Online students are connected to their homework, campus services, professors and classmates via their distance learning university, but there are other tools that can enrich their learning experience and make them feel even more included and engaged in their education. Twitter is an easy, remote-access tool that facilitates research, directs students to primary resources and interviews, and can even act as a project management system, all while allowing students free, independent access to self-directed exploration. While some students may use Twitter and other social networking sites as an extracurricular – or purely social – outlet, others can restrict their use and their friends or followers list to include only the people and organizations that are relevant to their education. English majors may wish to follow other professors on Twitter, as well as journals, newspapers, authors, word or reference sites, and other literature or language enthusiasts. Every time that student logs on to Twitter, then, he or she will be invited to all sorts of conversations, debates and collaborations that bring classroom-learned concepts into the real world. This sort of experiential education is catching on rapidly in distance learning and vocational schools, and is even gaining more traction on traditional campuses. And while Twitter is an Internet tool, it’s hardly passive: you could even call it hands-on training for participating in the workplace and valuable practice for formulating arguments and figuring out solutions to real problems.
There are lots of Twitter apps and tools that have been developed to streamline the experience, but if you overload on these, you’ll just clutter up your Twitter feed and make it more complicated. Use one tool – either a desktop client or an e-mail integration tool to keep Twitter close at hand without distracting you. Another useful tool you should start with is a directory for finding the people you want to connect with via Twitter. A popular, effective directory is WeFollow, which lets you search by keyword so that your follow list only includes users who will be of value to you and your research.
As an online student, Twitter can be an extremely significant partner, helping you with research for specific projects or to just learn more about the field you’re studying in general. With a tool like Tweetree, you can even display conversations in context, creating an automatic mind map or brainstorming illustration to organize your thoughts and papers. You can also collaborate with study partners in your own class if you want to share Twitter links and resources with them. Tools like Hoot Suite help groups keep track of messages and group members, track assignments, add notes, and organize outlines, quotes, links, and more.
If you’re already on Twitter for social networking, create a new account just for academics and career building. Limit your followers and follow list to people who won’t distract you from your work but who will educate you on the field and welcome your opinions and discussion. Share links and ideas, and be respectful, remembering that Twitter can be another extension of your online learning experience.
This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online college courses. She welcomes your comments here or at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.