In this Web 2.0 age, we expect information to beimmediate and distilled into readily digestible pieces.
I just read something disturbing: WhenSteve Jobs was asked at the recent Macworld Expo what he thought of Amazon's Kindle eBook reader,he said (as reported by The NewYork Times), "It doesn't matter howgood or bad the product is; the fact isthat people don't read anymore. Fortypercent of the people in the US readone book or less last year." (According tothe Times, that figure is really more like27 percent-still cause for concern.)
How is that quarter of the US population consuming information? I'll bet many of those people do their reading on the web. Why read someone's 300- page memoir, for instance, when you can follow a person's daily musings on his blog? Better yet, why read individual blogs, when you can jump on an aggregator site like Technorati.com to see only the most tantalizing blog posts and news stories that other people have discovered and linked to, hour by hour? In this Web 2.0 age, we expect information to be not just immediate, but also distilled into readily digestible pieces.
And the pieces keep getting smaller. Twitter, for example, allows individuals to blog their thoughts by the minute via cell phone; the missives can be read by others as text messages or RSS feeds. Each posting, or Tweet, is limited to 140 characters, making following someone on Twitter a far cry from reading a novel.
That's why I was pleasantly surprised to read a blog post from Dave Parry, an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, about "Twitter for Academia". Like me, Parry initially thought that Twitter "represented the apex of what concerns me about internet technology: solipsism and sound-bite communication." Indeed, recording the minutiae of one's daily life might seem the ultimate in self-absorption, yet after trying Twitter with his students, Parry came up with some very interesting academic uses for the technology. Among them: getting a sense of the world (what people around the globe are paying attention to at any moment); tracking language trends (how a word is used from post to post, or how the 140-character limit can affect spelling, grammar, and communication); and utilizing a "public notepad" (gaining inspiration from the creativity of others).
What impressed me most was Parry's notion that Twitter can enhance a sense of classroom community. He wrote: "Once students started twittering I think they developed a sense of each other as people beyond the classroom space, rather than just students they saw twice a week for an hour and a half." As a result, he said, students were more willing to speak up in class, and were more respectful of others. What's more, those discussions continued beyond classroom walls. "When something came up outside of class that reminded [students] of material from class time, it often got twittered," Parry wrote. "This served as a reinforcement/connection between the material and the 'real world.'"
Why stop with the classroom? Twitter could also help foster discussion and create a sense of community within an academic department, or between IT and its users. I, for one, will be twittering some book recommendations, to help re-introduce that 27 percent of the US to good, old-fashioned reading.
-Rhea Kelly, Managing Editor
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About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.