Twitter as an instructional tool in the college classroom is not a new phenomenon. A cursory Google search will yield all kinds of lists for top tips for Twitter use in academic settings, and academic journals have also begun to publish literature on the topic. I'll admit, however, my first foray into using Twitter with my German students stemmed from an excitement generated from personal use of the micro-blogging site. I found I could easily plug into a community of individuals that I perhaps didn't know, but with whom I shared common interests. It was this community feeling combined with the potential for authentic target language communication that led me to begin using Twitter in my introductory German courses. The 140 characters gave my introductory level students just enough space to communicate with me, each other, and the world at large in German, and all at their own pace, both outside and inside the classroom. The students were able to create their own community centered on learning German and learning about German culture, and, to a certain extent, took ownership of their own learning process.
This semester, I am teaching an intermediate German course organized around short stories from post WWII to the present. In keeping with a student-centered approach, I wondered how I might better empower my German students in their language learning process via Twitter. It occured to me that a creative, collaborative Twitter project playing with the genre of the short story might be just the ticket. Around this time, I stumbled into the world of #twitterfiction or #twitterature, via a TED talk by Andrew Fitzgerald: "Adventures in Twitter Fiction"
. In the TED talk, Fitzgerald explores how individuals are experimenting with digital storytelling on Twitter, from questions of narrative structure to real time storytelling. For example, Fitzgerald notes that the New Yorker's Twitter feed for fiction ( @NYerFiction
) was originally created in order to publish author Jennifer Egan's "Black Box" and still regularly features Twitter fiction. For a while, it even had a scheduled storytelling time slot on Monday nights, where readers could tune in for their literature fix. While there are many more examples of individuals experimenting with Twitter fiction, there are far fewer examples of collective Twitter fiction. Collective digital storytelling, especially in a time-sensitive medium such as Twitter, is a more complicated endeavor, since factors like timing, multiple identities/characters, direction, and duration can all come into play. Transferring collective digital storytelling to the classroom might seem even more daunting, especially for the foreign language classroom. However, such an endeavor taps into the unique community feeling that social media offers students as well as giving them the opportunity to become knowledge producers (Derek Bruff, Director for the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, wrote an article on the potential of social networks for student learning in "A Social Network can be a Learning Network"
In this spirit, I've created a project for my German students in which they will together flesh out characters and a storyline (drawing on the many short stories they have encountered throughout the semester), take on the characters, and together write a Twitter short story. A class/story hashtag will cull all of those tweets into one stream, thus making it readable. The goal of this project is twofold: 1. for students to creatively use their own German and 2. to think critically about the short story genre (a topic we have discussed regularly throughout the semester). Of course, the project has yet to take place, but I will be monitoring and archiving the project, and I will be reporting back with the general results!
Until then, here are a few references I have found useful (aside from the aforementioned ones!):
-- an online publication for Twitter fiction.