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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Collaborative Writing, 140 Characters at a Time

A teacher in suburban Washington DC has launched a collaborative writing initiative using the messaging tool Twitter. Prepare to be concise!

Some of you may know that I’m a heavy user of Twitter. A mix of blogging and chat, it allows users to send out short bursts of ideas comprised of 140 characters or less.

Twitter users subscribe to their friends’ Twitter posts, or “tweets.” You can post tweets on the Web, via instant messaging or texting, and receive them the same way.

For example, my Twitter account is twitter.com/acarvin. I post updates from my phone or computer when I have something to share, and follow friends as they tweet, too.

Twitter has been called by some people as a form of “microblogging.” You can only fit so much info into 140 characters, so it forces you to be economic with words.

Because users subscribe to each other, it becomes a form of conversation. For example, I follow almost 200 people on Twitter, while around 700 people follow me.

Twitter is being embraced by many bloggers, including educational bloggers, but not much has happened in terms of using Twitter with students. But that’s changing.

George Mayo, a middle school teacher in Montgomery County, MD, launched Manyvoices, which may be the first collaborative student writing project on Twitter.

Mayo’s idea was to embrace Twitter’s 140 character limit as a creative challenge for his students, using a framework known as a Twittory.

Created by Cameron Reilly, a Twittory is a story in which each person may add only 140 characters to the story. The story must also be told in 140 posts - no more, no less.

With Manyvoices, Mayo is challenging 140 students, including his own and others from around the world, to compose a story based on the rules of a Twittory.

“It’s a fun way to practice a creative writing exercise. It also makes students think about story structure-building suspense,” he told me via Twitter.

In the first 24 hours of the project, there have been half a dozen contributions:

1. In the depths of New York City, on top of the Empire State Building, a creature rested. That creature was me.

2. As I feel my life slipping away from me, I can barely remember a time when I was happy. I remember my friends and family. Like a dream.

3. I feel like I’m totaly lost. It’s like I’m in a scary movie. I can’t even see because it’s so foggy. What am I going to do? Where can I go?

4. Maybe I’ll slowly creep away tonight, while the city sleeps, and make my way back to the depths of the ocean. A place I call home.

5. As I start down, I can still see movement in the city. So I creep lightly through dark alleys so nobody can see me. Suddenly,

6. I see a light turn on in a window. My eyes lock with a young woman holding a baby. She screams and I start to run.

The methodology is reminiscent of the Twitter Haiku, in which contributors must contain an entire Haiku within the limits of 140 characters, like this:

Seven score keystrokes
Life summarized for my friends
Instant messaging.

Mayo’s project, like twittories in general, takes it one step further by requiring others to participate and anticipate the limited number of contributions allowed.

While other twittories have been open to any Twitter user, Mayo is limiting his students and their peers.

“Only middle schoolers can participate,” he added. “It’s a closed community. Anyone can read, but not everyone can contribute.”

If you don’t use Twitter, you can follow the story by visiting twitter.com/manyvoices. Twitter subscribers receive them via instant messaging or texting.

To have your students join the project, you can email Mayo at mrmayo.org at gmail.com or message him @mrmayo via Twitter. -andy

Filed under : Blogging, Cool Tools, People, Youth Media


Yet another super-neat project utilizing new technology. This looks so fun I might see if I can set one up with my writing friends!

I think there are a lot of educational uses for Twitter. A few ideas would include having students text review questions back and forth to each other using Twitter and answering those questions. Students could do this with their cell phones for homework. Students could also use Twitter to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming group project. I think there are many possibilities out there.

Great project!

I helped 5th grade teachers develop a similar project in Brooklyn, where students created a “list poem” by posting blog comments with one line of poetry at a time on a common theme.

Twitter would work well for this, by allowing more students from various schools to participate in the list. Unfortunately, Twitter is currently blocked by the NYC Department of Ed.

Just browsing the internet. You have a very, very interesting blog.

Interesting idea! I am on my way now to see what the story has developed into. It makes you wonder about other creative uses you could use Twitter for to promote collaboration and creativity.

I have a phone package that includes a large volume of text messaging, but what about students who have cheaper packages that charge by the message? (Usually, I think, 10 cents a message.) Wouldn’t that be prohibitive to some students?

There’s no requirement that students use text messaging. Students can participate via the Web or instant messaging as well.

I was so inspired I thought everyone should be able to play: www.english140.com. Appreciate any thoughts.

Well, foks, hello out there and beyond this corner, it is nice having read your messages and I really appreciate it very much if you can tell me what makes twitter change your paradigmship, does twitter make you sense in terms of real purpose? I mean does it give you the best of your time that will change your day to day routine for cause?

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