At the risk of sounding lame, I wasn’t hooting and hollering when I saw Hootcourses. I followed a link Patrick sent me after he had set up a course. My interest was piqued and I assumed I was checking out a new online course system like Moodle or Learnable.com. Not even close. [Note: My original post was quite cynical and made me sound like a crotchety old man, so I have toned it down]
I was not impressed with what boiled down to be a new user interface for Twitter with a twist of education. I go into all the gory details, Twitter has undoubtedly had an impact on the social media scene and its presence cannot be denied. I personally haven’t gotten into it too much but we use it at ITBabble as an extension of our efforts to share useful and actionable resources.
Hootcourses is a service that simply created a new user interface that essentially clusters the messages (tweets) into neat piles of Questions, Links and Hoots, and ALL. What are hoots anyway? Just another way of making tweets sound educational? Cynicism gauge rising.
Before I get carried away with my negativity, I would like to say that there may be some uses for it which I will touch upon at the end. Hoot! Hoot! Really?
Is there any educational merit to this new service? I don’t really see it and it just looks and sounds too gimmicky for my traditionalist techie views.
It is not innovative by any means
– built off of Twitter but does not improve on it
– the only features it adds is automatically categorizing posts as links, questions, or messages. This in fact is its strongest benefit.
– the only real benefit I see is a teacher’s ability to provide resource links to students (a la dozens of bookmarking sites out there)
– Or to use it as a Q&A tool in perhaps a larger auditorium style set-up (but it would quickly overwhelm the prof/presenter)
The “hoots” can only be 131 characters because they reserve the remaining 14 for the hash tag and appended twitter account. How is a teacher supposed to elaborate on a question? How is a student to respond or ask a question that may be 180 characters long? Being tied to Twitter, Hootcourses essentially filters tweets (I had verbalizing these buzz word!) by appending the class name (such as #myclass) or in actuality, the Twitter account that was created for you through Hoot. So you lose those characters at the end. Case in point, I was testing this sucker with Patrick and had a short response..only it was 7 characters too long. What? Do I now have to go back and try to abbreviate to fit it all in? How is this helping me? Do I post a continuation to include that last word? If I could only expand it.
Expand it you can. Essay button, the feature you seek is. Eureka, they have an expand button. So I click this and I can expand my message to 300 characters or something, right? Because really, Hoot could simply take two messages and simply combine them. Why that would be too simple. It brings up a pop-up that allows you to access Blogger, WordPress and the likes. That right there turned me off so bad that I didn’t even bother testing out the feature because I know it will simply allow you to log into a blog account, create your essay (anything over 131 characters) and post a link to it on Hootcourses. How entangled does this web have to be to look useful? You log in with your Twitter account on a new site, and through this site, you can post blog entries that are linked to.
What problem are they solving here that hasn’t been solved through some other means? A forum or Moodle course or even a blog would be just as useful and would contain many more features. I give this tool a C- (if not a D)
What I did like was that it had a really cool way of automatically categorizing the tweets into questions or links. And, after some thought, I found a use for it. If you had a class where each student had their own laptop and you had a good number of students in the class that did not participate in discussions, you could use Hootcourses to provide them with the ability to chime in. For some students with difficulties, it may be very beneficial for them to see the teacher’s question infront of them, have time to formulate a thought/response while the more confident kids spoke, and were able to get their answers heard/read by the teacher who can then in turn include them. The teacher would have to get pretty adept at managing online questions/responses and spoken conversations at the same time.
In short, they are acting as a gateway between twitter and blogs and they could have accomplished their goal of facilitating communication between student and teacher without piggybacking off Twitter.