A couple of weeks ago in our New Media Faculty Seminar I gave a short presentation on why I use Twitter in one of the writing classes I teach at UC Berkeley. The class is College Writing 105: Finding Your Voice with Others. It’s a hybrid intermediate composition class: we meet one day f-2-f and one day online. When I created the class, I wanted to integrate the use of Web 2.0 tools in an organic way. Web 2.0 is, after all, a writer’s paradise. (A friend once told me that MySpace was a musician’s dream come true, and that Twitter functions much the same way for writers.)
I’ve been tweeting for a couple of years and find the comments people continually make about Twitter a bit tiresome: Who cares what you had for breakfast! You can’t say anything meaningful in 140 characters! (I will confess, however, that before I started tweeting, I had a similar response.)
It seems that a number of people do care about what other people are eating. You can find twitpics of all sorts of delicious-looking food, links to recipes, links to articles by Michael Pollan, and yes, some mindless chatter. But these things fill our lives anyway. The difference is, I suppose, that we are generally talking to someone we know at least a little when we start describing our scrumptious meal. And unless we are email spammers, we probably don’t send links to strangers. But people who tweet know that if you can’t say something meaningful in 140-characters, you can always link to it. And while you might not have had a f-2-f encounter with your tweeps, you can get to know them. One community I belong to is the group who writes for the daily micro-essay competition judged by @cnfonline (Twitter handle of the print magazine Creative Nonfiction) using the #cnftweet hashtag. CNFonline gives us the opportunity to write something meaningful, to craft a small story, a bit of truth for others to read.
I thought it would be fun for the class to give the #cnftweet competition a try. So to demonstrate some of the features of micro-writing, I made a Prezi for the class, using some of my own micro-writing and some of the Favorites selected by @cnfonline, all of them written by my #cnftweet tweeps (who I wrote about here Keep it Short: Make it Elegant ). I used the same title for the Prezi (which I can’t embed–but here’s the link Keep it Short). I don’t know how persuaded the NMFS skeptics were that my micro writing or those of my #cnftweet buddies is meaningful, but my students were willing to give it a shot. About half of the 20 students had Twitter accounts, but only about five of them tweeted regularly. (Research shows that only 11% of Twitter users are between the ages of 12-17, and though my students are older than 17, they are not a much older.)
During the week of October 24th everyone in the class was required to tweet using the hashtags #cnftweet #amwriting or #cw105 (the one for our class). Two students won the competition that week (one of them had also won in the previous week). Their names and #cnftweets are in this short news article on the website of my department at UCB, College Writing Programs: Two CW 105 Students Win Micro-Essay Competition. If you teach writing, I don’t have to sell you on the benefits of a real and immediate audience for student writers. Like me, you probably spent years copying and stapling together pieces of paper so that your students would have a way of publishing their writing. These two students don’t have to make copies of anything but the link in order to send friends and family news of their writing. And their #cnftweets are now in the pool from which the editors of the print magazine will select several to publish in the Tiny Truths column that appears in every issue.
Up next for the class: Prezi. I’ll keep you posted.