We are hearing a lot of feedback from our UDG Agora participants that many of their efforts to have their students use twitter fall short “They don’t like it”, “They won’t go there”, “they prefer Facebook”.

I have zero surprise.

If you send anyone to twitter for the first time telling them to “make and account and tweet”, I almost guarantee a rather dismal first experience.

On the other hand, after answering those questions on Facebook, right away you get gratification with suggestions, connections. For all of the foul things I might say about Facebook, it gives you something personal right away.

What do you get in Twitter? Suggestions of celebrities to follow.

My own first experience in Twitter in January 2007 was pretty much “This is the stupidest thing I’ve seen”– it took time, and a bit of seeing what others were doing to climb what I called the Twitter Life Cycle

The benefits of twitter as a network takes time and persistence to reveal itself, and that is not going to happen in one class or likely even in one course.

To me it’s not a matter of one service versus another. If you are looking for an environment that focuses within a defined group of people (family, friends, people who went to the same school, a course). Facebook does this well. There is some amount of porosity as friends of friends may find their way in, but it seems geared towards fostering connections among people who come in with similar affinities.

But if you are looking to enable the serendipity and potential for connecting with people and organizations that seem pretty far from your circles, to create the possibility of having a class that connects outward, to me twitter does that better. I’d say too that you have more tools and ways to mix and match content in twitter (and do things like the Twitter TAGs archiver). Facebook’s goal is to keep you and your data inside its tent. Twitter works much better for mobilizing activists, the news of the conflicts in Ferguson Missouri in 2014 was dramatically different in these spaces– see How Facebook and Twitter control what you see about Ferguson.

The conventional wisdom, and I do not totally disagree, is to “go where the students are.” The disagree part is that we are not hear just to cater to students preferences, we are also here at times to get them to go beyond their norms and comfort zones, the place where learning happens is usually not in the space known and comfort.

As a destination, twitter does not offer enough affordances to just send people there. Your use of it out to be tied to very specific purposes, tasks, missions, and maybe a bit of structured activity to help students move up on that curve. This was some of the discussion in today’s UDG Agora hangout session from a question in the last 10 minutes from Penelope

Yes, I have by biased preferences towards twitter. Guilty. My suggestions included:

  • The first experience needs a structure. I usually try to have all the students follow each other, give them a specific introductory task, and task them with both speaking (tweeting), but listening, and replying.
  • Pay attention and give attention to their first tweet. And second. Also call out and highlight their work by retweeting, though it’s better to add some context rather than just retweeting.
  • Do what you can to connect and bring in outside experts or just participants. Twitter falls over for new people when they feel like no one is listening– but the whole experience shifts when they get a reply from someone far away. Use your own network connections to introduce students, or to invite others in. And tap into people with larger networks (like Nancy).
  • Have them do a lot of things with photos This is some of the reason we did the meme studios, but photos in twitter have a huge impact. They create a sense of occasion and are an easy way to contribute.
  • Create a lot of small missions– things for them to do and document. We do that in the Daily Try.
  • Use hashtags It’s not only a way to organize activity (see the new studio on tools for capturing, curating, chasing tweets), but introduces a bit of the vernacular of twitter, that hashtags are a signal maker.

I have no guarantees of success. So also know when to bail out. All of these projects are about trying new methods in your teaching. None of us are going to say absolutely that one technology platform is better than another. What’s more important are the contexts you create for what you want your students to do in these spaces, not expect the platform itself to provide the experience.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Those are all good advices, Alan. I am always suspect of the pronoun “they,” as in “they don’t like it.” That is usually not a scientific survey; it’s a couple of squeaky wheels getting more of the teacher’s attention than is warranted. Education is not about keeping students inside their comfort zones or peer grumbling zones.

    If Twitter is on the Syllabus, then thoroughly learn Twitter. Or algebra. Or the history of the Holocaust. What they choose to do with those curricular elements later is up to them.

    I am not a fan yet of Twitter, either. Daily Create pretty much just disappeared off my screen when I no longer had daily e-mails. I can’t figure out how to make it appear daily in a Twitter place where I will see it, so it is drifting away. I don’t get many tweets although I have used it for research…but I didn’t have the privilege of having someone teach it to me, either, so do those students a favor and teach it to them!

  2. I love this post and think that that you really touched on something in regards to the differences between Facebook and Twitter. What is interesting is that when I felt I got Twitter my FBing really dropped off. One of the reasons I think is that one attempts to be open and public, while the other I really have no idea about.

    Although I really like your suggestions in regards to structure and missions, my only question is having a reason for being there? Do you think that there is a place for starting with the question why connect or is that just too deep too early? (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=1052)

    1. I don’t know anything for sure, Aaron. To me, telling people something is important or critical or world changing or disruptive is just compressed air moving across the room. They have to have a lived experience. So for the first bit, it rides a bit on a leap of trust- they may trust you because they respect you, because of past positive experiences, or because of your authority as a teacher/leader. If they can have a first experience that does not feel isolating, win. If they can accomplish something they never did before, ditto. If they can feel heard, ditto.

      So to me, I do not start with a big why. For the same reason, I stopped telling my students about the virtues of creative commons– it becomes “You should do this because I am telling you it is important.” Instead I set up activities where they see the value in what others have shared.

      If I do give a big why, it’s framed in a message of “that’s been my experience, it may or not be yours but you won’t know without trying” I do agree with your post’s assertion that connecting for the sake of connecting is empty.

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