Twitter U.

Realtime is going to college. The University of Phoenix, having pioneered web-based learning and built one of the largest “virtual campuses” in Second Life, is now looking to become the dominant higher-education institution on Twitter. The biggest for-profit university in the world, UoP will roll out this fall a curriculum of courses delivered almost entirely through the microblogging service, according to an article in the new issue of Rolling Stone (not yet posted online). The first set of courses will be in the school’s Business and Management, Technology, and Human Services programs and will allow students to earn “certificates.” But the school plans to rapidly expand the slate of Twitter courses, according to dean of faculty Robert Stanton, and will within three years “offer full degree programs across all our disciplines.” Stanton tells Rolling Stone that Twitter, as a “near-universal, bidirectional communication system,” offers a “powerful pedagogical platform ideally suited to the mobile, fast-paced lives of many of our students.”

Most of the instruction in the Twitter courses will be done through the 140-character “tweets” for which the service is famous, though instructors are also expected to occasionally refer to longer online documents by including “short URL” links in the tweets. “The goal,” says Stanton, “is to keep instruction within the Twitter system to the extent possible. We see the 140-character text limit as more an opportunity than a challenge. It further condenses and democratizes higher education, delivering knowledge and other relevant content to the student in a low-cost and efficient manner.” All examinations will be conducted through exchanges of tweets, according to Stanton.

That sounds bizarre to me, but I admit to being behind the times when it comes to virtual learning. Why not snippetize education? After all, you have to connect with students using the platforms they understand, and things like weighty textbooks and musty classrooms seem increasingly twentieth century.