Blog Posting — Using Social Media in the Classroom — Basics of Twitter

Everyone knows of Twitter, and tens of millions of people use it, but what is it, and how can it be used to engage students in their own learning?

Twitter is a micro-blog — a Web-based social conversation using 140 characters or less. Instead of paragraphs and paragraphs (like this blog entry) of description, Twitter forces users to consolidate ideas into minimalist language. The advantage here is that each user can broadcast a single idea so that the  audience reads only the essentials. The service is free and requires only an e-mail address. Most Twitter users access their accounts via their smart phones, but any regular mobile phone that can send a text message, as well as any computer connected to the Web, can send and read “tweets.”

The concept of Twitter is broadcasting, rather than ocal communication. Contrast a Twitter message, which everyone in the world can see, to an e-mail message, which is directed to specific individuals. Because of this, all messages via Twitter should be made with a universal audience in mind and no tweet should be considered private. But it’s this universal access that makes Twitter an appropriate tool to communicate with students after class and even to engage them during class.

Consider two easy applications — one asynchronous to keep students up-to-date, the other synchronous to gauge student learning in class.

Out-of-Class Updates

After creating your own Twitter account, give your Twitter account name to all your students — on your syllabus, in a class announcement, or on your Blackboard site. Then, after class, you can make a few tweets that

a) summarize essential content from the day’s lesson,

b) remind students of this week’s reading, or

c) mention an out-of-class local event that would interest them.

This would take only a minute of your time. Students who “follow” your Twitter account can review your tweets that night or even have your tweets sent directly to their phone.

 

In the Classroom
Twitter could also be utilized in class with a PC and video projector. By creating a Twitter hashtag and instructing the students to respond to a question using that hashtag, you could determine understanding immediately.

“The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.” Create a hashtag unique to your class, such as #UHChemBott so that the conversation doesn’t overlap with another conversation of all other #chemistry classes, for example.

With your projector showing the Web-based Twitter feed, prompt the class with a question where you expect them to reply with brief (140 characters, remember?) responses. They will post their response using your class hashtag, and their responses will be reviewed for everyone to see — live. Immediately, you can ascertain what the students comprehend. They can even ask questions using the hashtag right there.

 

Some Brief Suggestions
As with all technology, practice before you use Twitter with your class. Practice sending and replying to tweets and creating and following hashtags. The Help pages on Twitter.com are very useful here.

Secondly, if you use Twitter, use it regularly. The first time might not go as well as you would like, but the students need to adjust to the technology, too. When they see it as a regular, engaging tool, they will get involved. Tweet updates regularly — since this is a technology that is as simple as a phone and 140 characters, a tweet or two a day is reasonable, and soon you’ll have your followers.

In the comments, please feel free to offer your experience, suggestions, and questions about using Twitter in your classroom. We’ll respond in comments below, and in future posts.

Next: An introduction to Google Docs for Classroom Collaboration

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