Social Networking for Schools: Learn.org Speaks with the Founder of Twiducate
Twiducate is a social networking website designed specifically for classroom use. Educator Brian Aspinall founded the site to provide teachers with a safe online venue in which to communicate with students and build social networking and blogging skills. Learn.org recently caught up with Brian to learn more about the service.
Learn.org: How did you come up with the idea for Twiducate? What purpose did you intend for it to serve?
Brian Aspinall: With so many blocked networking sites in schools, I developed Twiducate as a means to model safe social networking in a collaborative environment. I also wanted a service that did not collect personal information about students, like names or email addresses, especially because my students are under 13 years of age.
Learn.org What makes Twiducate unique among the many social networking tools available to schools?
BA: Twiducate is unique in that its functionality is only limited by the teacher. Nothing has been blocked. You can add HTML, embed videos, utilize Google Docs and make use of other online tools. Also, you are not limited to 140 characters like other microblogging sites. Many teachers are doing things with Twiducate I never thought possible.
Learn.org Why do you feel it's important for schoolchildren to gain social networking and blogging skills?
BA: Social networking and blogging skills are required to be competitive in today's business world. Even the Prime Minister of Canada tweets updates. I feel social networking and blogging should also be modeled appropriately to avoid issues with cyberbullying. Netiquette is important.
Learn.org What are some of the ways that teachers can use Twiducate to enhance learning?
BA: A member of my Twitter Personal Learning Network (PLN) has compiled a list of 35 ways to use Twiducate to enhance learning. It is a great resource!
Learn.org Have online tools like Twiducate been shown to improve student engagement and grades?
BA: In the year since Twiducate's launch, it has improved student engagement. Many teachers are thrilled with the participation of students who are often more reserved. Since it is collaborative in nature, groups of students with varying skill sets are able to share ideas and thoughts to improve their learning.
Learn.org What features of Twiducate do teachers seem to find most useful? Are there any applications you're planning for the future?
BA: I think teachers like the new chat feature. Aside from the regular timeline, there is a live chat where students can brainstorm before officially tweeting or blogging a response. I get a lot of positive feedback regarding the ability to turn off post editing. To stop posts from being buried, there is an option to keep them 'pinned' to the top.
The most useful feature is the ability to embed. Twiducate is a place to collect Google Docs, YouTube videos and other media without ever having a student enter an email address, thus complying with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). I've posted YouTube videos and held private discussions in Twiducate rather than using YouTube's comment feature. . . . One person has called Twiducate a walled garden of social networks.
In the future I'd like to see a shared whiteboard section, like a digital blackboard. I also plan on developing a few apps.
Learn.org Some schools have taken to banning social networks of any kind. Do you anticipate any dangers to this practice?
BA: I think banning social networks is much the same as banning iPods, cell phones and other media. We should embrace these tools and use them to our advantage, and not only for engagement.
Proper modeling would ensure safe use of technology. Brainstorm an acceptable use policy with your students. Classrooms are very flat today. The risk in banning these technologies would be the repercussions of students using them without appropriate guidance.
Learn.org Do you have a favorite story about how an educator is using Twiducate in the classroom?
BA: One educator is using Twiducate to promote literacy in first grade! Long gone are the days of coloring or cut and paste. Not only do her students write full sentences, they do it in a microblogging format - at five years of age! The parents of her students seem to love it as well because children can also practice writing online at home.
Learn.org Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you want about Twiducate.
BA: Twiducate is free. It was developed for use in my classroom and those of a few colleagues. Within two months, it was featured on local television. Now with 60,000 teachers and students, Twiducate is used in schools all over the world - from kindergarten through university-level classrooms. Most of the features you see have been requested by other teachers; I encourage their suggestions. Because I'm a teacher myself, major Twiducate updates occur during spring and summer breaks - between youth basketball games!