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Twitter and Education: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Didn't your teachers ever tell you that it's impolite to twitter in the middle of class? Perhaps they did once, back in the olden days (read: a year ago) when "twittering" referred to giggling and lighthearted chatter. But when it comes to the popular social networking and microblogging application? Far from it.

In fact, they might even encourage it.

Unlike other social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, Twitter cuts out the extras like groups and fandoms and quizzes and photo uploads, and an austere 140 character maximum means that posts must be starkly concise. This might seem like a list of hindrances; in actuality the small post length, loose networking set-up, and easy trending topic search all serve to make Twitter the best new tool for focused online group conversations since the advent of the message board. As such, a growing number of professors across the country right now are embracing Twitter as an important teaching tool, to help connect students and communicate concepts.

The US News and World Report has noticed this Tweeting trend, and observed several professors using it to a variety of different effects. At University of Texas in Dallas, a history professor is using the service to help her students participate better in class, able to post questions to a projection screen rather than attempt to shout them from the back of the lecture hall. At Vermont's Champlain College an online business and marketing professor originally started her students on Twitter with the same intentions, but now uses it to help her students build networks and make real world connections. The difference between Twitter and other blogging sites? According to her, "Twitter is more about creating connections with others who may not be your real friends."

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest obstacles to incorporating Twitter into classrooms hasn't been teachers -- it's been students. Reports have shown Twitter to be popular with an older age group than its social networking peers, thanks to its general perception as less private and more vulnerable to the prying eyes of parents and, well, teachers. That said, a shift from social micro-mecca to information tool is happening at a rapid pace. Just as Amazon's Kindle is being touted as the multipurpose textbook of the future, there has been a push to teach even elementary school students how to harness the power of internet communication.

Little by little, younger generations are warming to Twitter and the effects are widespread. According to Elaine Young, the online business degree professor observed in US News and World Report, by the end of her classes even the more reluctant students were not only active themselves, but were even spreading the microblog gospel, having "taken on business projects with local companies and made recommendations on whether the firms should use services like Twitter, blogs, or E-mail newsletters." Uses for the application don't end with business either: at Champlain and other institutions like Vanderbilt University, students were even encouraged to Tweet from their PDAs and cell phones during this year's commencement ceremony, resulting in "a play-by-play of quips on the ceremony, right down to one student complaining that her 'sash is falling off.'" What's more, thanks to helpful tags and the open communal nature of Twitter, the audience members and even far away family and friends could follow and Tweet right along with the graduates.

Twitter may have started with humble beginnings -- a fun way to keep friends updated on your life and thoughts without the loud and jumbled clutter of other sites -- but it's quickly becoming something much more: simultaneously a news feed, a networking device, an educational tool, and a way to connect students with professors on a whole new level. It's only up from here.

And we're on Twitter, too! Come check us out at @getdegrees!

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