Depending on where you work and how old your students are you may have to select some tweets for them to use as prompts. I believe in standing up for creativity wherever possible, but there is such a thing as asking for trouble.

Use your imagination. Ask your students to apply theirs. The possibilities for finding writing prompts on Twitter are virtually endless.

Twitter and Assignment Management

My previous post talked about making lists to organize the people you follow on Twitter. I was thinking more along the lines of personal and professional networking in that post, but lists can be essential to classroom management of Twitter assignments as well. If you have your classes Tweeting, a list means you can pull up only class posts on one screen. That makes assessing what they are up to as a group actually possible even if you follow a large number of non-students on Twitter. What’s more once you’ve made a list of the students in your class, those students can then follow your list so that they will know who is in their class. Everything class-related can be tied together in a nice package that way.

Another way to manage twitter assignments is through hash tags. Putting a # in front of any term creates a tag for that post, meaning it can be pulled up then within a stream of posts all identified as being about the same topic. In a class researching digital ethics, for example, tags might include #plagiarism, #cyberbully, #timetheft, or any number of other terms students are researching. The tag will become a hyperlink once the tweet is posted, allowing the students to just click to see a stream of posts with the same tag from the Twitterverse at large. It will also allow them to scan through their classmates’ tweets to quickly find information related to their own topics.

You might also consider assigning a class hash tag: #gerald1123 or something that will identify the tweets as belonging to a class group. This could become essential considering that the tweet stream is in constant motion. Unless you are Professor Johnny On the Spot, assessing Twitter projects might be problematic without more than one way to access class tweets.

As with most technologies, the best approaches to Twitter as assignment might be a matter of engaging in a little trail and error to find what works best for you and your students. These few simple items of Twitter literacy could prove very helpful, though, in working through that process.

Twittoum: A Poetic (and Twittery) Experiment

Twittoum by Sharon Gerald  
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Twittoum.mp3 (8597 KB)

Steeped in the tea kettle’s whistle, thinking of the you you made for me,
I toggle my wants and repulsions to the beat of your inattentiveness.
Last night I dreamed I played a flute again and talked, like Yeats, of poetry,
Our love for it and each other large like it was on the day we now call once.

I toggle my wants and repulsions to the beat of your inattentiveness,
Drawing us, each to the pitch of our own uncertainties, toward a single line,
Our love for it and each other large like it was on the day we now call once.
I want to sit for hours in the labor of articulate sweet sound, like this.

Drawing us, each to the pitch of our own uncertainties, toward a single line,
Where we shed the rhythms of the noisy set to keep time with one another.
I want to sit for hours in the labor of articulate sweet sound, like this.
Thinking of the you you made for me at one summer’s end.

***

Thinking of the you you made for me at one summer’s end,
I want to sit for hours in the labor of articulate sweet sound, like this.
Where we shed the rhythms of the noisy set to keep time with one another,
Drawing us, each to the pitch of our own uncertainties, toward a single line.

I want to sit for hours in the labor of articulate sweet sound, like this.
Our love for it and each other large like it was on the day we now call once.
Drawing us, each to the pitch of our own uncertainties, toward a single line.
I toggle my wants and repulsions to the beat of your inattentiveness.

Our love for it and each other large like it was on the day we now call once,
Last night I dreamed I played a flute again and talked, like Yeats, of poetry.
I toggle my wants and repulsions to the beat of your inattentiveness.
Steeped in the tea kettle’s whistle, thinking of the you you made for me.

Posted via email from Just Haphazardry

Twitter is who you follow; Twitter is how you follow

Twitter seems inspire both love and loathing in equal measure. Some crusade to win converts to their tweet streams. Others denounce the practice of tweeting at every opportunity. It’s been called a vehicle for mass narcissism, and that’s one of the nicer descriptions. I won’t deny the accusations can have merit. Twitter can be silly. It can be self-absorbed. It can be boring. It can be an utter waste of time. That depends not on what you tweet so much as who you follow. If Twitter is a broadcasting device, it’s a two-way radio. Talk into it all day long, but if you aren’t picking up good stations in return, it’s probably useless to you.

I use Twitter primarily to discover information. Some people use it more for casual chat, and that’s okay. Still, the main difference in what one person gets out of Twitter and what another person doesn’t get is in who is talking to them. Twitter is enormous. It’s silly to say everything on it is a waste of time. That would be like saying everything in the library is a waste of time because you didn’t care for the first few books you picked up. If you are interested in it, you can find it somewhere on Twitter.

Because I’m interested in discovering information, I follow newspapers, journalists, bloggers, and people who like to share articles on topics important to me. I follow whole networks of people I associate with particular online communities, such as tech rhetors, poets, and Mississippians. The topics are important to me; therefore, the tweeters are interesting to me.

Twitter is who you follow.

This is not to say I haven’t had trouble sorting out what is worth my time and what isn’t in my tweet stream. I have, and I think that issue comes up more if you follow a lot of people, and/or if you follow people who don’t easily fit into a category. I unfollowed someone who is a professor and whose professional tweets are of interest to me because she happened to hate the Saints. I didn’t unfollow everyone who tweeted against the Saints. Only this one person bothered me because she wasn’t cheering for a team. She was just posting anti-Saints tweets every week during Saints games. I decided I wasn’t going to go through a Super Bowl like that, so I just culled her from my stream.

I have no doubt others have unfollowed me for similar reasons. They may have followed me in the first place when I tweeted about poetry, but then they lost interest when I tweeted about Mississippi. That’s okay. Relationships, like information, are transitory on Twitter.

It isn’t necessary, however, to start unfollowing people just because you are having trouble keeping up with the kind of information you want to find. That will all become much easier if you organize the people you follow into lists.

Twitter is how you follow.

If you want to only read tweets from Saints fans during a Saints game, make a list of Saints fans, and watch only that stream while the game is on. Likewise, make a list of people who share your professional interests to refer to when you are looking for job-related information. Make as many lists as you need to organize your stream into manageable categories.

Twitter is one long continuous conversation, but if you’ve ever sat in the middle of a big dinner table trying to hold a conversation with everyone in your immediate vicinity, you’ve probably felt that slight sense of disorientation that comes when one conversation is really several overlapping conversations. Twitter can be disorienting like that. It can also be stimulating and informative. Making lists is just one way to help control which it becomes for you.

Twitter as Assignment

David Carr’s New York Times article, “Why Twitter Will Endure,” reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about classroom uses for Twitter. I found the article by way of Twitter, though by the time I read it and decided to write about it, I could no longer remember who linked to it. This memory lapse in itself brings up issues of how Twitter works, how attribution and documentation work in the digital world–all worthy of discussion in the classroom.

Because I wouldn’t accept “I don’t remember” from a student if attribution were required or even appropriate, I made myself scroll back through several pages of tweets until I found this:

For anyone interested in why Brian Williams is an idiot, here is the link to the Time article in question.

Williams’ dismissal of Twitter aside, Carr makes some great points. I don’t know if I agree that Twitter is really “plumbing” as he asserts. Something new always comes along, after all. I do think it is here for a long stretch, though, and I think Twitter represents a communications style and way of thinking about information flow that will endure for quite some time. That’s why it’s worth bringing to the classroom experience.

Daisy Pignetti, among others, has done quite a bit of research and experimenting with Twitter as a classroom tool. I’ve followed her work along with listserv discussions on the topic for as much as a couple of years. I’ve also seen some really interesting professional uses of Twitter through conference backchatter, article sharing, and real, helpful discussions of academic issues.

Still, I’ve struggled with how to make Twitter work for students. If it is nothing more than a way for me to communicate to them, I can use any of a number of other tools–Blackboard announcements, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. If it is a way for them to communicate with each other, it gets messy, difficult for me to even understand how to track and assess. As a research tool, Twitter is perhaps a little too random. It will lead you to information but not through the most direct path.

That has me thinking about why I use Twitter and why I think it is important. David Carr’s article does resonate with my own experience. Twitter is about who you follow, not about who follows you or even who responds to you. Twitter is a way to receive varied information in one place, to get a sense not only of what’s happening, but of how people are responding to it.

This morning, in addition to David Carr’s article, I read an article about dolphin intelligence (via @courosa), saw some animations of mathematical equations (via @web20classroom), and browsed through lists of iPhone apps (via @mashable) all while doing other things and only casually paying attention to Twitter. This is my equivalent of what my father has done for years in reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’m just browsing through whatever information is there.

I do know who I am following, though, in the same way my father knew why he subscribed to certain newspapers and news magazines. He prioritized based on the kind of information he most wanted to know–local, conservative, etc.

I find people to follow who are likely to tweet things I feel I need to know. Sometimes I follow people because I think they are clever, but mostly I follow for information.

This is the kind of Twitter use the classroom needs. Thus, I think the best use I could get out of Twitter in my particular classroom situation would be to assign Twitter journals. Students would find people to follow on topics of interest to them and keep a journal of the most interesting bits of news and ideas found.

The best way I think would be to do this through blogs. Then it becomes a circulatory process just as it is for many professional writers. Find information within the stream. Write about that information. Feed what you’ve written back into the stream. Watch for reactions. And so forth.

I can see teaching an entire composition class as a Twitter to blog to Twitter to blog to Twitter process. I think that would make for a truly vibrant learning experience for all. Even as just one aspect of the class or one project, though, it would be well worth doing.