Notes from a Twitter Newbie

I don’t get the hype.
Image from

This past year, I heard–and saw–many students shift from using Facebook regularly to embracing Twitter.  I caught students constantly checking their accounts, sending mostly inane and sometimes shockingly inappropriate messages during the school day. Can’t w8 to get high and f%$k this school, to name a few.  I couldn’t stand it.

Instead of focusing on my digital storytelling assignment, those addicted students toggled back and forth from editing a picture or audio clip to checking their Twitter feed.  Is there any substance to this? I thought to myself regularly. 

Now some of my students have moved on to Tumblr as the next big thing, but Twitter’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years across demographic groups.  According to mediabistro, the number of users on Twitter recently surpassed half a billion, but apparently only one third of those Twitterers are active users.  Count me as a newbie, a barely active user.

I joined the masses in the Twitterverse. 

I signed up a few months ago, after my friend Steve Kertis of Kertis Creative recommended that I test it out.  After all, it’s hard to be a practicing blogger or writer, hoping to reach greater audiences and engage in continuing dialogue, without playing the social media game.  Not just Facebook.  Not just Twitter.  Not just Pinterest.  But a combination of several sites seems to be the MO.

I understand Twitter’s potential value, so I follow fifty or so people, mostly fellow educators and technology writers/thinkers, to scan the information they curate.  I’ll click on an article link now and then.  But I find it a chore to retweet, post regularly, and attempt to amass followers and follows.  I have a whopping 12 followers.

I already have my “go-to” sites for information, great blogs I check on WordPress, and spend enough time engaged with a screen. 

 I can see why some educators push to teach students to use Twitter thoughtfully, but I don’t think the overzealous approach by educators like Vicki Davis at Cool Cat Teacher and Lisa Nielsen at Innovative Educator, advocating for unbridled cell phone use in classrooms, is prudent.

I don’t want to allow students to have the constant distraction at their fingertips.  With regards to digital media/literacy, I’d rather teach them to blog, use Google Drive, and connect on Skype with other classrooms across the world.  Technophiles such as Davis and Nielsen don’t seem to be willing to reflect on whether or not constant connectivity and mobile device use is actually a good thing.  I also don’t buy the argument that “writing” on a mobile device during class time is generally a productive use of time compared to handwriting or typing responses to thoughtful prompts.

I’m not entirely sold on Twitter personally, but I’m not giving up just yet.  I am currently convinced, however, that I don’t want students to be able to use Twitter all day, every class period, on their mobile devices, even with instruction on how to be more mindful users.

What are your thoughts?  Do you Tweet?  Do you find it beneficial personally or professionally?  Why do you choose to spend time on Twitter, versus other social media outlets?  How about Twitter’s role in education?  Does it have a place?


  1. Thanks for the comments Beverley…this post has generated a great discussion thread! The comments above are from some of my students, and even though they are aware of the positive potential of Twitter, they don’t believe many of their classmates would use it productively during school time if given the freedom.
    I think you’re right that most educators who are quick to say no haven’t explored it.

  2. I agree that I don’t find Twitter to be an interesting source of information in my personal life. However, I noticed that most people who are saying it has no place in the classroom also mention that they do not use it themselves. I believe it is our job as educators to make information relevant to students, and Twitter is definitely one way to do that. Teaching them how to use a tool with which they are already familiar in a productive way is a valuable lesson.

    It is also possible to have an account for a class and not actually use it during class time. Twitter is a fantastic way to engage students in conversation outside of class both with their peers and with others on an international scale. I’m not 100% there yet myself, but I don’t see how education will ever progress if we don’t explore new tools. For professional development, it has certainly opened a lot of doors…

  3. I absolutely agree. I use Twitter professionally and have found it to be an invaluable resource full of amazing, intelligent, progressive thinkers. It can be used as little or as much as you like, and I never imagined that I would find one place with so many possibilities for innovation and collaboration.

  4. Very true! Nobody is forcing anyone to follow me, you, or anybody else. It seems like diaries and journals, instead of being highly personal things, have moved into a more public space online.

  5. I mean I get that. But at the end of the day, you’ve typed every last detail of your life into a “tweet” and then you begin to get upset when strangers know everything about you. Wheres your privacy? I understand social networking is for SOCIAL NETWORKING but is it really all that social in the end? You aren’t making any real friends just by following or retweeting. And the real friends that you had may be getting annoyed at your constant twitter usage. Whatever happened to going out making legitimate relationships and friendships? Going to picnics, the movies, the mall. All of it gone. Thanks to Twitter and other useless social networks.

  6. Didn’t know people were using social networking in the classroom, until now. In all my honest opinion, social networking doesn’t belong in the classroom. Unless its a webpage only used for educational purposes. So one the school sets up or something like that. If students want to socialize, do that on their own time. I personally don’t have a twitter, I’m more into fb and pinterest. People don’t need to post their lives online.

  7. True, I use twitter as a diary a little bit. But as young teens, everything we do we find interesting, we want others to know too. Its not a matter of if you care what we post. Its our page. You don’t have to follow us. Sure, some things we post are dumb & silly. But you have the choice not to follow certain people!

  8. About three times a day over that time. We agree that students would probably distract themselves too much…
    How many people do you follow?
    Have you ever stopped following someone?

  9. No. Why? Because they want to stalk the cute guy in class they’re too nervous to speak to. Or pretend to be this famous, well known, “witty” twitter hero when in all actuality they’re just as normal, and shadow bound as the rest of us.

  10. I enjoy using twitter. Not for the insulting, disrespectful, inconsiderate, ignorant people and their slimy tweets. But because I can customize my page, add photos and communicate with my friends and cheerleaders. I don’t have a phone. So I follow my friends communicate. Using it inside of class would most definitely not work. You’d have to really search for someone you want to DM or Tweet.

  11. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Twitter isn’t all its perked up to be. It’s simply a way to keep tabs on people who you wouldn’t dare speak to in reality. So why bother?

  12. Like you Mr. Barnwell i have a twitter and have been having one for quite some time, but i rarely even tweet. Ive been on twitter for about a year and a half now and ive only tweeted about 1500 times. That’s baby compared to how much i see some of my friends tweet which is about 100 times a day and we all made our twitter accounts around the same time. You do the math. I myself mostly follow sports bloggers such as Jody Demling of the courier journal. I like to see whats going on in high school sports throughout Kentucky. I also follow follow pages that teach me interesting facts about things i didn’t know. I personally think that if students are allowed to use twitter during class whether their taught to use it thoughtfully or not it will still be a big distraction for them and also the teacher

  13. I agree with you! I was initially excited about seeing a constant wall feed of what people were up to, then I realized….there are 1000 things I’d rather be doing.
    Social media does have an addictive quality to it.
    Do you think many teenagers would cut back on the number of follows on Twitter, to try and follow only people who might have more useful informational/opinions on a given topic?

  14. Summarizing is a skill but the content of the 140 character summary shared with all the users of Twitter, is debatable. Exactly, how in depth can you get with 140 characters?

  15. I myself don’t have a Twitter. Nor do I have a Facebook. At first the thought of being able to connect with friends and follow their every step throughout the day was kind of interesting. It was what everyone was doing and I felt as if I had a duty to be a part of the Social Networking Movement. As time went on I’ve come to realize its all a big fat waste of time ( except for Tumblr, of course ) . Think about it.. Everyday kids are mindlessly scrolling down their twitter feeds looking at pictures and random tweets and for what? Whats it teaching them? Are they learning anything? Are there minds any bigger than they were when they logged in? No. I’d understand if this was useful information these MILLIONS of teens/young adults are consuming, but thats not the case. What you had for dinner, how you hate school, how you wish your mom would “stfu”.. Sure, this are things other kids can relate to, maybe, but how exactly is it helping me? Their not using this networks to their full potential, instead their using it as a cyber-spaced diary because no one else wants to listen, because no one else cares. Thats the sad truth behind it all. Simple.

  16. Great thoughts Courtney, although some teachers would disagree with your premise that you can’t say anything useful within 140 words. Summarizing can be a real skill.
    We seem to have similarly limited experience on Twitter.

  17. I made a twitter account against my better judgement. However, I hardly use it because needless to say, Twitter is not high on my list of priorities. And personally, I think that Twitter has no place in the world of education. Nothing on Twitter can be of much value considering the 140 word count limit. And if someone on twitter posts stimulating and intriguing things on there, I highly doubt they have many followers to rave about. Then again, it’s possible that there are positive things about twitter. Maybe my personal experience isn’t the personal experience of the masses. Although, I truly don’t think the “Twitter Famous” has any room for intelligence with all the retweeting of the oh so popular “Twitter Gurus.” Twitter has not done the human race any favors.

  18. Thanks for stopping by Bill.
    I recently joined TLN so look forward to more discussions/dialogue.
    Do you use Twitter in your classroom with students?
    I truly wonder if it’s a net gain to allow highschoolers–even those who understand how Twitter can be used productively–to allow unrestricted access to them.

  19. Strong thoughts!
    Before I tried Twitter, I did think it was merely inundated with useless crap and blurbs. There’s more to it, but it certainly has captured the lion’s share of people who want instant gratification and useless information in a relentless stream.

  20. Radney wrote:

    Twitter is the winning “low field bid” in the world of social marketing. They have staked out the bottom of the barrel and they will only lose out when someone invents something more appealing to the unintelligent

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Wow. This doesn’t reflect my experience with Twitter at all. In fact, the people that I follow on Twitter are incredibly intelligent — and the content that they are creating and sharing helps me to grow as a professional every single day.

    You can’t blame any service for the mindlessness of the people that you’ve chosen to follow there. That’s a lot like blaming guns for the actions of criminals.

    Instead, start finding and following better people. You’ll find out pretty quickly that Twitter is a fantastic tool for sorting through the web and quickly finding things that are related to your personal and professional interests.


  21. If I didn’t write or blog as frequently as I do, I’d probably use it more. I’m more into creating content than curating, I think, and I have almost no use for using social media for strictly personal relationships…

  22. Twitter is the winning “low field bid” in the world of social marketing. They have staked out the bottom of the barrel and they will only lose out when someone invents something more appealing to the unintelligent

  23. I’m a student going into my sophomore year in highschool. I’m actually familiar with edmodo because my english teacher uses the site and encouraged all her students to also use it (resulting in me using it). I’m somewhat new to the blogging world – I started a blog in June, and have enjoyed using it. My blog is baseball related, but it is nice to read about other topics.

  24. At the same time, there are plenty of professions that tap into the vast resource/community that Twitter is for marketing, spreading ideas, etc, so I don’t completely discount it for “real world” application. The question of whether or not teenagers can balance their personal interests on Twitter versus worthwhile pursuits is the one that gets me. I don’t think it’s a good trade off.

  25. With WordPress taking up a good chunk of my online life–and I’m glad to use it–I’m definitely not at a point where I want to give another chunk away to the Twitterverse!
    Off to fix my bike…:)

  26. I agree that Twitter can be a great place to brainstorm or find inspiration. It’s interesting to see the mix of personal messages and links to articles, etc.
    Some people seem to have a knack for sharing personal details about their life that others care about…

  27. It seems to be an art to curate on Twitter. It didn’t take me too long to find authors and writers I respect, but I don’t want to flood my feed with too much more!

  28. Are you a student? Good to see you out here in the blogging world–we need more young voices to add to the discussion. I’ve started using It’s a Facebook-like site for classrooms, without all the distractions. So far, it has been a relatively big hit, and useful too.

  29. I have FB, and I’m not against tweeters, but I certainly don’t allow that in my classroom. As I see it, part of my job is helping students prepare for lives in the “real world.” Unless things change – which is entirely possible – most “real world” jobs tend to frown upon employees blatantly using technology for personal use. I feel like if I let it slide, then I am setting them up for failure later on.

  30. I definitely tweet… sometimes I’m not sure what it’s worth though.
    As a budding writer, I find it most useful as a way to brainstorm and create buds of ideas. Sometimes if I’m looking for inspiration for a post, I’ll turn back to my twitter to see if I’ve come up with anything of substance… it’s certainly a quantity over quality feed however : )
    I hope the next generation embraces technology for the good, and not the evil!

  31. This is such a good post! Every time my phone pings with a message, he says things like, “Somebody just wiped their butt.” or “Someone just ate Cheerios.” It’s kind of true. I tried to quit Facebook for a while, but everything I thought, saw, or did I considered how I would post that. It took a while for me to not think like that anymore. Now I’m back on FB – still don’t do Twitter, although I don’t see that lasting long. I’m sure I’ll be on board soon enough…

  32. I recently got a Twitter account, mainly as another option for people to follow my blog, but I’m not really sure how what to do with it. I want my feed to be actually useful (not full of people tweeting from the bathroom) so I’m trying to be selective about who I follow, but I honestly don’t have a clue as to how to find good, substantial tweeters with meaningful content. There’s just too much junk to wade through.

  33. I do not tweet, nor do I have a Twitter. Social Media getting to be today’s way of communicating, and i understand that in most cases it is easy and useful. However, i DONT think students or people in general should just be on those sites to waste their time away.

    My highschool allows facebook because some of the teachers use it to educate, and have facebook pages for their classes. In some sences it has a place, but in another sence it doesnt.

    Very good blog entry, great discussion!

  34. Kudos to you for stepping back from social media and realizing that it isn’t necessary by any means.
    Personally, I barely use both Facebook and Twitter as social outlets, but rather for my writing life as a teacher and blogger.

  35. I don’t Twitter or have a Facebook account or any of that stuff and I don’t think my social life, online or off, has suffered. The bottom line of all online media has become to sell to the consumer what they don’t need, the same as offline. It’s sometimes subtly done to the point where the consumer is never even aware of it, but it’s there nonetheless. And like all things in social media, the less experienced in life yield the biggest harvest.

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