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Why Do We Give a Tweet?

"Academic research from Rutgers University examined the characteristics of social activity and patterns of communication on Twitter; a prominent example of the emerging class of communication systems that is called “social awareness streams.” The rise of social media services has contributed to the altering of many people’s communication patterns and social interaction." - Te@cher Toolkit

I was using Twitter to backchannel interesting ideas from a conference session I found engaging. Part way through the gamification workshop, my friend Chris, who was looking over my shoulder asked, "Whoa, twenty-five thousand tweets! Why do you tweet so much?"

Until then, I hadn't given much thought to the frequency or purpose behind my tweets. "Sharing is caring, and it helps me process the experience.", I said.

After the session, we discussed gamification strategies and circled back to the learning value of tweeting. I contend there are small, but significant episodes of reflection that take place during the act of tweeting, or at least there should be.

  • It can be challenging to articulate big ideas into 140 characters or less.
  • Using links, graphics, and media demonstrates digital fluency
  • Digital contribution takes digital citizenship to a higher level of interaction and interdependence


Feeling good about our conversation, we left to grab a bite to eat. While Chris was scrutinizing the dessert bar, I decided to check the RSS reader on my phone; pretty much the same items on the menu. Wait, what's this? Ross McGill is sharing "Twitter Research", conducted by Rutgers University. They challenge us by asking, "Is Twitter just all about self-promotion?

The Rutgers research identifies two common types of behavior from those who tweet:

  1. Those who share themselves; Ross calls them "Meformers".
  2. Those who share information; called "Informers".

Four categories were used to describe tweeting behavior; information sharing (IS), opinions and complaints (OC), statements (RT), and "me now" (ME) tweets. Interestingly, the research indicates a majority of Twitter users are meformers. Ross challenges us again,

"Social media: do you share ideas, or just share yourself?"




I decided to review older tweets and examine my tweeting behavior using the criteria from the Rutgers study. My first conclusion, I typically exchange information through my tweets, but I need to include opinions and comments at times, so followers get to know me on a more personal level. Second, my life is pretty ordinary. I wouldn't garner much of a following with a steady barrage of meformer tweets. I believe there is a balance available to us. If the purpose of engaging on social media is learning, then sharing quality information should drive our tweeting behavior.

Twitter can be part of a powerful personal learning environment, but many educators are reluctant to give it a try. Do they get "turned off" by meformer behavior that can dominate the Twitter stream? I think savvy Twitter users rely on hashtags and lists to filter the noise while elevating substance, isolating more informers, in their feed. 

What about the young people in our lives? Are they primarily informers or meformers? Is digital citizenship enough, or should digital contribution become a better target? As Tom Whitby reminds us regularly, If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.” When we look at research and gain insight into our use of social media, we become better equipped to help others reap the benefits of socially networked learning.


References and Related Reading


Is it Really About Me?... - M. Naaman, J. Boase, and C. Lai, February 2010

Twitter Research - Te@cher Tool Kit

Twitter for Teachers - Kathy Schrock



Comments

IaninSheffield said…
Hi Robert.
I’m conducting PhD research into teacher professional learning using Twitter. I’d be really interested in your opinions. Would you be able to answer a few questions here on this post or elsewhere? There’s more information about my study here Participant Information together with my contact details should you have any questions, but there's of course no obligation.
Thanks,
Ian (@IaninSheffield)

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