Online Teaching and Twitter: Beyond the Basics

Online Teaching and TwitterTwitter continues to be my go-to resource for a wide range of professional activities, and I’m not alone. There’s a large network of educators using Twitter to connect and collaborate with each other as well as with students.

By now you may have already joined this community by setting up an account and using a class hashtag for announcements and discussions. But the options for interaction are limited only by your creativity and imagination, as demonstrated by other online faculty members and higher ed organizations. Take a closer look at the many ways you can take your Twitter account to the next level.

Class Activities and Assignments

Introductory Activities

I admit that Twitter hasn’t been a big draw for most of my students, however, when I can get them started with the format the outcomes are positive, even if they decide not to continue with their accounts after our class ends. After providing my rationale for using the platform in class (i.e., building a professional network, staying connected with former colleagues and leaders in the field, following sources for industry news, getting first-hand experience before making a decision about usefulness), they work on five assignments that are posted on a wiki throughout the course:

  • Share your Twitter account – an existing one or a new one created just for use in the course.
  • Identify and recommend an account to follow – this can be an individual person, school, professional association, publication, etc.
  • Identify and recommend a hashtag (related to the course topic) to follow.
  • Use the class hashtag in a tweet to share a resource, observation, or bit of humor with the group.
  • Reflect on the previous assignments, emphasizing potential benefits and challenges for professional use of Twitter.

Communication professor Dawn Gilpin’s Twitter Intro Assignment includes additional tasks requiring creation of a Twitter List and direct replies from each student to her account. For ideas related to incorporating student blogging and Twitter, review writing professor Bill Wolff’s assignments, and note how he has added multiple Twitter feeds to his course webpages.

LMS Integration

How do students access and search for your class hashtag? This can happen in multiple ways, including a basic search from the Twitter site or app, to adding a filtered column in a management tool like Hootsuite or TweetDeck. Another option to explore is your Learning Management System (LMS). Courses delivered through Canvas and Blackboard for example, have built-in connections with outside tools such as Twitter. Talk with your school’s academic technology support team to find out what might be possible in your classes. Adding a newsfeed with your class hashtag to the home page of your course provides easy access for all students.

Assignment Types

Twitter is a tool instructors and students can use to communicate as members of an online community. Begin with announcements and discussions, and explore the options for more complex assignments conducted and submitted with tweets. The University of Michigan’s writing center shares several Twitter assignments (with instructions and examples) designed for use with large classes. Have a movie review in your course? Adeline Koh’s assignment coordinates student viewing within a specific timeframe and includes guidelines for expected Twitter interaction among students. Consider developing your own unique assignment with Rick Reo’s Twitter Adoption Assessment Tool. This matrix suggests active and passive activities within a range of time and effort required.

Evaluating student participation in these kinds of activities can be daunting, and explaining the requirements and goals to reluctant students is challenging, but the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Twitter Rubric provides a good starting point. It addresses student attention to not only what and how often they tweet in the context of an assignment, but also how they use it technically (e.g., mechanics of hyperlinks) and to engage in an active conversation.

Professional Development

Conference Attendance

Elearning expert Donald Clark recently shared his recommendations for Twitter as a professional development resource. Among his many suggestions is to follow a conference hashtag. As Clark points out, “it’s not easy getting to many, if any, conference. But you can through Twitter.” As on-site participants share what they are learning in the sessions they attend via tweets, you get access to some of the event’s resources and conversations and are encouraged to join in. Check out the newsfeed from the recent Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium (#et4online) as an example of the exchange you will find.

Chat Participation and Moderation

If you’ve read many posts on this blog, you are probably aware of the Inside Online Learning chat (#IOLchat). This is just one of a long list of education-related chats taking place weekly via Twitter. Explore the options listed on schedules like the EduChatCalendar and Chat Salad. Becoming a “regular” chat participant is a great way to build your network, stay up-to-date in your field, and even commiserate with others who do what you do. Chat tools like Twubs (my current favorite) allow for easy streaming and participation in a live event. Have an idea for a new chat topic? Consider hosting your own event or becoming a guest moderator for an existing one.

Twitter Workflow Development

The functions and features of Twitter are evolving. Recent changes allow you to add a comment to a tweet. It’s always been a good practice to share something about why you are re-tweeting information, and the commenting option provides more space to do this, with a link to the original tweet. Adding an image to a tweet is also growing in popularity. This visual component appears in your followers’ streams as a way to draw attention to your brief message. Timing can also be a factor in reaching more people. Hootsuite shares tips for finding the best days and times to tweet.

As with any tool, Twitter is not right for everyone or every course. Whether you decide to implement it as a way to reach your course or professional development goals, you’ll be modeling professional strategies for communication, networking, and continued learning. Focus on your needs and those of your students and course, and explore the options available to see if it is the right tool for the job. How are you using Twitter in your work as a professional educator?

Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog