Asking the right questions

What do you think?

What do you think?

I’ve been looking for a possible mobile application for in-service and pre-service teachers to connect to each other and to other social media tools. I thought that it would be really useful for teachers to start using blogs, photo sharing, social bookmarking etc a network with other professionals as part of their tertiary training. Last week my grand plan came to sticky end. I asked the question – “Is Twitter or Facebook the way to go” on Twitter and Facebook. Sadly the only feedback I received was….silence.

It felt a bit like my DJ days, wondering if anyone was listening to me on my Sunday evening slot on community radio. After waiting for 24 hours (and checking to see if people were reading (bit.ly assured me they were), I concluded that
1) Friends and followers couldn’t care
2) They did not feel that they were able to answer
3) I was asking the wrong question.

If you can’t access the Internet on your phone (or don’t see the need), then asking what application to choose from is a silly question. Yes, cell phones are more pervasive ICTS in KZN schools (even doing better than the telephone), but it’s not automatic that teachers make use of the features built into most modern phones. I suffer from this common problem. I try to run when all I should be doing is crawling.

Take me (for example). Until a month ago, my dinosaur (inherited from my sister in law) sat in my top drawer waiting to be charged. My R50 pay as you go account that I added two years ago has not been renewed. When SMSing, I take me 10 mins or longer (predictive text does not work on my phone). Getting mobile has challenged my technological skills. Clearly, it’s taken a long time to master this technology, and I’m using the word master very loosley.

Teachers might be in a similar position. But I fon’t know. Optimistically I’m going to assume that I received no answer to my question was because of Option 2 and 3. Yes, I was asking the wrong question. And not too many of my Friends and followers are pre-service or in-service teachers. So, let’s rephrase our enquiry. Instead of getting excited about the 50 million active cell phones in the country or the 34 million users. Let’s see if we can find out about their tech skills.

If you are a teacher or going to be a teacher, please answer this questionnaire regarding mobile phone usage. It’s short and pretty anonomous. And I’ll feel a little less like a sad DJ talking to himself on a Sunday evening.

To Twit or to Facebook with KZN teachers

facebookvsTwitterPre service and in service teachers need to be introduced, taught about, with and through ICTS. But the problems of access make implementation of this goal difficult. I’ve counted phone numbers, fax, email addresses etc of schools in the KZN Midlands region. Out of the 506 schools

  • 96% have mobile numbers,
  • 74% have landlines,
  • 45% have fax,
  • 19% have email &
  • 3% have websites.

Worrying that 25% schools that do not have a telephone. But heartening that only 4% are beyond reach of ICTS (thanks Martin Cooper).

Implications for ICT

What does access to ICT in KZN mean for our intentions to use the Internet with teachers. Time to abandon the desktop and move onto mobile? The above statistics make it clear.  There are limited opportunities for a teacher to use an office bound computer and access the internet via landline or broadband connection.But it’s not helpful to see this as a choice between two platforms. The university has plenty facilities. Intenet Cafes and Public Intenet Terminals allow users to use a computer. Desktop space, and mobile space are not in competition, they are converging. A desktop offers the user a better interface and superior processing power. Mobiles offers users ubiquitous access.

Social Media and Learning

Restricted ICT opportunities mean that teachers will not be able to use ICTs for information transfer. But they can use ICTs for commincations. Within social media field, the most popular web sites are those that allow ICT users to connect with other ICT users are Facebook and Twitter. Both work on multiple platforms.

Twitter

  • Twitter enables direct and immediate communication
  • Structured interface that is easy to navigate
  • Hard to explain it’s use.
  • People don’t understand why you would want to Twit
  • The 140 characters restriction is an inherent constraints that limits the time investment required to benefit from the site
  • Encourages you to connect with people beyond your social circle
  • Twitter is not SMS enabled in South Africa

Facebook

  • Facebook is feature-rich and offers a range of communication tools.
  • The range of customisations makes the interface confusing
  • Easy to explain its use.
  • People can grasp the use of connecting to friends and family using facebook
  • Understanding comes fairly quickly with an explanation
  • Sustained investment of time is necessary to reap the benefits
  • Encourages you to connect within a social circle
  • Vodacom subscribers can use SMS to post and receive updates to Facebook

Interactivity or Access – Which way to go

So if pre service and in service teachers in KZN are to go mobile, and use social media to connect with each other and their instructors, then which direction should we follow. The differences between Twitter and Facebook are significant. If access is the key criteria then Facebook is winning the battle in this part of the world. Facebook is working hard to reposition itself for the mobile field. The FB barrier to entry is lower than Twitter (at least in my South African experience).

If interactivity is the key measurement of suitability, then Twitter is the route for KZN teachers. The ability within Twitter to quickly follow and gather followers allows teachers and their instructors to set up an active network rapidly.

Comparisons between the two applications could be inappropriate. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be an either or choice. Twitter is good if you are looking for active conversations amongst your users. Busy people have time to enter 140 characters into their twitter account. Facebook and its customisations allow the user new flexibility. This flexibility can even allow you to you to SMS to Facebook and automatically transfer the SMS to Twitter. But it’s time to let the users speak. I’m posting this to my question to my Twitter account and my Facebook page.

“Is Facebook or Twitter the platform for KZN teachers (Asking this on both platforms). Will collect votes in 24 hours http://bit.ly/KzcS9 #fb”