Twitter as Classroom Technology

Twitter ClassroomTwitter may be a web-based tool, but it’s not just for online use. Last week NBC News featured an article about Twitter in high school classrooms. While many instructors ask students to put away their phones and laptops, it is possible to change how they are used, moving from distraction to discussion as attention is focused on the day’s lesson.

What about college classes? The goals of focusing attention and facilitating participation are equally desirable with older students. Twitter has a lot of potential, especially when combined with planned activities and complementary applications.

Why Twitter?

Recent research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that “73% of online adults now use social networking sites.” Twitter use, however, still trails behind Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. But it is interesting to note that respondents reporting use of Twitter were primarily younger adults, ages 18-29.

I incorporated (required, actually) Twitter participation in one of my online courses last year. Most of my students either hadn’t tried Twitter before, or had an account that wasn’t active. My inclination is to encourage the professional use of Twitter – for networking, personal branding, and continued learning – but account set-up for class use only is also an option.

Twitter Activities

The NBC News article sparked my search for examples at the college level. I have seen Twitter included in conference events and presentations, but was intrigued to find out how educators are incorporating this tool in classroom settings. Here are a few of the ideas I found, which may in turn spark experimentation in your courses.

  • Lecture Hall Discussions: How can you facilitate student participation in a large class? History professor Monica Rankin created a class hashtag that her students added to their tweets during class. By monitoring the feed, Rankin could respond to student comments and questions submitted via Twitter. Using this method in combination with small groups was also helpful.
  • Polling: Twitter can quickly deliver a URL to a live polling tool like TwtPoll or Poll Everywhere. An alternative to clickers, students use the poll link to enter their responses via Twitter while you show the live totals on screen in your classroom.
  • Reminders and Announcements: Is the deadline for a big assignment coming up? Has class been cancelled or the meeting room changed? Use Twitter to communicate these updates quickly to all students following your account and/or your class hashtag.
  • Backchannel Conversations: Do you invite guest speakers to you class or require students to attend campus events (e.g., lecture series)? Mashable shares that several courses at New York University encourage live-tweeting during these kinds of events. Students can capture important points and even use tweets to ask questions.
  • Resource Lists: Students and instructors at the University of Delaware work to identify and share relevant news items via Twitter. Through use of a common hashtag, even students registered in different sections of the same course can connect and build resource lists together.

Planning and Strategy

Like most successful instructional strategies, Twitter integration doesn’t just happen. If you decide that Twitter can help you reach your classroom goals, put some time into planning specific activities to help you get there. There are resources available to make it all work as seamlessly as possible, and tips to guide the experience for both you and your students.

Twitter Tools

  • Internet Connectivity: This may seem obvious, but it’s worth testing your classroom’s wireless connection to make sure it can handle your planned activity, and that there is not a firewall blocking Twitter access (which may be more of an issue in a K-12 setting).
  • Hashtag: Find a unique, but brief, sequence of letters and numbers following the “#” sign to identify your class. Hashtags provide a way to add a tweet to a larger conversation. It’s a way to make the tweet searchable, as a kind of keyword, and can be used to filter tweets. The NYU classes mentioned previously use #IJNYU, for example, and I use my class number and prefix: #EDU6284. You can be creative here, just make sure the hashtag you choose is not already in use.
  • Filtering Apps: For those who follow a lot of other accounts, filtering the incoming stream of tweets can be helpful. Tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite allow users to search for tweets using keywords or hashtags, and save the stream for later viewing. You can also search for a hashtag through Twitter’s interface. TweetChat and Twubs allow users to further narrow what’s viewed on screen to just tweets containing a specific hashtag.
  • Presentation Apps: Try Twijector to project a filtered stream of tweets onto a screen in your classroom or other in-person event. Tweetwall and Twitterfall provide similar options. You can also add a twitter feed to a PowerPoint presentation with plug-ins and apps like TweetBeam.
  • Recording Apps: If you would like to review tweets from your classroom after the live session, or give students the ability to review them, consider using an application that captures the conversation. Storify is one option for creating a kind of tweet transcript, which you can edit as well as distribute with a single link.

Tips for Instructors

  • Hold a practice session. You, and your students, may benefit from shared practice with Twitter and any related applications you plan to use. Setting up an orientation activity gives everyone a chance to try it out without fear of losing points or being the only one unfamiliar with the tool. As I suggested in a recent post about Google+ Communities, invite your students who have prior experience with Twitter to share their ideas and assist those new to the platform.
  • Share your expectations. Why did you decide to add Twitter to your class and what do you hope to gain from the process? Share your plan for the experience and how you expect students to participate. A few ground rules related to netiquette and professional interaction via social media can also help set the tone.
  • Provide helpful resources. Your school’s tech help desk may not be ready to support students’ questions about Twitter, even if it’s used for class activities, so gather a collection of helpful “getting started” and troubleshooting materials and distribute to students for quick reference.

Tips for Students

  • Be an active participant. Interacting with your instructor and classmates on Twitter May be something you are already comfortable with or a brand new adventure. Embrace the opportunity to learn more about this particular platform and a different kind of class participation.
  • Share your concerns. Not everyone is as excited about Twitter as I am, or as excited as your instructor may be. If you are hesitant to register for a Twitter account or use it in class, let your instructor know. There are privacy settings and other options that may be available.
  • Ask questions. As with any challenge you may face in your academic courses, if you are dealing with a problem you can’t seem to solve, need clarification about an assignment, or don’t understand what is expected of you, let your instructor know. He or she is there to help, and can also connect you with additional resources offered through your school.

Twitter is just one way to add a social component to a course, whether it is offered online, on campus, or in a blended format. Registration is free, and it only takes a few minutes to create a new account and complete the profile. But establishing accounts is just the beginning. Planning well-organized activities is also necessary to reduce confusion and enhance the learning experience.

Have you used Twitter in your classroom? Tell us about your favorite activities and lessons learned.

Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog