Monday, 17 October 2011

Is tweeting literacy? Or just short-winded conversation?

This is a pic I took sitting in the observation room of the IET Ambient Lab, here at the OU, during a focus group discussion set up by colleagues on the digital scholarship project, that I happened to be observing. The group was discussing their, and other people's, use of twitter for professional communication.
The group is being vidoed live - shown on the screen on the left. At the same time, other colleagues around the university are discussing the same questions on twitter -- shown on the screen on the right. (One of the group facilitators is tweeting the questions as they are asked). The feed from this twitter discussion is projected on the wall in the room where the live group are, but only one of them is paying any attention to it -- she's actually tweeting to the remote group in between contributing to the discussion of the 'present' group.

A lot more words are being used, inevitably, in the face-to-face discussion. And other signs are being used too - facial expressions, body language, as well as the  bits of paper and other media that the facilitators have on the table. By contrast, the tweeters  get through fewer words (even though there is no break in the stream) and their visual signals are limited to punctuation, capitals, smileys, and the odd URL.

Both groups are discussing what they do with technology. The focus group reflect across a range of life and work contexts, going on at length and wandering off at tangents. The twitter group stick mainly to talking about twitter. They 'talk' in turn, are very concise, and generally keep to the point.

I would love to do a proper discourse analysis comparing these two discussions around the same topic. I wonder if it would provide me with grounds to talk about the twitter activity as 'literacy', in a way that I could not do with the face-to-face discussion?  Or would it show the twitter stream to be basically the same kind of conversation, only with a lot less said?


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