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Cultivating Twitter

By Lisa Chamberlin, Kay Lehmann / August 2010

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Cultivating Twitter

August 10, 2010

In a recent article ("Finding a Place for Twitter in Higher Education," May 20, 2010,, Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa reported some of the findings in a Faculty Focus 2009 survey, "Twitter in Higher Education: Usage Habits and Trends of Today's College Faculty."

In the article, Al-Khalifa summarizes the findings of the more than 2,000 respondents, writing that according to the survey, the majority of higher education thinks Twitter is a gigantic time suck with little to no educational value. While she accurately reported the findings, she missed reporting the bigger picture, namely, that while approximately 30 percent of the surveyed higher education professionals tweet, currently only 10 percent of the general Internet-using public makes regular use of Twitter. The college ranks are outpacing the public in adoption nearly 3 to 1.

As Twitter continues to expand its reach within the public, it exponentially expands it within higher education.

Why is there so much derisive criticism of Twitter by educational institutions that are rapidly making use of the technology? Part of the answer is the learning curve. Twitter looks simple. Indeed, it has a simple interface. But to see its value beyond celebrity tweeting is a bit more complex.

Twitter is much like gardening. A shovel and vegetable seeds are simple objects, but growing a vegetable garden is much more complex. As gardeners study horticultural techniques, read what the experts have to say, and chat with knowledgeable neighbors, they begin to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Those who don't put in the energy waste time, get weeds, and have little to show for their effort. Instead of the no-to-low cost of the salad grown at home, the weekend gardener ends up paying a much higher cost to get the same beneficial nutrients at the store.

Twitter is just like this. The Twitter "garden" flourishes only when you put in the time to cultivate it. Twitter is so much more than a status update, but the seeds have to be planted and watered first.

Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal expressed it well in their 2009 Educause Quarterly article, "Horton Hears a Tweet": "With Twitter, as with all social-networking tools, the value of the experience hinges on three things: 1) whom you are connected to and with; 2) how frequently you participate; and 3) how conscientious you are about contributing value to the community."

We never would have known about Lowenthal's contribution to the social-networking discussion if we hadn't been Twitter users. We saw his informational tweets on another user's Twitter feed, discovered he was the academic technology coordinator at CU Online at the University of Colorado Denver, and began following him. When we were in the process of writing a book chapter about Twitter, we tweeted that we were doing some research on the topic of Twitter in higher education, and Lowenthal tweeted back with this and other resource articles. This give-and-take is the nature of Twitter, the sharing of resources, the meeting (or challenging) of minds, collaboration, and broadening the conversation.

Those higher education Twitter naysayers may be too ensconced in their silos on the university campus to find value in the broader discussions going on about teaching and learning. I hope not. I hope they just haven't figured it out yet. If they are willing to cultivate it, build a community of experts through it, and use the appropriate tools like hashtags, retweets, Tweetdeck or HootSuite, they can't help but see its value grow as they build or expand their personal learning network. They may soon wonder how they ever lived without it.

About the Authors
Lisa Chamberlin, chambo_online on Twitter, M.Ed, holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis in technology, and is an online instructor for the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She has been an online facilitator for more than a decade, as well as a freelance writer, and an editor of education articles.

Kay Lehmann, kay_lehmann on Twitter, EdD, is a Milken National Educator award-winner, with a master's degree and doctorate in online learning. She is currently working full-time as an online facilitator and writer. She is an online instructor for the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Lehmann and Chamberlin are co-authors of Making the Move to eLearning: Putting your Course Online (Rowman Education, 2009). They are both Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation award-winning educators and trainers. They recommend following these people on Twitter to start building a personal learning network:


  • Fri, 17 Dec 2010
    Post by Donna Gilliland

    Wonderful interview. I am a trainer and speaker who finds Jane inspirational. I had the pleasure of Jane being my guest on my monthly tweet chat - EngageSMChat. Very fun and insightful tweet chat.

  • Thu, 16 Dec 2010
    Post by Steve Maul

    Jane was a recent speaker at our the ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting and I'm in the process of reading her book, Social Media for Trainers. As she says in her interview, it's about practical application and use of SoMe in the workplace learning environment and goes beyond only the obvious tools that get all the publicity. The topics that Jane has cataloged are immediately usable by my development team and it's been a great prompter for how we take our training content and platforms to the next level.