With more than 320 million active users, Twitter is not only a platform for sharing news and opinions, but also a great resource for research and education due to its unique nature. Although the tweets compiled over time reach from trivial to highly informative, they all share one common characteristic: a maximum length of 140 characters.
Because tweets are, short, precise and easily accessible, they provide a great platform for sharing scientific facts with a wider audience who might not be interested in reading in-depth articles on scientific matters.
Tweets like this are not only quick to read and informative, they also provide a great variety of starting points for further research regarding any scientific field of interest.
Moreover, Twitter is also used specifically to encourage scientific exchange between individuals. High school science teacher Adam Taylor, for example, created the hashtag #scistudentchat to organise regular conversations between students and scientists around the globe, focussing on specific topics each month.
Apart from providing quick science facts, Twitter encourages the creative engagement with literature. The strict limit of 140 characters per tweet has prompted unconventional retellings of classic novels such as Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations:
This tweet is, of course, not exactly a conclusive summary of the elaborate storyline of Great Expectations, but it provides a humorous take on a well-known literary classic, which may inspire other people to (re)read the original themselves.
These transformations of classic novels into tweets using modern language have, in fact, become so popular, that a collection of them has been published under the name ‘Twitterature‘ by Penguin Books in 2009.
Being an interactive social media platform, Twitter enables direct dialogue between individuals, a possibility which has been used for a variety of purposes, including education. It is a common occurrence, for example, to see Twitter users asking other users to identify any plant they have come across by simply uploading a picture using the hashtag #plantid.
There are even dedicated accounts, such as FlowerChecker, helping users identify various flowers. The accessibility and immediacy of Twitter help facilitate education about plants as well as other species and encourage interactive learning.
Since its creation in March 2006, Twitter has been used by individuals to provide educational content in creative ways, while it is also increasingly used by educational institutions to interact with the public.
Due to its popularity and its relevance in the social media landscape today, Twitter itself is about to become the subject of education, as the Library of Congress announced in 2010 it would archive billions of tweets to make them available for researchers in the future. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stated regarding the relevance of this decision: “The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life.”
Twitter is sometimes seen as a social networking site which is primarily utilised for sharing news and updates, yet provides a wealth of opportunities for education. The examples outlined above only offer a small glimpse of the educational potential of the website through creative engagement by its users.