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Last week the existence of a virtual university with its address on Twitter came to my knowledge. Svenska Twitteruniversitetet or The Swedish Twitter University as it is also named. The idea of a Twitter university was born in the mind of Marcus Nilsson (@ozonist) sort of in a random moment (read more about it here).

The concept is pretty simple. An invited speaker, that be a scientist, an academic etc. gives a lecture divided into 25 tweets (each of a maximum length on 140 characters). Each tweet must be broken naturally and thus be able to stand alone. Using the built-in Twitter limitation such as the length of a tweet is meant to stimulate creativity and challenge the tweeters to formulate their ideas as effectively and interestingly as possible. In addition to the 25 tweets, the speaker responds to questions from the followers – at least for one hour – with their responses not counting to the 25 tweets.

This week, on 13th December, a lecture on “How Apps, Smartphones, and Tablets Will Revolutionize Healthcare” was given by Jim Walker, Director Emerging Trends – Cadient Group and founder of AnywhereHealth.com. The lecture was the seventh from the Twitter university and the first to take up a health related topic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the lecture live, but the transcript is available on the Twitter University Website.

The transcript includes the 25 tweets and questions and responses from the followers. It is very much divided up into a presentation section (the 25 tweets) and after that an invitation to discuss. As far as I can see, there was not much discussion in this particular lecture, and many of the followers expressed disappointment in the session. I must admit that I tend to agree with the critic. The lecture was mostly a listing of a different apps (some of them definitely very cool) that are related to health care and health monitoring. There were some, but very few, reflections on how these apps will revolutionize health care and how it will play together with the exiting health care system, but no reference to experiences, literature or the like that could document this. A few weaknesses of health apps, such as new equity problems due to differences in access to smartphones and lack of IT skills and the risk of technology leading patients to forget listening to their own bodies, where brought up, but again without documentation or much more reflection.

I am not certain whether the problem with the lecture was due to this specific presentation or just an illustration of the fact that doing a lecture through 25 tweets is a big challenge. My best Twitter comparison is the #hcsm chats (chats/discussions on Health Care and Social Media), which I have actually found more rewarding. The questions and debate back and forth just seem to take better advantage of the Twitter model. Transporting a traditional (monologue) lecture to Twitter definitely requires a much more interactively thought out structure to the 25 tweets.

This Twitter university is still new however, and I find it a fun idea that could perhaps be useful. I look forward to following it and to see if the lectures will develop as the invited speakers become more acquainted with the media.