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Friday, February 29, 2008

Explain Twitter without using a computer

Try this as an exercise: Explain Twitter to someone who’s never seen it. You’ve got 10 seconds to think about it. Oh, and you can't use a computer. Ready? No? Too bad, away you go.

It's harder than it looks. I know because I attempted to explain not only Twitter but also RSS feeds, Google reader, Google alerts and the usefulness of blogging to a group of journalism students yesterday – but without a computer.

I was at the new Whitireia Community Polytechnic campus on Cuba St in Wellington (upstairs in a nice light, roomy space which is not quite finished) and the PCs weren’t hooked up yet, nor a data projector. So it was the whiteboard or nothing. Which worked well enough given that it was an informal session. But my diagrams and illustrative anecdotes sure do need work.

I’m going to be working with three journalism schools this year, in one capacity or another, and really want to give students some ideas on how to use web tools in their jobs.

To use Twitter, for example, the way beat bloggers are: asking colleagues for question ideas, contacts, seeing what people are talking about and picking up on interesting links.

To follow prominent bloggers in their beat, and use RSS feeds and a reader to keep track of blogs and news. To use Google alerts to track names, places, topics; shared bookmarks to pool their resources and help each other out; and mine forums, Flickr, Twitter, Pownce for story ideas.

And to blog, because what better way to get used to writing every day and understand keywords, headlines, links.

So far I’ve introduced myself to around 30 students; only four or five are bloggers, most don’t know how to use RSS or Google alerts, none were familiar with Twitter or wikis.

I have my work cut out for me.

I’ve found a new respect for teachers this week, having had to stand up and ‘teach’ a class of my peers during a teaching and learning conference at AUT University in Auckland and walked unprepared into the classroom yesterday morning.

I’ve no shortage of ideas on what I’d like students to walk away with, but less idea on how to go about it.

It’s not enough to stand up there and talk. Powerpoint slides are good, but can be inflexible, tie you to the computer and restrict you to a sequential presentation. The whiteboard’s good but you have your back to the class and it’s harder than it looks to listen, write things down in your best handwriting, encourage participation, value students’ suggestions and use them to make the point you set out to make. Good teachers make it look effortless. It isn’t for a newbie.

So, my homework is to play with some active teaching ideas, look harder at the excellent Common Craft series of videos which I think do a great job of explaining web tools. And I’m going to dive into Wired Journalists to see what’s there and scour Paul Bradshaw and Andy Dickinson’s posts for ideas.

Anyone got any other suggestions?

5 comments:

Miraz said...

Nothing like starting at the deep end! :-)

People who haven't taught before always assume too much, go too fast and try to cram too much in.

It always helps to try analogies from the students' experience - give analogies and also ask for them.

Patrick said...

After our discussion the other day, I found this site: http://twitterfeed.com/

It's an easy way to run RSS feeds through Twitter.

Julie Starr said...

Deep end sounds about right:)

Thanks for the advice.

noodlepie said...

If you can boil these things down to really simple diagrams and talk your students through them it's well worthwhile. Here's one I use,

http://flickr.com/photos/noodlepie/953173741/

Should be self explanatory, if it ain't it doesn't work.

Julie Starr said...

Thanks Noodlepie. Working on a couple of diagrams as we speak.