March 2011 Archives

Capturing History a Tweet at a Time


It's often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Now many researchers are adding Twitter to that historical pile and want to ensure Twitter messages are also archived and preserved. The power of Twitter messages, or Tweets, has been linked recently to uprisings in Egypt and Iran.

It seems just as Twitter is becoming a force for political and social change company officials are making it more difficult for researchers to collect messages to analyze.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Twitter officials sent notices to several companies that archive Tweets. The notices informed the archive services that "redistributing large numbers of Tweets violated the company's terms of service." Twitter officials apparently have a problem with a third party using its content. Twitter archive companies, such as Twapper Keeper, were forced to basically shut down most service. Last week Twitter revised its rules slightly and at least one site has restored a portion of its archiving functions.

The issue of preserving Tweets and using them in research is confusing. In 2010 the founders of Twitter reached an agreement with the Library of Congress to create a digital archive of the billions of Tweets publicly posted on the site since its founding in 2006. The Library of Congress is testing a system that will give researchers access to public Tweets.

In an email interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress, Martha Anderson, said, "We are planning for an introductory pilot that focuses working with researchers to get a better understanding of what we can be provided both technically and policy-wise according to our terms of agreement with the donor," she said. "Our agreement requires that we notify users that they cannot use the data for commercial purposes or redistribute it, in whole or in substantial portions."

Professors, graduate students, and researchers must now wait for some clarification before they can easily collect and use large numbers of Tweets in their work.

Should Teachers and Students be Facebook Friends?

The state of Virginia is currently debating rules and recommendations when it comes to digital communications between students and teachers. The state's Board of Education is voting on a policy that would restrict teacher-student interaction via social networks and text messages.

According to the policy, "Teachers and other school employees must decline or ignore friend requests or other private invitations from students; should an emergency force a teacher to use "a personal communications device or account to contact an individual student," that interaction must be reported." The Virginia State Board of Education took up the issue after past incidents of sexual relationships between teachers and students.

ReadWriteWeb reports, "One teacher has argued electronic communications needn't be singled out, and that administrators should trust teachers to follow the professional code of conduct regardless of where their interactions with students take place." Some educators are concerned the recommendations may make it more difficult to use technology in class.

Prof A, do I really have to be in class?

commercial_-empty-auditorium-or-lecture-hall.jpgIn an era when many elite universities such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and Harvard's Open Learning Initiative are posting materials online for free, students can easily grab material online. Such a learning environment avoids courses completely or seriously reshapes them, which might eventually produce a very effective new form of college. This provocative idea was recently posted by Randy Bass, as reported in an article in The Chronicle.

Bass pointed out that many students rate the most valuable part of their learning experience at college takes place outside the traditional classroom and beyond the formal curriculum. His observations are supported by an annual study from the National Survey of Student Engagement. Data from the study revealed that four of the eight "high-impact" learning activities identified by students who took the survey required no classroom time at all. At a time when many college administrators are taking a hard look at the status quo in college instruction, Mr. Bass hopes that instructors will stop looking at traditional courses as a goal unto themselves but focus more on linking skills conveyed in the classroom to hands-on and practical student activities. In fact, this evolution in pedagogy has already begun, as Mr. Bass argues, exemplified by a new generation of instructors using technology-infused/assisted teaching methods.

As much information can be found online, having a course without any lecture at all is not entirely absurd. According to The Chronicle, some universities have already started to challenge the traditional course model by running seven-week immersion projects with no lecture component, in which students collaborate with one another in teams on projects that benefit nonprofit organizations.

If practical activities instead of lectures become the core activity at colleges, do students even need to come to campus? What will the future hold for traditional courses? Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional course model?

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