As an experiment, Parry made Twitter a class assignment and got his students to engage in microblogging as homework. He observed how Twitter became the link that connected conversations inside and out of class. “Because the students had the shared classroom experience, when something came up outside of class that reminded them of material from class time, it often got twittered,” he notes. “This served as a reinforcement/connection between the material and the ‘real world.’” He also discovered that it changed classroom dynamics in a positive way, encouraging more respectful and productive interaction between students by turning the class into a community.
I’m finishing up syllabi for the fall and I’m thinking this might be a good thing to try with my two sections of LIS768. Remember this article from the Chronicle?
Jason B. Jones, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, uses his iPhone to post a message to Twitter after every class session as “a way to jot down a little reflection about the class — how it went, things that were frustrating or worked really well — so that I can remember them later.” Students who see the messages often give him a reality check, though. “If I thought something didn’t go well, I’ve had people say, Actually we understood that fine, we were distracted by something else or we were just tired,” he says.
Blackboard plans to add a Twitter-like messaging tool to its course-management system, which is used at hundreds of colleges around the country. The company recently announced plans to acquire NTI Group, a company that sells text-message notification systems to colleges for use in emergencies. NTI’s systems don’t have all the features of Twitter, but they could be used in similar ways.
“We’re going to incorporate that technology at the classroom level,” says Michael L. Chasen, president of Blackboard. For instance, he says, “Professors could send a message to their entire class to let them know that class has been canceled this week.”
Another idea, provided by Doug Belshaw on his teaching blog, is to use Twitter for quick questions from students about assignments, readings, and the like. The problem is that you could receive these tweets 24/7. To eliminate that possibility Belshaw suggests the following: “Unlike a direct message which can only be seen by the recipient, placing @user name directs the ‘tweet’ (Twitter update) at the intended recipient whilst allowing everyone to also see it. This facilitates virtual ‘classroom discussion.’ Anytime someone responds to you using the @ symbol, it is logged in the ‘replies’ section of your personal Twitter page” (4 ). Belshaw extended this notion, noting that students are not limited to just the class to answer questions. He writes, “As with the personal learning network (PLN) facilitated by Twitter in the edublogosphere (usually through the TwitterFox plugin for Firefox), students can also ask questions of those they only know online” (4 ).
Several faculty have shared their experiences with Twitter in their blogs. Karen Miller Russell (5 ) used it in her communications class, taking her lead from Kaye Sweetser’s social media class (6 ). Both are instructors at the University of Georgia. As Russell explains, she set up a Twitter account, locked it so that only her students could follow, and then invited students to register. She asked that each student do five posts to the account over a 48-hour period. The posts could be about anything. As Russell reported, the class, far exceeding expectations to merely experiment with a new medium, actually generated a list of how Twitter could be used in advertising, public relations, and marketing: “Participate in conversations, build relationships — not the ‘hard sell’; get feedback on ideas, programs; data mining (learn about interests, trends, issues, etc.), including polling the audience; announce sales or promotions; make appointments; provide event updates and live coverage of events; and build a trusting community” (5 ).
I would love to hear some experiences from educators who have used Twitter in their teaching.