academhack/Dave Parry has a new post up on his use of Twitter. In it, he addresses the two reasons he teaches Twitter. In the first place, he sees it as an emergent medium that is shaping how we communicate and, thus, shaping our culture. In the second place, as he has written previously, Twitter allows him to expand the learning community of his students beyond the walls of the classroom and throughout the day. Given the more nomadic lives of our students, knowing what one another is doing and thinking about is a way to bring more interactivity into the classroom to foster community/communal learning. He is persuasive and although I'm a member of the choir to whom he may be preaching, I believe he's correct on both points.
My own experience this past weekend using Twitter demonstrates the power of the smart mob/community that Twitter has put me in contact with. On Saturday afternoon, I learned from my wife that a tree had fallen on our house on Saturday afternoon in relation to the aftermath of Atlanta's tornado. I was waiting for Amber and the boys to come and pick me up at school, where I had spent most of the day when she called. Not having much to do, I decided to send out a tweet on the subject. Within a few hours, I had multiple people emailing to check on how our family was doing. Part of the distribution of the news was owed to my having integrated Twitter with Facebook. Some friends saw the tweet; others saw the updated Facebook status. But they more or less knew what was happening to me in real time. And they started offering to help in any way they could.
In returning to academhack's post, the one thing that I would really like to highlight is a point that he buries to a degree. He suggests that the networks between students and professors who are using Twitter is similar to the networks one has to learn to form in order to be successful in graduate school. In thinking back on my graduate school experience to this point, I think that Twitter could have made bridging the gap between myself and our department's faculty even easier. I understand why not everyone wants to spend their time Twittering or sharing their private lives with whatever grad students may want to listen in. But the chance to get to know faculty members outside of the seminar room and their office hours are equally rare and valuable. Twitter is a tool that allows us to readjust and strengthen these relationships.
And then to extend them laterally as we discover others who share our interests. When we don't all have travel/conference budgets to get out and meet all the people we would like to get to know, Twitter is a means for knowing what those whose work we are following in print are doing with their time. And it becomes the means to get to know them as well as or better than the people with whom you share an office wall.