Look, Ma! Twitter's useful!

OK, so it lacks the ring of that old catch-phrase, "Look, Ma! No hands!

OK, so it lacks the ring of that old catch-phrase, "Look, Ma! No hands!" but given my own mother's dubiousness about the utility of Twitter (aside to keep track of what I'm doing since I don't call her enough), I thought it was appropriate. I wanted to just post a note today about a really slick use of Twitter featured today on CNN.com, highlighting how a little bit of creativity can make this tool genuinely useful.

For those of us who use Twitter regularly (although I can hardly claim the Twitter fame of ZDNet's Jennifer Leggio, I use Twitter every day to post links to new blogs, ask questions, network, get feedback, follow friends and other bloggers, keep my mom up to date on my life, and otherwise kill occasional bits of spare time).

I'm also convinced that it can be useful in the classroom if a feed is projected during a lecture or activity. If it can avoid becoming a distraction, then all students need to do is add a search tag (precede a given word with a #) and all "tweets" containing that search tag can be highlighted and projected using a tool like TweetDeck. Questions for the lecturer? Comments on the subject matter? Answer a quick poll in class without the expense of interactive response systems? All of these can be done with Twitter. I've used it to facilitate collaboration on projects, group discussion, sharing links, and even keeping track of students during field trips.

Which brings us back to CNN article. CNN featured a surgeon whose chief resident live-Tweeted a tumor removal to document a new procedure. Not only was this a really novel way of disseminating information, but it was an invaluable service to families and loved ones who could monitor the progress of the surgery.

Twitter (and services like it) represent a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. We're doing our students a disservice by excluding it from the classroom. It's free; we just need to find the best ways to harness its power while limiting the possibility for distraction.