UMD journalists use Twitter track use of handicap parking spots

Students in a University of Minnesota Duluth journalism class used the computer application Twitter for help with a recent story on how many handicap-accessible parking spots were available on campus at a given time, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The answer–seven at 10 a.m. on Feb. 12–was communicated almost instantly by 25 students in the class using Twitter. Prompted by a complaint from wheelchair-user Elizabeth Church-Davidson, a UMD senior, the issue of parking availability became a class project. "We’re always trying to think about new media," said John Hatcher, an assistant professor of journalism at UMD. "That’s what the students use." The assignment for students in Hatcher’s news editing class was to team up and take laptops to each parking area of the campus at the same time, checking the 58 parking spots designated for drivers with physical handicaps and posting the status of each space immediately. The idea stemmed from a story in UMD’s student newspaper, the Statesman, reporting student complaints about the number of handicap-accessible parking spaces. Hatcher’s thoughts turned to Twitter, a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send and receive short updates via cell phones and computers. "It was instantaneous, and we could see what each other was posting," said senior Venessa Ostergaard. "As students, we have to learn to use all types of online sources … and be ready to use things employers will ask you to use."

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