It's true. Teenagers really don't see the appeal of Twitter. It has always struck me as a really useful tool in class. In fact, one of my blog posts that has remained popular since I wrote it was about potential applications of Twitter in the classroom. It's an idea that tends to click with 30-somethings, many of whom use Twitter for everything from a feed reader to an easy Facebook update tool.
And while many students have caught on and educators have been able to use it effectively to capture the subtext in a room while they're presenting or get instant feedback from the class, it remains a pointless exercise to many young people. As Venturebeat reported on a Twitter session at the Web 2.0 conference wrapping up in San Francisco,
Now, the idea the “teens don’t tweet” idea has already been beaten to death in the tech news, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has already told us that that he isn’t too worried about it. But it’s one thing to read about surveys and studies , and another to see teens on-stage, talking about how they don’t see what the point is. None of them had positive feelings about the microblogging service; a few said they had tried it out and didn’t find it useful.
It isn't that kids are confused by the technology; hand the average millennial just about any Web 2.0 application and they'll be networking very quickly. I watched a class of high school students explore Twitter with minimal introduction before it became an Oprah/Ashton/PR company juggernaut. They were talking to each other in moments.
Just because they understand the tech, though, doesn't mean they understand the relevance. Without relevance, should we bother using it in the classroom?
Some teachers have obviously built presentation styles around the tool. Others use the Twitter-on-steroids application Edmodo quite effectively. In general, however, kids relate well with (and ubiquitously use) Facebook (or MySpace, depending on the demographics), IM, and SMS text messaging. Even though Twitter is based around the concept of the text message, it simply doesn't resonate.
I still think that, if made part of the culture of a classroom, Twitter and/or Edmodo can have important applications. For the former, easy formative assessments, quick questions, and relevant side conversations can all be tracked and used by both teachers and students. For the latter, the assignment and calendaring tools integrated with the familiar, brief format of Twitter-/SMS-like messages are quite useful in settings where more widespread content management or student information systems aren't in place.
However, there is only one tool that I know of that combines IM capabilities with a social media feel, and a fast-paced documentation stream competitive with a hash-tagged conversation in Twitter: Google Wave. Twitter isn't dead in the classroom, but I think it's time to explore new tools that can work well in a classroom context and feel social and relevant enough to kids to hold their attention and document classroom work and discussions.
If a teacher creates a Wave with an outline of the lesson, standards and learning objectives, and relevant links and media, then invites the class to join the wave, students will be able to add their thoughts and questions in real time. The wave begins as the ultimate lesson plan and becomes a living document of a class session that students can revisit any time.
Maybe Wave won't become the be-all-to-end-all classroom collaboration technology. However, Twitter hasn't caught on with students in the way that other communication platforms have. These other platforms don't really make sense in a classroom. For now, that leaves Wave. What do you think?