Twitter – What’s all the fuss about?

April 17, 2009

Twitter has been about since 2006, but you may only just have become aware of it, with celebrities, predominantly Stephen Fry, talking about it in newspapers and on TV. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a clue what it actually is, and why you should be using it.

So what is it?

Twitter is a microblogging service. It asks the question “What are you doing?” and you post your reply, using a maximum of 140 characters. It is very much like the status updates on Facebook. You can then search for people to follow – which mean you can read what they have been “tweeting”, and hope that some of them follow you back.

But why on earth is this useful to me in terms of education?

Very good question. Initially I hated the idea, I don’t feel the need to inform other people of my every waking thought and action and I’m really not interested in what Britney Spears had for lunch. Slowly though it became clear that this wasn’t its real strength and I now use it for the following two reasons:

1. To find out useful information and news as it happens. Teachers and educationalists post up useful links to stories and resources here. News stories often break on Twitter first, for example the landing of the plane in the Hudson River. You can search Twitter using keywords and see what other people are saying about certain topics. As an ex-MFL teacher I would have loved to have had Twitter in 1989 as the Berlin Wall fell.

2. To ask questions of my peers and get immediate feedback. Unfortunately this is more difficult without a good number of followers, but I can post a question on Twitter for my followers to answer. For example, if anyone has used a particular piece of software, or could recommend a website for a certain subject area.

tweet example

It’s all about creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for yourself, and being able to communicate with the network in a quick and painless way.

Can it also be used in the classroom?

Yes it can. There is a good presentation here that details 22 ways it can be used with students. Not all of them may be practical, but I like ideas such as writing the first line and getting students to continue the story on twitter, or writing tweets in the style of a famous person from history or literary character.

The main drawback in using Twitter with students is the very public nature of the application, so do use wisely.

How do I get started?

Head over to and sign up for an account. You can follow me, username @catherinelliott – I can’t promise fascinating tweets, but I may be able to answer any questions you have. You can also access this Wiki, created by students in the US, on how to use Twitter (thanks to @josepicardo on Twitter for pointing me there).

Addition: To find like-minded people to follow on Twitter, head to

If anyone finds any other good uses for Twitter, please comment on this post, or you could always tweet!