This past semester, I had the students in my freshmen and sophomore English Composition classes use Twitter as our primary mode of communication. I am an enthusiastic Twitter user, and had been thinking for a long time that the tool is ideal for communicating with students and for having them communicate with one another. I’ve outlined below some of the ways that this tool proved to be exceedingly useful; in a future post, I will address the changes I would make to the way I would use the platform in class going forward. But for now, here are some ways that Twitter is incredibly useful for teachers and students alike.
Awesome thing about Twitter, #1: Communication on Twitter is public, unless a user has a protected account. This is probably my favorite feature of the platform when it comes to organizing the conversation related to class. I required students to have an unprotected Twitter account so that their tweets would be visible to everyone in the class. I also made a hashtag for each of my classes and listed that hashtag on the syllabus, along with the following information:
*The course hashtag is what we will use to share information related to the class via Twitter. Though I will be requiring that you have an “unprotected” Twitter account for class, you will not need to follow me; you just need to remember to use the hashtag in tweets related to the class.
In the case of my English 106 class, the hashtag was #E106. This means that every tweet containing “#E106” would be displayed whenever someone searched for “#E106” on Twitter or clicked the #E106 tag in a tweet. And that means that if someone asks me a question and I answer it, and we both use the hashtag in our tweets, anyone else who might have the same question need only to browse the hashtag to see if I’ve already answered that question. You teachers out there who are deluged with 20 different emails that ask the exact same question will understand why this is such a fantastic feature. But don’t just take my word for it; check out my student Abel, letting me know his appreciation for the public nature of Twitter after he saw me answer a classmate’s question about the night’s homework:
Awesome thing about Twitter, #2: Twitter allows the students to be resources for one another, rather than making the teacher the sole arbiter of information. I will demonstrate that idea with the following tweet, from my student Johnny:
Oh, you missed class, did you? Well don’t email me asking, “Did you do anything important in class today?”. Instead, browse the hashtag to see if you can find that answer on your own. And lo! What’s this? One of your amazing classmates has taken the time to upload his notes to his Tumblr and let you know where they are! That is FANTASTIC! Be sure to send him a thank-you!
[Author aside: I also used Tumblr—this very blogging platform I’m writing on now—this semester, and will discuss that in a future post.]
Awesome thing about Twitter, #3: Students can use it to brainstorm in preparation for class presentations. My freshman composition courses culminate in the reading of Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise. Because the rest of the semester the students read nonfiction texts, this is their first foray into deep literary analysis. I try to have my students lead the discussion on various passages, so I have them work in groups to analyze what they are reading. As every teacher knows, the time we have in each class meeting is very limited. That’s where Twitter comes in. In this case, I had students use Twitter to work with their group members to decide on the passage they would analyze in class. This meant that if they did what they were supposed to do, they would tweet their ideas using a specific group hashtag, and then when they came to class, they would already have settled on a passage to analyze and could therefore hit the ground running with their time and just get to analyzing.
Here’s a glimpse of what that looked like:
Scott opened up the discussion with the passage he was suggesting. Notice he’s using #wn5, the group hashtag, so that his peers in his group will see his suggestion.
Because of the hashtag, Scott’s peer Bianna was able to see that they both thought the passage on page 92 was worth examining.
Then, their third (and last) group member chimed in:
The students floated other passages, and then, because of the public nature of Twitter, I checked the hashtag and was able to help them along:
I was excited that they each were recommending so many passages (I haven’t included all of those other tweets here for brevity’s sake), but also wanted to remind them that they needed to settle on one before class the next day.
Again, this public nature of the platform makes a it useful one for teachers. When I did this assignment in the past, students were supposed to brainstorm with one another over email, but there was no way for me to tell who was or who was not participating in the brainstorm. With Twitter, I can check out the hashtag, see how things are going, and know well in advance of class if people will be up on their game and ready to go, or if they ditched the homework and will start out behind. I can also let the students sort things out for themselves, or provide a quick suggestion, as I did in this case.
These are some of the things I did with Twitter this semester. As I said at the beginning of this post, cautions as well as things I would change will be forthcoming in a separate post.
Have you used Twitter in your classes? How did it go? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.