Twiducate – I’m skipping it

Twiducate is website designed to allow teachers and students to continue their learning outside the classroom. It is a social networking tool that is safe for students and lets teachers monitor what is taking place. I like technology, but I have got to pass on this one. Read past the break to see why I think you should too. Let me walk you through Twiducate with pictures and details and then I’ll explain why I am giving it a big thumbs-down.

When you go to the Twiducate website signing up is very easy. At the home page it will ask if you’re a teacher or student. Chose teacher and you will be welcomed with this very simple screen. The classroom name and code is particularly important as students will need these to join, so don’t be too crazy with those fields.

Once that is done you are taken directly to your class (you can have multiple classes). The user interface is pretty straight forward and you get a good idea of what Twiducate can do right here. It is very much a back channel chat program, but unlike many back channel chat programs you have control of who enters and you have some other options as well.

Now we need to get our students on Twiducate. To do that click on Students in the very top menu.

You are taken to this screen where you, the teacher, add all the students to the class. This gives you complete control of who is involved and is great to keep out unwanted or uninvited people.

To add a student simply type in their name in the Add New box and click Add. Super simple. It will generate a password for them. You can even change that password to something more memorable if you like. Students will also have the ability to change their password as well. Just remember that the teacher can always see the password. This is something I do not like at all.

Now that you have your students added, they need to sign in and let the learning begin. Students go to the Twiducate homepage and click Sign in on the right hand side.

Here is something else I don’t like. They must type in their username (OK no problem) the class code (a little tedious but OK) and their password (of course) and then they have to type in a verification phrase!

I am not making this up. Every time a student logs in he/she has to do this. Imagine if you were trying to decide on an e-mail service and one had this feature in it. I do understand that it is clearly a security feature, and after all, we are educating children and security and safety needs to be a primary goal for every school and teacher, so I can kind of understand this . . . kind of.

Once in, the student sees pretty much the same screen as the teacher. The only big difference is the student does not have as many options in the top menu bar. Now that everyone is in the class, let’s get to some meaningful discussion. Here is what it looks like.

Pretty straight for . . . wahhh? Wait a minute. It does not automatically update? I have to click on 1 New Post in order to see the latest posts? Why? Why can’t it just update? This is not the worst of it. For that notification to show up, it can take as long as 2-3 minutes (that is not an exaggeration I timed it). Not exactly real time communication.
With posting you can add images hyperlinks, bullet points, and you can format the text as well, but every time you post, the page is refreshed. So if you are dealing with a less than speedy connection you could be waiting a while.

Now to be fair there is a chat program that is built into Twiducate. You can find it in the bottom right hand corner of the screen (I had to look a while before finding it). So let’s click that and see what happens?

The chat function works for everyone online at the time. There are no person-to-person chat unless they are the only two people online, and only the teacher can clear the chat, so if a student were to type something inappropriate, it would be there for all to see. This is something I do like. Here is what the chat looks like.

This does update in real time, but there are no avatars, formatting text options, hyperlinks don’t work, you can’t send messages through the and of course no emoticons! While emoticons and not a deal breaker, the others could easily be. One could argue, that you could include all of these options without using the chat. OK, but then what is the purpose of the chat at all? If it serves the same function why have it at all? This leaves me scratching my head.

You can include bookmarks to important websites and add important dates in Twiducate as well. This is nice since it is easy to get to these items and they are prominently displayed.

Now let me sum it all up. Twiducate does not offer anything else that other, more robust, better designed, better thought out educational social networks offer. Here is a list of a few of them.

Edmodo
Enter the Group
HootCourse
Jabbster
Wall FM

Another problem with Twiducate is that they encourage people to purchase Twiducate swag (or paraphanial) from their store in order to keep Twiducate free. Does that mean, that if the sales go down teachers may have to pay for this service? Having such wish-washy financial backing or being forced to pay for a service that teachers rely upon is not cool. Just look at Ning. When they started to charge, teachers fled for other options and in a hurry.

At the bottom of the website it says “A website developed by teachers for teachers.” That is pretty cool, but I hate to say that it looks like it too. There are little interface issues (like posts not updating automatically, the sign in issue, not being able to have hyperlinks in a chat program, having a seemingly useless chat program) that seem to make me very dubious of this web application lasting.

In short, your time as a teacher is very valuable and precious. You are very busy and spending time trialing out applications that are not as effective as they can be is a waste of your time. While the people of Twiducate have made a valiant effort, they fall very short of their competition and as a teacher, you should look elsewhere.

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About Patrick Cauley

I teach middle school technology and love to play around with tech and teach students and colleagues alike. You can read my blog at www.itbabble.com
This entry was posted in Review, Tech Integration and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Twiducate – I’m skipping it

  1. Pingback: Links for Edmodo and twiducate « An Amusement Park of Instructional Technology!

  2. Wow! This is what I love about blogs. Simple opinions can generate such a strong response from many people. I thank everyone for submitting their replies and taking their own time to do so.

    I would like to address a few things. First, the title and the accompanying graphic. It was mean, no question about it. My friends that I showed it to raised their eyebrows a bit and gave me a more than questioning look. Thank you Jeff and Tait for pointing that out and holding me accountable. I’ve changed the title and the graphic to better reflect the post.

    The misspellings and other mistakes, well I was just in a hurry. Not a good excuse and I should have taken the time to properly proof read before posting. I have made a few changes but they have all been technical in nature. Nothing else about the post has been changed.

    I still stand by my opinion, but will be revisiting next spring to see what changes and improvements have been made and write another review of Twiducate then. In the meantime I would like to echo Omar’s statement and wish Brian and the Twiducate team all the best. Tait is right, they have worked hard and tried to create something meaningful for other teachers to use effectively. I just believe that there are better services out there that accomplish what Twiducate is going for.

    Patrick

  3. Jeff Dionne says:

    Dear Patrick,

    I am not associated with Twiducate whatsoever, in fact I’m the creator of PikiFriends, another education site. After reading your review of Twiducate’s service I felt the need to say a few things about your article.

    We are all entitled to our opinions, and giving honest reviews about products is fair and necessary. But your review is hard to take seriously mainly because there are so many spelling and grammar mistakes (I wonder if you’ll edit your article now?). Also many of the things you find wrong with Twiducate seem to me to be not worthy of a stark “FAIL” rating, which is essentially black-listing the entire program, with serious repercussions for their efforts. Again, I don’t know the creators of Twiducate but I will assume they are who they say they are, teachers like you and I who are trying their best to help education. They came up with ideas, a great product name and are going for it, I can respect that.

    Looking at details in the article, you write that you don’t like how teachers can see their students’ passwords (or do you not like how students can change their passwords? I was confused about your point). I feel this is a necessary component of this type of software, and in fact it’s one of the features of PikiFriends. Teachers need to have control of their student accounts, and it’s essential that they can manage the user names and passwords of their students in my opinion. We don’t let students change their passwords however, but they can ask their teachers to do that.

    Next, the log in process for students. Yes, they’ve made it long, a 4-step process. But if it makes it safer for minors, that’s great! It’s not the easiest or most efficient setup I’ve ever seen, but certainly not worthy of a FAIL in my opinion. Safety is more important than efficiency in some instances.

    About the interface, you seem have some good points. According to your observations, it’s slow, lacking in features, and redundant. This is surely a result of an under-funded project that is in the process of development, I am sure the authors have a vision of what Twiducate should be over time if they are able to stay alive. Sometimes we have to go for it and release our beta versions, bugs and all. But it’s of course fair to accurately report on the issues, especially if they hinder the effectiveness of the product (i.e., it doesn’t do what they claim).

    About their business plan, I really don’t know exactly what they’re selling, or how they tell people about it. Perhaps it is obtrusive, and perhaps it takes away the ‘educational value’ of the program; I’m not sure. However I can say from lots of experience that funding a project like Twiducate is a major challenge for a small startup. I hope that all teachers using technology are wary of any product out there which is totally free, and not transparent about what they do with user info. In the case of PikiFriends, we’re selling a curriculum as an option, so teachers can get textbooks for students to get the most out of our program. It’s never going to make us financially rich, but it could help us to stay alive, build more features, and grow to be as effective for education as possible; more importantly we won’t sell or use user info for seedy purposes, a widely-abused practice on the web.

    I can only assume that the creators of Twiducate have the similar visions of development, but in the meantime they have programming fees and servers to pay for. I feel for them when I read a review like this one. It’s a bit harsh in my humble opinion. I hope you will allow me to state my thoughts.

    Best,
    Jeff Dionne

  4. Hi Patrick,
    I applaud you for exploring resources to better save a teachers’ time. We all appreciate it as our time is very valuable, as you know!

    I just want to share some perspective on this topic:

    1) twiducate functionality is based on teacher request, wysiwyg
    2) I am a teacher, I pay for the service myself
    3) twiducate is meant for k-8 (no email required, students under 13)
    4) twiducate is a micro-blog, not real time communication so no auto update
    5) login captchas are a better revenue source than google ads. I need to fund this site somehow. Ads within the site won’t work.
    6) the chat was requested by teachers as a means for students to brainstorm before officially posting.
    7) I have written every line of code myself between marking and coaching – See #2, this is not a business.

    I will reflect on the negatives and try to improve this summer.

    Thx for highlighting the positives you see in twiducate. I feel it really is only limited by what you make of it. You are free to embed anything and be creative in the manner in which you use the site.

    Other sites are not that robust. twiducate has no parameters!

    • itbabble says:

      Hey Brian,
      Thanks for commenting on the post and sharing your perspective with us in the manner you did. I think your response (an actual discussion on pros and cons and feature sets) is what we are all about. Whether we like your product or not, I think its awesome that you worked to create a product and have it out there for people to use. If teachers are using it successfully, that is even cooler and we would love to get some feedback from those teachers as to how they are using it successfully so we can post those (ie actionable steps that others can follow)

      Thanks again and best of luck with your service
      Omar @ IT Babble (the other half of this blog)

    • itbabble says:

      Jeff,
      You are more than welcome to state your thoughts as that is what the site is about. We write reviews for teachers and not just present them with latest service regardless. Patrick works hard on his reviews and highlights pros and cons. For you to say you cant take it seriously because of mizbellings misspellings and go on to write an essay on your thoughts and sneak in PikiFriends plug made me chuckle.

      We understand what it takes to start services up as we are working on such projects on the side that we will eventually role out. If our product is inferior or has weaknesses, we will gladly accept criticism just as Brian did so humbly.

      I recall in your first post, you, for lack of a better term, spammed our post to promote your site. Despite it being an overt promotion, we were happy to approve your comment because you had something for the community of educators. So, we are not unsympathetic to someone starting a service. We simply say it as it is.

      Finally, the word fail was used for a few reasons. It is a reference to the wildly popular Fail Blog among teens as you may very well know. Secondly, the original term was “pass” as in “we’ll pass on it”. Given our educational context, pass had a positive connotation so we changed it.

      PS – I don’t think the name is a creative one and opens Brian up to trouble if Twitter gets wind of the name. As a micro-blogging platform, Twiducate is treading dangerous territory. It even duped us initially as we thought it was a UI on top of the Twitter platform such as HootCourse.

      Thanks,
      Omar

      • Jeff Dionne says:

        Omar,

        Thanks for your reply.

        You’re partly right about my ‘plugging’ my site in my comment, but I feel it was related and appropriate. Similar features and similar experiences give my two cents some worth. If it smells of ‘plug’ I apologize.
        But in my original post (whatever it was, I don’t recall what I wrote, did you erase where it was?), please don’t use the term “spam”, I do not spam anywhere, I write unique messages under my own name in appropriate places for educators such as your blog, and not even that often. I thought you had an interesting site and decided to be a part of it. I have read and enjoyed several of your articles since, loved the Chuck Norris one by the way.

        I don’t know what else to say about the lack of proofreading happening in this article which I don’t remember being an issue in previous posts…except that it was a criticism about your ‘product’, which is the writing itself, and I’m not sure if you’re gladly accepting it as you said you would.

        And when I read your comment after Brian’s, it made ME chuckle when I read you wishing Brian the best of luck with his service. The big red “FAIL” stamp over the twiducate image at the top isn’t going to do him any favors! Wow. I remember that in other articles, you weren’t so harsh in your reviews. It’s your right, but my opinion is this one’s too damaging of Brian’s sincere efforts. It seems unjust, like bullying, or like maybe you don’t realize the potential impacts of posts like this. What do you think?

        Jeff

      • itbabble says:

        Jeff,
        Misspellings, grammar and critique aside, we can understand how the word “fail” seems harsh and it does not convey the tone of the review. In retrospect, titling it something along the lines of “thumbs down” or “not for us” would have been more appropriate and we have come up with a new rating system we will be using in the future. But we aren’t going to walk around on egg shells if we find a tool/service we don’t think fits the bill. Imagine if Consumer Reports started giving everything they come across a positive rating…people would end up with microwaves that overcook or under-cook their food or fridges that are not very environmentally friendly, etc.

        We do wish Brian and Twiducate the best as we have no issue with him personally and would love to see his service improve (I’m sure he doesn’t see it as perfect and is a work in progress as is any venture including IT Babble).

        Anyway Jeff, thanks for your input and despite any confrontation/controversy that may have been spurred, it is important to shake things up a little and have real dialogue and not just pander to grown ups who can handle critiques. It is what drives innovation.

        PS- Your initial comment was never deleted and can still be found 🙂

        Thanks,
        Omar

  5. Tait Coles says:

    I cannot believe you have spent time and effort writing a post for your blog that has criticised another persons hard work and endeavours. Twiducate has been set up by a talented individual who wanted to produce a social networking site for their own classroom. He had the grace and forward thinking to make it available to others. The site is free and not financially backed by a company. The site is used by thousands of teachers who have used it effectively to improve the learning of thousands of students. I could pick many holes in your synopsis (e.g the ‘chat’ allows the opportunity for development of metacognitive skills) but I won’t as criticising is extremely easy – as I’m sure you are well aware. Creating something for others to use to deepen learning is a lot harder, something perhaps you are not aware of or have never done. I will continue to use and support Twiducate for a very long time to come.

    • itbabble says:

      Tait,
      For you to say that criticizing is extremely easy so you wont engage in it is laughable. What do you do to students who hand in assignments with errors? Do you not open up a discussion with them and provide them with constructive criticism? And for you to state “Creating something for others to use to deepen learning is a lot harder, something perhaps you are not aware of or have never done” is verging on offensive and I hesitated to approve this comment. What do you think we are doing here?

      Patrick works very hard on his posts and reviews. Are you not criticizing his hard work?
      We teach our kids to accept constructive criticism…why should educators be able to dish it out to the students if they cant take it themselves
      I applaud Brian’s efforts for creating something that someone may find useful…but it doesn’t mean I have to like it or suggest alternatives.
      Patrick actually reviewed the product instead of simply listing it…teachers are quick to adopt any tech tool for the sake of tech integration
      because someone posts 2 lines about it on their blog and suddenly its the next big thing – doesn’t mean it is the best.

      IT Babble is here to do the exact thing you seem to be complaining about, namely properly reviewing products. Why do educators seem to be allergic to criticism? We’re all adults here and not everything Patrick, Twiducate or I produce will be remarkable or even passable. We all have our ups and our downs and are always learning. If you put something out there, you should be ready to accept the positive reviews along with the negative reviews.Finally, I think Brian did a great job of engaging in a discussion about the product as opposed to simply whine that he was being criticized.

      Thanks for your comments and I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings by criticizing them
      Omar

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