Why I love Twitter (and you probably should too)

However, to make it possible for nations to benefit from the experience of others and to avoid mutual misunderstanding of intentions, free access to information and unhampered opportunity for exchange of ideas must be granted everywhere.

Niels Bohr

Having recently reread Niels Bohrs famous letter to the UN, I was immediately awestruck by the foresight of his visionary thoughts on exchange of ideas. Suggesting such a transparent approach must have been radical and controversial back in 1950; heck, it still is today.

Tim Berners-LeeEven so, I’m completely convinced that Bohr was and is right.

His vision was later mirrored by Tim Berners-Lee, who, working at CERN in the 1980′s, argued that only by sharing knowledge could the institution and the level of research see radical improvement. Upon realising this, he eventually went and developed the World Wide Web.

Inspired by these incredibly important thinkers, I truly-sincerely believe in sharing knowledge, ignoring or breaking down any possible barriers or boundaries along the way. It is a mandatory prerequisite of change/improvement/reform/revolution, or whatever we like to call it these days.

We simply cannot do without sharing. No one person can perform fundamental and lasting changes on their own (yes, we see exceptions, but they’re seldom and far between).

This holds true in every corner of society, and very much so within education (and also so within the field of video games, as eloquently argued by Michael Abbot). As I see it, not sharing enough is one of our pivotal barriers in initiating change. Thousands of educators across the world is constantly wrestling with all kinds of challenges, from smaller practical issues to momentous questions about purpose and direction.

This work is gargantous, and worthy of the utmost admiration; no doubt! …but what if no one never hear about it? What if good ideas and invaluable experiences remain in isolation, secluded from everybody else?

The true value of the effort, the real potential breakthrough, is only going to happen if good experiences and ideas are distributed far and wide.

Sharing really needs to be at the heart of education and at the core of our actions.

Enter Twitter

Brian Kotts on TwitterIn a series of inspiring exchanges on Twitter some time ago, @briankotts elegantly made the following declaration:

Sharing is the new currency! Educators have moral obligation to do it.

I really couldn’t agree more, and Twitter is great at this.

Being active on Twitter requires you to share and probably also to continuously revise your opinion of sharing. I would not hesitate to recommend every single educator in the world to immediately run off and create a Twitter account and start taking part in the global community of users, that constitutes the real value of Twitter.

I have grown extremely fond of Twitter, this charming little microblogging service with such surprisingly versatile possibilities, and by now I consider Twitter my tool of choice when engaging in networking and communication.

At first, it appears to be heavily limited by the core concept of only allowing messages to span across 140 characters. This limitation, however, only works to the advantage of Twitter, and it encourages users to be reflective, precise and to continually follow up on discussions.

Technology is not the goal however; readjusting our individual perceptions of value of sharing is. Twitter is all about sharing – thoughts, ideas, images, videos, links – and thus serves to not only allow sharing, but very actively encourage it. If you don’t share anything, or don’t share anything of value, you’re unlikely to build a following and thus also unlikely to really harness the potential of Twitter – the interaction with other users.

Where’s the uniqueness?

I’m clearly very preoccupied and infatuated with Twitter, but why is that so? Most people wouldn’t hesitate to reduce Twitter to nothing more than the trivial status updates on Facebook.

I would certainly disagree with such people.

Twitter is much more; or rather, it is something different altogether.

Twitter vs Facebook

Facebook is, by nature, a closed network. Precedential use is limited to connecting with people, whom you already know. Friends, family, colleagues, and more peripheral acquaintances as well, but still – people you know one way or another.

Twitter is not like that. Twitter is open, encouraging interaction independently of the mutual obligations in the “Facebook friendship” (however that friendship is interpreted). You can follow people without their consent, and no reciprocity is required. If you think Twitter is full of nonsense, you’re simply following the wrong people.

This allows me to follow all the interesting persons working within my fields of interest (games, digital media, learning & education – in short), and over time (perhaps) build a relationship to those people through meaningful interaction and discussion.

At the end of the day, what keeps me tweeting is the dynamics; the fact that there’s always something going on. Twitter never sleeps. The chance to not only peek into the minds of really smart people, but also to enter immensely inspiring discussions with said people.

Get in the game

If you’re entirely new to Twitter, Mashable offers a very elaborate guide. In short, go create a profile, start writing updates (tweets), follow interesting people, initiate or participate in discussions, provide relevant content. Accept that it may take some getting used to, and that people don’t start following or communicating with you right away. Keep at it, be resilient, tweet your ideas, good experiences, provide links to articles, videos, comment on other peoples tweets – be active, be relevant; and please, speak English. Anything else is too excluding, effectively hindering communication across borders.

Besides following and communicating with people, #hashtags is one of the keys to really harnessing the potential of Twitter. Roughly speaking, hashtags are used to categorize topics, just like the tags on this blog serve as a container for specific subjects (go here for a more detailed introduction).

Here’s a brief selection of interesting hashtags as seen from an educational perspective:

  • #dkudd – a newly established hashtag used for tweets on education (uddannelse) in Denmark.
  • #edgames – my attempt at introducing a hashtag for games in education in general
  • #gbl – a widely used hashtag for tweets about game based learning
  • #gameliteracy – another attempt by me, meant to tag tweets specifically on game literacy
  • #edtech – a very popular tag for tweets on technology in education
  • #edchat – also very popular on education in general

I’d be a fool not mentioning the fascinating phenomenon that is the Twitter chat sessions. These sessions probably take place all the time, and really show the true potential of Twitter. Often such an event is scheduled, but sometimes people spontaneously initiate discussions as well. Again, the hashtag is central, as the only thing connecting all participants is a hashtag. These may be one of the above, or #UKEdChat is another popular example. For a relatively comprehensive list of educational chats, visit Cybrary Man.

Purpos/edAs if all of this was not enough (regarding possible time spent, it’s much more than enough, rest assured), another marvelous initiative has recently been launched; purpos/ed. As clearly indicated, this project is about purposes. More accurately, it’s about trying to explore the purpose of education. If this in itself sounds ambitious, how about nailing this immensely difficult question in 140 characters?

Follow me on TwitterPlease, don’t just take my word for any of this; go, sign up, and immediately take part in the multifarious and dynamic discussions taking place all the time. If you’d like, follow me (If not, don’t).

…but do start sharing.

Tweet the news

As reported by media across the globe, earlier today a ship carrying aid to Gaza was attacked by Israeli forces.

In such situations, the circumstances are rarely completely clear to bystanders, and much information is somehow biased in one or the other direction. It seems, though, that most news media agree, that the attack is indeed an unjust measure beyond proportions. This is also backed by Al Jazeera footage from the ship (which, course, is by no means unbiased):

From my perspective, this looks like an unjust assault, yet I don’t want to pass a verdict here.

What I do want, however, is to look at the way this incident is covered as a news story. I already referred to news organisations like BBC, and the newer (and perhaps more controversial) Al Jazeera. Both are drawing heavily on the internet, their own websites, services like YouTube, but remain somewhat traditional.

Simultaneously, quite another approach is being put into practice. Thousands of people are actively commenting on the events, many of them infuriated and shocked. All of this, of course, is happening on Twitter, right now, as people are microblogging in realtime. At a relatively early stage, those condemning the attacks (which seems to be everyone), rallied around the hashtag #freedomflotilla (for those not accustomed to Twitter, the hashtags is a way to group messages from different people, who all comment or discuss the same topic – here, the attack on the ship – read more at Mashable):

[iframe http://visibletweets.com/#query=%23freedomflotilla&animation=2 500 400]

We have seen this several times before when important events occur; the earthquake on Haiti, the Icelandic volcanic ash, the election in Iran. As such, this new incident is not breaking news, but serves to further promote the importance of citizen journalism, where “ordinary” people are participating with their opinions and knowledge about current affairs.

I am not completely certain what these tendencies mean to the dynamics and inner workings of news circulation. I suppose few people are, as Twitter remains a relatively new phenomenon. Twitter has several times been heralded as an important support for universal freedom of speech, and the service certainly does allow everybody to share their perspectives. This does not mean, on the other hand, that everybody actually has something relevant and important to share; we probably need journalists and editors cutting down on the buzz, as most of us simply doesn’t have the time or skills required to see the big picture in the chaotic Twitter-streams.

One research project asked the question “What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?“, arguing that Twitter shares traits with other news media:

What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?

This piece of research show how tweets (messages) are distributed as people are retweeting (sharing) them, and thus spreading information across the network. Social networks researcher danah boyd maintains a list of research on microblogging and twitter, which offers current insights on the nature of Twitter, and how the service is used.

Despite the young and dynamic nature of this field, I would surely encourage teachers in relevant subjects (e.g. social sciences, communication etc.) to take a closer look at Twitter, and how the service is used to cover, support and/or condemn current events. It is not a way to get a firm grasp of “wie es eigentlich gewesen“, but it is an interesting way to trace reactions, and see the possible implications of real-time microblogging. One approach could be to let students write a news story based on Twitter’s trending topics, and another could be to let students themselves participate in the exchanges on Twitter.

Possibilities are abundant!

Knowing together?

The title might be hopelessly obvious.

After all, most people would probably agree, that learning and knowing always happens in dynamic interaction with our surroundings.

As humans, we are unambiguously social creatures.

This, of course, has repercussions for our individual learning, which is always heavily influenced by the social situation – hence the notion of situated learning.

All right.

During the last couple of weeks, I have become inspired to look at this from a different perspective, namely that of collective intelligence.

One of the reasons was a rather down-to-earth one, as I was working and by Twitter following the progression of the Game Developers Conference in San Fransisco (take a look at Jesper Juuls wordle-illustrations of tweets sent during GDC).

It suddenly struck me, that I would probably have known only a tiny fragment of this were it not for Twitter and the option to follow all sorts of interesting people (whom I – as opposed to Facebook – don’t necessarily know). This way, Twitter keeps me in the loop demanding only a rather modest effort in return. It also allows me low-barrier access to contact and start a dialogue with these people, potentially resulting in new knowledge, ideas, perspectives.

Other examples of contemporary manifestations of collective intelligence instantly came to mind:

  • SNS’ in general
  • Wikipedia and wikis in general
  • World of Warcraft and other games

Doing a bit of rapid research, MIT turned up with their Center for Collective Intelligence, where they attempt to answer the following question:

How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

It is not the least bit surprising, that MIT is heavily engaged here. To an ignorant bystander like myself, they sometimes seem omnipresent. Anyway, the center is headed by one Thomas W. Malone, who is so kind as to introduce us to the concept:

In “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence“, Malone defines collective intelligence as “as groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent” and he subsequently points to a growth in this field:

But over the past decade, the rise of the Internet has enabled the emergence of surprising new forms of collective intelligence.

Henry Jenkins (image from his blog)

Henry Jenkins (also at MIT) is another well-known figure touching upon this field. Jenkins has devoted much time and work to great things like video games, transmedia storytelling and fan culture, and always in a very insightful and balanced way. He has written a number of posts over at his confessions of an Aca-Fan on collective intelligence, which he  defines in a rather prosaic manner:

The kind of knowledge and understanding that emerges from large groups of people is collective intelligence

Drawing on Pierre Levy, he further elaborates on the subject:

As Levy notes, collective intelligence exploits the potential of network culture to allow many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals. In such a world, he tells us, nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any member knows is available to the group as a whole at a moment’s notice.

In a rather nerdy meta-way, the article on Wikipedia about collective intelligence might be the perfect wrap up of this brief scratch on the surface.

I will surely dive deeper into this anytime soon.

Immensely fascinating stuff (not least when coupled with games, as I will do next)