Teaching with Twitter
Twitter posts seem to be everywhere these days, from politicians and government offices to celebrities and entertainment news. I have been using Twitter for some time now as a regular part of my networking and professional development, and today I even sampled some of the tweets from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Royal Tour of Canada. (Happy Canada Day, neighbors to the north!)
Many folks are trying to figure out how this incredibly powerful tool can be effectively incorporated into teaching and learning. There are two broad categories here: 1) passive techniques that use twitter as a one-way source of information, and 2) more active techniques that require your students to sign up for an account and tweet.
The former category is much easier to integrate into your teaching, but perhaps not as high-impact as the latter.
One-way source of information
Instructors and others can write tweets that can be incorporated via a twitter widget into websites and LMS. From simple reminders about homework assignments or timely pointers to news and information resources, students simply need to use tools they are already using to read the messages.
Along a similar line, a feed can be created from a twitter search (including hashtags) or a twitter list and incorporated into a page students regularly view. Many professional organizations tweet (like the Mathematical Association of America or the Ecology Society of America) and can expose students to the world of professional scholarship. I have incorporated these twitter feeds into Subject Guides I create for disciplines and classes.
A much richer way of incorporating twitter in your teaching requires students to sign up for and use a twitter account. Several articles and blog posts have discussed various strategies. The twitter stream can be used as an in-class back channel (much like it is at conferences) or outside of class to keep students engaged. A 2010 study in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning showed that the use of twitter (both in class and out of class) resulted in an increase in both student engagement and final grades. Students can use twitter to continue an in-class discussion beyond class time, ask questions during class (especially helpful for the more introverted students), and connect with classmates.
Despite the positive results of this study and many instructors’ enthusiastic adoption of twitter, there are pitfalls. A recent article in The Chronicle discussed an attempt at cheating-by-twitter, and the hazards of the in-class back channel getting out of hand. Other blog posts have described a student backlash against using the tool.
As a librarian, the most interesting report of using twitter involved a librarian who was embedded in the class via twitter. The librarian (from her office) paid attention to the in-class back channel (and the after class tweets) and was able to provide commentary and point to relevant resources.
Like all technology tools, the decision to use twitter must depend on your educational goals: What do you hope to achieve? And is twitter the right tool to do this? Will your students find the use of twitter to help or hurt their educational experience? Jumping in with both feet without a plan for using twitter probably won’t work for students or instructors.