Twitter as a VLE?

An interesting discussion on VLE’s on EdTech Roundup last night got me thinking – and it might have been discussed at length elsewhere, but could we honestly use Twitter as a VLE? First of all, it’s free and can be accessed by a large audience. There aren’t any major hoops to jump through when signing up, (such as permissions and approvals) so staff and students can sign up and start communicating.

To be a central communication point was one of our first considerations for a VLE; this would especially be true for daily school notices and other sport or extramural events. So, @wgsschool might be the first tweeter whom students follow and check on regularly for news or instructions. @football1 or @rugbyU14a could be responsible for tweeting sports updates and @dramaclub for organising and promoting times of play rehearsals.

Teachers would obviously be known by their full names, e.g. @mrsturner, and potentially these would be aside from the Twitter name they might already be using. Any instructions for a lesson could be sent out on Twitter and if notes, work, schemes and plans were needed to be elaborated on, students could be directed via Twitter to a web page, blog, wiki, Google docs – whichever storage method the teacher preferred.  A lesson created this way wouldn’t undermine the teacher’s presence and interaction with the class, but support it, especially if a student wanted to review it at home. This could also be true if a parent wanted to ‘take part’ in their child’s education. Twitter could be useful if a teacher wanted every student to respond to questions in class, if several students were too shy to answer questions out loud, or if class discussions were dominated by the brightest students. Group collaboration could also take place via Twitter, although I’d imagine that this would be largely at the homework stage as in school, verbal communication is best.

Twitter certainly fulfils the forums aspect of a VLE. As an example, @studentparliament could encourage wide discussion of a new school uniform. Direct messages could be sent as quickly as the Twitter load could handle  – ‘@jamessmith please see @Head immediately’, and students could be effectively taught to deal with cyber bullying because the bully can’t hide. If a bully signed up with a fake identity @toohottotrot, and if the victim wasn’t following that twitterer, they wouldn’t receive the offending message.

Regular assessment reports could be linked into a tweet directly from the form tutor, where the link went directly to the student’s page on the MIS. (Password protected of course.)

I’m sure there are many more ways in which Twitter could be effectively used, and I’d like to encourage responses, good and bad. Two considerations which spring immediately to mind are: the fail whale and the correct software vehicle to use in order to ensure that all levels of communication could be effectively covered, i.e. DM’s, groups and so on.


7 Responses

  1. Although there are many positives, I see a number of serious negatives that prevents me considering it as a tool for a VLE structure, particularly for assessments.

    1) The institution lacks control over access, both for privacy, confidentiality and for hacking.
    2) It is not data secure – you don’t have a back up should there be any other academic appeal, so you neither prove nor disprove anything.
    3) The content and/or layout is liable to change and is outside your control. Facebok have recently doing this.
    4) The Data Protection Act – you cannot ensure that the data provided or being provided is private – Twitter is public.
    5) Data transmission is not guaranteed as it’s outside the institution’s control.
    6) The copyright of all postings is given away.

    I have responsibility for Virtual Learning within our Faculty and have been looking at all social media for assessment and have reluctantly concluded that, although it would be very useful and more in tune with the students normal practice, the issues raised above preclude its use.

  2. Dear Kerry,

    The idea of Twitter does certainly appeal to those of us interested in collaborative and connected learning and, as you point out very convincingly, Twitter could also be used (I dare say it is probably already being used) to help with the day-to-day running of a school.

    There is some very good work out there in the blogs, quite a lot of it from @tombarrett , for example:

    Now, in an ideal world unlike the one we live in, Twitter would be a no brainer… so much functionality in such a simple concept! However, there are a few snags I can think of (I am being devil’s advocate here):

    1) Twitter relies on people logging on and checking status. I don’t know in your school, but in mine, it’s hard enough to get the staff to check their emails, never mind Twitter as well. Students might also abuse the nature of Twitter by claiming they never received notification of that piece of homework you set via Twitter.

    2) Privacy. Students might be open to unwanted followers who might know when and where they have a lacrosse match. Yes, updates can be protected in Twitter, but that means that, if you want two way communication, every single student would have to approve every single follower: @Head, @MrsTurner, @RugbyU14 etc. This could easily be overcome, it’s not such a big problem, but it does adds an extra layer of complication and it also leaves the possibility open for students to block a user, @Head, for example, and stop receiving their notifications.

    The idea of using a Twitter like tool as a means of communication within a school is indeed a brilliant one, but I think there is a better alternative out there: Edmodo.

    Edmodo is like twitter but adds some extra, very useful, functionality, like, for example, being notified via email (or via Twitter!) every time an update is sent to you; private groups can be set up (Spanish Year 12, RugbyU14, Year 8, Lower school, Senior School, Art Trip to Italy, etc); and it allows embedding of media and documents directly into the timeline.

    I have been using Edmodo with my 6th Form as a trial since September ’08 and, so far, both my students and I are delighted with the results. I have blogged about our experiences here:

    Best regards

  3. Hi,

    Many thanks for your very interesting thoughts on using Twitter.

    I’d just like to add that a full-blown VLE offers much more than a message board or forums, so although I can see interesting ways of using Twitter to enhance our teaching and engage learners’ interest I don’t think it really constitutes a viable alternative to something like Moodle.


  4. Thanks for the very comprehensive responses on Twitter as a VLE. I would agree that there are far better services and applications which provide alternatives. Perhaps somewhere with less of a demand for a full VLE – or a school with little funding, could make excellent use of Twitter – as indicated by the cohesive responses from all.

  5. […] read another interesting blog-post on internet, too ( There Kelly Turner writes about her thoughts about Twitter as a VLE. After the last article I was […]

  6. Twitter can certainly be used to promote new content and interact. What it misses is individual accountability.

    So, if I set some year 10 work, I want to make sure everyone has seen, opened it, worked on it, responded and the work is ready to be marked.

    I like the idea of opening the community up. Perhaps parents could also follow the tweets and we could have greater transparency.

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