There are various advantages to using Twitter in the classroom, be it for polling, immediate classroom feedback, or professional development. Thus, while Twitter is at times “dismissed as recording solely the banalities of life,” it has often been heralded as a classroom tool (Watters, 2011). While serving as a lecturer for a summer matriculation program at the University of Maryland, one tutor I worked with decided to structure his section around a Twitter assignment. He tutored a Greek mythology course and wanted to have students compose 50 tweets on course content for a grade.
To encourage creativity, the tutor did not give any additional criteria for the assignment. He also used the class Twitter account he created (with which the students sent their tweets out) to administer in-class quizzes. By the end of the semester, I had the students anonymously fill out a Google form to gauge how effective the tutor’s assignment had been.
Almost all the students thought the activity gave them an opportunity to be more creative. Most students thought that the Twitter assignment made the material from their classes more self-referential and that similar Twitter assignments should be administered in other courses. Here, we can see that the assignment took advantage of the benefits that a classroom application of Twitter can have, including community, reader response, writing in an informal setting, and metacognition – “the practice of thinking about and reflecting on . . . learning” (Grosseck and Holotescu, 2008).
However, the class, judging from their Google form responses, was split on whether or not the assignment actually helped them better understand lecture material. When asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the assignment, students’ responses varied:
• “A strength is that it allow[s] you to creatively portray terms and concepts.”
• “The guidelines for what is considered an acceptable tweet should be a little more specific . . . . The strengths of the assignment is that it makes the content of the class a lot easier to remember and comprehend.”
• “I enjoyed the assignment, but I feel that… it was easy to make up random tweets that were in reference to Greek [mythology]. For example, ‘it’s raining intensely outside’ – #ThanksZeus would be a typical tweet.”
• “For people who don’t have a Twitter [handle] it was challenging to learn and keep up with something new.”
To me, the suggestions on how to improve the assignment were by far the most insightful regarding best practices for using social media in the classroom. Here’s what the students said:
• “I would tell [the instructor] to do it and to tweet themselves to add to the students’ experience.”
• “[Instructors should] tweet as much as they can with reminders about things that [need] to be done for that class.”
• “[I would want] [j]ust a little more organization when it comes to guidelines and specific requirements.”
I think there are three things we can learn from these remarks. First, if any instructor is going to use social media, the instructor should tweet his or her own questions, guidelines, deadlines, and suggestions. Teachers need to be re-tweeting student remarks, flexible, and open to students’ evaluative remarks to create a stable e-learning environment (Grosseck and Holotescu, 2008). Second, instructors must approach it one step at a time. They should introduce the assignment, help students set up accounts, and have students use the tool in class before using it independently. It is critical to for instructors “to share with students the language of Twitter and what it all means” (Grosseck and Holotescu, 2008). Third, the instructor must be clear about guidelines. Through using Twitter, “parents and teachers have the opportunity to collaborate transparently in the interest of kids” (Mazza, 2012). I believe the same opportunity exists between teachers and students as well. Without some criteria and examples for the students, instructors risk having students not understand the value of the assignment or not prioritizing it out of confusion. When used in classroom settings, Twitter can “distract the students from focusing on ideas,” but I think this can be alleviated with more transparency (Grosseck and Holotescu, 2008).
Based on this experience, while students are open to using Twitter for learning, they also lose interest if its application becomes too open-ended. Instructors should provide guidelines and examples in using the tools themselves while being aware of when they should become less involved to encourage creativity and learning. Learning experiences using social networking sites will be most effective in instances where instructors strike this balance.
Grosseck, G. and Holotescu, C. (2008). Can we use Twitter for educational activities? Presented at the 4th International Scientific Conference for eLearning and Software for Education. Retrieved from http://www.cblt.soton.ac.uk/multimedia/PDFsMM09/Can%20we%20use%20twitter%20for%20educational%20activities.pdf.
Mazza, J. (2012). A parent’s guide to Twitter and education [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/twitter-education-parents-joe-mazza.
Watters, A. (2011, March 21). 5 ways Twitter has changed education [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2011/03/5-ways-twitter-has-changed-education/.