@amfumero is Antonio Fumero, and as he define himself he is a researcher, an entrepreneur, a technology-passionate social innovator. He’s an Engineer, living and working in Madrid; currently collaborating with his University while he’s launching his own business, Win-Win Consultores, partnering Managing & Innovation Business Partners and Talentbrokers. You can also find him at periodismociudadano.com, and cibervoluntarios.org
Twitts r us – Learning as we are
Is this some kind of joke? Since it was launched, in October 2006, we couldn’t stop making the same questions: Why twittering? What for? Nowadays, Twitter is considered to be competing face to face with Facebook 1 , THE social networking phenomenon, in Capital Letters: with more than 106 million users worldwide 2 , even considering that as few as 8 % of American adults going online are using this service 3 , Twitter is still a Global Internet phenomenon. In fact, if we agree on considering Facebook the new Google, we do have to consider Twitter as the new Facebook
The fact is that Twitter has been carving its own place within the social software tools (services in the cloud’s language) landscape during the latest four years. At its very beginning, it was considered as a “microblogging” tool, resembling the former popular blogs services: suddenly, the users didn’t need to write down a nice –till some extent consistent, coherent- piece of content; they just need to answer a quite straight and simple question in less than 140 characters, What are you doing? It was one more step towards the (growing) fragmentation of information.
In a few years, the simplicity of the service and its quite simplistic API were leveraging la growth of a global community of users and developers contributing with innovative functionalities for improving the capabilities for exploding the 140 characters limitation: services for attaching photographs, for shortening the links included within the limited text you are able to use, for tagging the content, for geo-locating users and twitts, etc.
I’ve been researching the impact of technology (IT) in society and organizations for a while, analyzing different industries, and a variety of case studies in different projects, in quite different environments while mainly focused on enterprises, and the higher education’ scenario. Hence, I think it could be useful to drop a few paragraphs here on Twitter, Education and Learning.
One of the most useful things I’ve learned after more than a decade of having Internet being a more and more important part of our everyday lives is that even if we can stop studying one topic or another, we can not stop learning, ever. I can put it for short: ‘we learn, hence we live’. The questions here must be, how do we learn? How has the information technology changed the way we learn?
In answering the first question we have to consider the Information – Knowledge – Action circuit’s rationale, depicted in figure 1. It states that there cannot be any knowledge without an effort applied upon the information provided; and that we need to put such knowledge into action if we want to feed the circuit with more information.
Figure 1. Individual’s Cognitive Circuit (Fernando Sáez Vacas)
In answering the second question we can either to consider how has the IT changed the way we teach or the way our brain has changed its routines since we are using this technologies more and more intensively in every aspect of our lives, since we are blogging, chatting, twittering, etc. for living, working, teaching and learning.
If we consider our brain’s day-to-day life, neuroscience has been shedding much light on the way it responds in different conditions when we are intensively using IT tools in various activities. The fact is that the brain exhibits different areas activation patterns for digital natives and digital immigrants performing the same tasks, in the same environment: that’s what some Spanish researcher have coined as “digital noomorphosis”, i.e. that our brain has changed its functionality assignments and activation patterns for different areas due to the effects of IT usage.
If we consider the changes the way we teach has suffered since the first computer was put in place, or the way the education has changed since we have been living surrounded by acronyms like CMS, LMS, PLE, VLE, VLN etc. we can find a lot of literature on how to implement a social constructivist pedagogical model in our University, and how to asses teachers, and any kind of practitioner on the way they must be integrating blogging and social networking tools within their virtual classrooms for improving their student’s performance and the compromise, artifacts, affordances, and goals they reflect on their learning contracts managed via an e-Portfolio or even a PLE.
Ok, but the question still remains Why Twittering? What for? The question here could be the same if we change “Twittering” by “Blogging”, “Social Networking”, “Messaging”, etc. The “conviviality” of such tools is the key question here. Is either Twitter more suited for the Enterprise or the University? Is that for teaching? Is that for working?
We can use it for communicating with our students, e.g. for coordinating the team work outside the classroom in a real-time manner; we can use it for polling the students; or even for linking online resources… Is Twitter an educational tool? We can use it for reporting on the latest news within our local community; it has been used for reporting on terrorist attacks worldwide… Is Twitter a citizen journalism tool? We can use it for semantically organizing different online resources within our company’s Intranet… Is Twittering a Knowledge Management tool? We can use Twitter as a repository of ideas within our company… Is Twitter a crowd sourcing tool? A similar rationale goes for any social software tool.
There are a lot of ways for approaching Social Media. The one I’ve been using for quite some time includes three elements borrowed from a simplified complexity model (OITP model 4 ), and the dynamics emerging between them. People (Individuals) Content, and Technology (ICT) are the key elements, while Information, Relationship, and Communication (kind of IRC 2.0) are the dynamics surging. But, kinetics for this kind of IRC 2.0 comes from the processes of listening, linking, sharing, and influencing the other individuals, using such contents supported by IT tools… You know: it’s nothing but a model, so it doesn’t need to be accurate; it only needs to be useful, in a quite specific complexity situation.
Figure 2. Social Media made Simple (SMS)
What has all this stuff to do with Twitter? My point here is that if we can put Twitter to work for us in such a framework, like the one I’ve just outlined here, in figure 2, we can use it in the context of any social computing mediated scenario, like the educational landscape could be for instance.
The question here could translates into this one: Can Twitter be fueling the listening, linking, sharing, and influencing processes we find in the very heart of this Social Media Simple Model? The answer must be YES, al least for the sake of my brief article’s coherence But let’s reviewing some of the characteristic elements of Twitter as an everyday life tool for living, working and learning.
Twitter has grown as a global social network where the real-world semantics (via hashtags) identify different communities or topics emerging and disappearing in real time: a great variety of tools have been put freely available for listening the conversation, visualizing it, and filtering the noise surrounding it (e.g. D-NOISE “follow the hashtag”, whostalking, spezify, etc.). You can segment the global conversation on the fly, for following an online event, for discussing a topic within the classroom, for monitoring your company’s brands online, etc.
Linking is the only mechanism you need on the network for connecting ideas, individuals, projects, etc. What if you connect your feeds aggregation service (let’s say Google Reader) with Twitter for sharing useful resources and/or news on the topics your community, network or (virtual) classroom members are interested in or dealing with? What if you connect your student’s learning contracts with Twitter for feeding it and updating it on the go?
At the end of the day, why should I be doing all this stuff? What for? Influencing? Learning? Teaching? Selling? Marketing? The point here is that the knowledge extracted from information –once you get rid of the noise generated in that process- must be action-driven if you want it to be producing more information (see the individual’s cognitive circuit in figure 1).
Educational scenario is not much different from corporate or personal one: learning is not different from working or living. It’s not a question of versioning E-Learning: there is not going to be anything like an E-Learning 3.0, mainly because there is not going to be some Web 3.0 similar to the second version we are currently working with. What if we try not to make Learning Ubiquitous, Informal or even Invisible, but Education instead?
Beyond conceptual considerations –the differences between education and learning, or even the debate on the definition of learning as a process- what is really interesting for the architectural design tasks of the TEL projects we are usually involved in is the understanding of a learning process that is almost always seamlessly integrating formal, non-formal AND informal components; the three of them, in different environments: educational institutions, workplace, and the social interactions with our friends and family. If we quote some authors from the ‘situated learning’ like Hanks (1991) learning must be understood as a “way of being in the social world, not as a way of knowing about it”.
We learn as we communicate with each other, as we exchange information, building our digital identities upon such information, on- and off-line at the same time, within a technology-enhanced, relationship-intensive, social environment. Social networks and tools, like Twitter are populating the student’s, researcher’s and teacher’s scenario, of course; the emergence of the Personal Learning Environments (PLE) –loosely coupled toolsets designed as decentralized systems composed of interchangeable service elements- is a fact; but we are not actually witnessing a dramatic, disruptive, change in our post-industrial educational systems.
Is that so bad? I don’t think so: the reality of our technological society is not going to resemble a Matrix-like scenario; my point is that it’s going to be –and in fact it already is- a Blade Runner-like one. There is no “Architect” designing, coding a clean, perfect, future; there are a lot of different experiments and various versions of technological ourselves living our digital lives inside out the network.
I know it’s a mad, mad world; but don’t we love such madness?
1. According to the data gathered by Vincenzo Cozensa (vincos.it) for his Social Networks World Map (December 2010) Twitter is ranked as the 2nd or the 3rd social networking site in each of the countries and/or regions considered, except for BRIC ones. Infographic and data available at http://www.vincos.it/2010/12/10/la-mappa-dei-social-network-nel-mondo-dicembre-2010/
2. With 60 % of them being outside the U.S., according to data gathered by Digital Surgeons, http://www.digitalsurgeons.com/facebook-vs-twitter-infographic/
3. According to date update from Pew Internet and American Life Project, available at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Twitter-Update-2010/Findings/Overview.aspx
4. Organization – Individuals – Technology – Processes (OITP) coined by Fernando Sáez Vacas is considering the first three elements being tuned in the same level in terms of Business Processes performance indicators.