Saturday, February 28, 2009

tt4t_076 Twitter, so easy Congress can do it

It’s Saturday, February 28th, 2009 and welcome to episode 76 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Twitter has been in the news a lot the past couple of weeks and is becoming part of American pop culture. It seems many in the US Congress have also caught the Twitter bug as was evident during President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this week. Reports in the news this week caught some in Congress “tweeting” during the Presidents speech.

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Twitter is now being used by Congressmen and Congresswomen to keep in touch with their constituencies.
Some have their staff manage their Twitter account, others seem to use the Twitter service directly themselves. While the title of this episode is a bit tongue-in-cheek I do applaud our government officials for using technology-based tools to improve the governing process. As some have found out this week social networking can have unintended consequences. Links to a couple of news articles related to Twittering and Congress are provided in the show notes for this episode.

Twittering Obama’s Speech

Congress’s new love affair with Twitter - TIME,8599,1878773,00.html

It is difficult for lawmakers to legislate if they do not understand the implications technologies can have upon society. Having them experience this first-hand is a good thing. Schools routinely deal with the clash of new technologies and outdated policies and I hope the educational system will find more advocates in Congress now that more are using social networking technologies. Perhaps the result will be more progressive policies that support our schools with implementing appropriate technologies to improve learning and will help find reasonable solutions for Internet filtering and access to Web 2.0 tools by K-12 teachers.

Network television stations are also getting in on the act with many network TV shows establishing a Twitter account and asking viewers to send in their questions via Twitter instead of email. NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and many other media companies are establishing Twitter accounts. News organizations such as CNN are using Twitter to push out news updates in short postings.

Large corporations and small businesses are also establishing Twitter accounts to promote products, manage public relations, and provide customer support. Another example is the use of Twitter by celebrities to keep in contact with their fans. Eastern Illinois University has also established its own Twitter account for university use. The list of examples goes on and on. Because of this exposure by the mass media and others Twitter is beginning to enter the average Americans vocabulary. It seems people and organizations of all types are finding new uses for Twitter.

All of this publicity has been timely for me as I recently presented two sessions on the educational uses of Twitter by teachers and how teachers can customize their very own Personal/Professional Learning Network. Personal or Professional Learning Networks are commonly referred to by the acronym PLN. The title of my conference session was “Learn more EVERYDAY with a PLN using Twitter”. Both sessions were well attended and we discussed the PLN opportunities Twitter can offer teachers for continuous professional development.

If you attended one of my sessions at the regional technology conference and this is the first time you have tuned into TechTalk4Teachers welcome. This show discusses educational technologies and how educators can leverage the power of technology to improve learning. We also share our experiences with using technologies in the classroom and what works. PLN’s are a large part of my daily routine in a never ending search for new and improved methods of teaching and learning.

For me Twitter is a cross between an instant message and a blog. Twitter is often called micro-blogging because you are limited to 140 characters in the messages you send. Twitter asks the simple question, “What are you doing?” Users of Twitter send out short messages throughout the day to let others in their network know what they are doing as well as ask questions and share resources they come across with others.

Everyone’s experience with Twitter will be different. It is a very simple concept and many may first have the reaction of “not getting it” during the first few days they use it. Give it some time and as you build your network of followers you will begin to reap the rewards of your PLN. Since Twitter falls into the category of social networking tools teachers and other professionals using Twitter need to be careful and responsible using the service. Be sure to follow your school and/or business policies regarding social networking tools such as Twitter.

You can follow other people on Twitter and selectively choose the people in your network. People who follow you on Twitter are called followers, this is similar to the friends concept in Facebook. Every message you send in Twitter is called a “tweet”. Unlike Facebook you send your messages out to the world, there are no group features in the base-level Twitter service that allow for private group messaging however some third-party applications may offer this ability. I advise new users in treating all tweets as public information because they can be searched by search engines and viewed by others that you may not have intended your original message to see.

We all leave behind digital footprints when using online technologies. Your tweets are seen by all of the people who follow you and potentially others outside of your list of followers. In fact you do not even need to sign-up for a Twitter account to see someone elses tweets if you know their Twitter name. Like other online services search capabilities and archiving can make Twitter postings live “forever”.

In terms of innovation Twitter is beginning to move from the early adopter to the early majority phase of technological adoption as described by Everett Rogers in his Diffusion of Innovations work. For the creators of Twitter this is a good thing as the number of people using Twitter is growing rapidly. It can however be a mixed bag for early adopters of Twitter as mass media and other businesses are exploring ways to monetize its capabilities.

Use good judgment on all postings and follow the guidelines for responsible social networking use. Every Twitter user will need to determine the best mix of privacy issues versus sharing with others that is acceptable for them. Tweets are being read by others that you may not have intended. For example, I recently made a tweet on a weekend that I was working in my woodshop and that I enjoyed woodworking. Not very long after I tweeted this message I was being followed by a Twitter username that I recognized as a national woodworking company. This company must have keyed in on the word woodworking and followed me hoping that I would follow them back in hopes of future sales. I give this as a personal example to others that tweets are being searched and data is being mined by others looking for business opportunities and possibly for other uses so be careful what you share in your tweets. You will need to find a balance in what you share versus the value you get from your PLN.

I go into more depth on my experiences of using Twitter back on Episode 58 of TechTalk4Teachers last October so please review that episode for more tips about using Twitter if you are interested in learning more. A link is available in the show notes.


Your use of Twitter will probably evolve over time as mine has. If you have a Twitter account you can follow me at If you find Twitter a worthy tool in developing your PLN you will be amazed by the connections you will make with other Twitter users all around the world.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a website that offers photoshop-like image editing all done completely online. The name of the site is Pixlr and a link is available in the show notes.

Pixlr – online photo-editing application

How many times have you needed to do a quick touch-up or resizing of an image but you were on a computer that did not have a photo-editing program installed? Pixlr is a great tool for you to have in your arsenal for on-demand photo-editing. Pixlr is also a great alternative to use in a computer lab environment because you do not have to install any software on lab machines.

I have also provided a link to the FAQ section of the Pixlr website for you to learn more about this online application.

Pixlr FAQ

This web-based application is really amazing and was developed by a team of Swedish programmers. It is flash-based so you will need a browser that supports Adobe Flash. Pixlr is one of the first online services that I have used that actually mimics a program that feels like it is installed on a PC. If this and other applications can be developed in similar fashion and if the performance is acceptable we have taken a big step forward in browser-based application delivery that could finally take cloud computing into the mainstream. Give Pixlr a try and let me know what you think. Oh, did I mention Pixlr is FREE!

That wraps it up for episode 76 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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