I’ve really enjoyed the recent posts on using blogs in the classroom, so I thought I’d share how some of my colleagues in the English department have been using Twitter to interact with their students and the course material.
First, here’s how to get the ball rolling, especially for the Twitter-illiterate. The instructor sets up a Twitter account specific to the course, incorporating the course number or the instructor’s name. For example, for my Intro to Fiction course, I might use something like @BookerENGL2312. Students could also set up accounts specific to the course if they would prefer to keep their personal tweets private from the instructor. (I confess, I think I would prefer that they do!) The instructor directs students to “Follow” the course account and can, in turn, “Follow” the students. However, the instructor should also designate a hashtag to accompany all tweets related to the course, like #BookerFiction or #Booker2312. This hashtag is very important because it allows the instructor to search for all tweets related to the course. Finally, the instructor must give clear requirements for the Twitter component of the course, like a number of required tweets per week or per reading assignment.
Once everyone is connected and the hashtag has been designated, there are lots of ways to use Twitter as a supplement to the course. Students can tweet links to material they see in the news or read online that relates to the course content; they can ask questions of their fellow students. My colleagues sometimes use Twitter to send updates or reminders to students about paper conferences or deadlines. I have also seen them re-tweet announcements about lectures from the English Department’s Twitter account or interesting tweets from literary luminaries with Twitter accounts. (I highly recommend @DrSamuelJohnson, @LeVostreGC (Geoffrey Chaucer), and @1759MaryWol1797 (Mary Wollstonecraft.)
At this point, the functions I have described may sound like what you are already doing with Blackboard–posting resources and links, making announcements about deadlines, etc. However, Twitter does offer some functionality that you can’t necessarily get from other tools because of its 140-character limit and updates in real time. Because tweets must be so short, the most fascinating way to use Twitter is to ask the students to engage with the reading assignments outside class time. I have watched my colleagues’ students “live-tweet” as they read class assignments– making connections, asking questions, noting patterns, brainstorming for paper ideas, etc. By moving this interaction from the margin to the Twitter-verse (or, by replicating some of their marginalia online), the students create a conversation about the material before class even begins. Additionally, instructors can model critical reading with their own “live-tweets” about the reading. Further, reviewing the students’ tweets about the reading allows the instructor to gauge how they are responding to the material and plan class time more efficiently. Tweets might reveal that students are misreading the text, or really interested in a particular element of it, or already developing arguments about it. The instructor could even pose a specific question on twitter about the reading and allow students to begin to respond in their tweets, preparing them for a more informed in-person discussion.
Of course, any use of technology must be responsible and in support of the course goals. What I have described would probably not work for all disciplines or all instructors, but my techno-savvy colleagues have really enjoyed its benefits in their discussion courses. If anything, maybe Chaucer will finally seem accessible…140 characters at a time.