Teaching with Twitter – Please check your baggage at the door

How-to’s and link roundups on teaching with Twitter has been done many times before, but the topic is worth frequent revisiting and refreshing, especially in the context of the #FutureEd initiative and the Pedagogy Project by HASTAC Scholars.

The goal of this review is to help think through if, why, and how to use Twitter in our teaching and learning – especially for those who remain skeptical.

There’s a real possibility this post will only preach to the choir, folks who already using Twitter in their work, play, classrooms.  I read an interesting piece in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network by Claire Warwick called the terror of tweeting, about how, ultimately, “How to Tweet” guides (in this case intended for academics) which have proliferated (!) in recent years are missing the point; academics don’t tweet not because they don’t see the point or because they can’t figure out how, but because (besides lack of time) they fear a loss of control.  After all, “Social media involves a loss of control and an exercise in trust and openness.”

I suspect this is true not only of academics but also of teachers and students who resist using Twitter in classroom settings.  (Read one such testimonial from a student of Adeline Koh’s and Adeline Koh’s own assessment of Twitter in a Higher Education Classroom.)

So the first consideration in my go at “Teaching with Twitter” must be to recognize and affirm the scary exhilaration of ceding control, stepping out just ahead of what you already know—in short, being willing to learn.

If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing… 

…and (according to the Guardian piece mentioned above) if you can communicate with colleagues and friends, you can tweet.  It’s not about ability, it’s about interrogating one’s own social media baggage and hang-ups about taking intellectual, emotional, and professional risks.

Step one in any pedagogical exercise involving Twitter, then, may be a spill-your-Twitter/social media-baggage session, first individually, then as a class.

Because, there’s little question, (of course depending on the learning goal at hand) the pedagogical case for Twitter has become quite strong.

If as an educator you are committed to any of the following pursuits, you might consider Twitter as a (not perfect but promising) pedagogical tool:

  • making learning more interactive.
  • humanizing the classroom experience and building community.
  • fostering and expanding discussion, real exchange, within the classroom and beyond.
  • validating our own and our students’ digital lives and writing, and connecting these worlds which are often unnecessarily separated.
  • pushing us to think more critically about our digital lives and writing. 
  • helping shy folks, introverts, non-traditional students, international students, graduate students, people of color, women, language learners--among others--find their voice in a given topic or conversation.  While at the same time providing students who tend to dominate conversation with an outlet to participate in less disruptive ways.
  • facilitating communication between students and instructors, and among students.
  • creating common resources for the entire class to benefit from and potentially store for later use by class members and others.
  • making learning fun.

Why (not) use Twitter in teaching?  Because it could go very wrong…

  • It raises thorny access/ethical/legal/privacy issues.
  • It’s too noisy/overwhelming/distracting.
  • It reduces complexity to simple, narcissistic platitudes.
  • Above all:  It can be risky. 

All the potential pitfalls listed here and elaborated on in numerous other places offer pedagogical opportunities to boot.  That things could go wrong is perhaps precisely why teachers and students should give Twitter a whirl. 

Most of the reports back I’ve reviewed on the topic say that despite the learning curve, fears, technical problems, risks of misuse of tools by students, vulnerability of the instructor to real-time criticism, tool fatigue, discomforts or embarrassments, it’s worth it.  Here’s just one example of a balanced weighing of Twitter’s promise and peril in the classroom: Teaching with Twitter: Engaging Students in large lectures by Corey Ryan Earle.

The blind man and the elephant – If you don’t read anything else on “Teaching with Twitter” read:

For me, delving into the specifics of the pedagogical case for Twitter has been a powerful way to reckon with my own resistance to using it.  I chose the following sources because—unlike many lists on the topic out there—they situate uses of Twitter within a broader framework of pedagogical goals/learning objectives.

  • Many sources I’ve consulted converge on Mark Sample’s post on ProfHacker, A Framework for Teaching with Twitter. Particularly useful here is the Twitter adoption matrix, and the ways it provokes thinking about Twitter as a multi-faceted pedagogical tool.
  • This post on Edudemic offers ways to use Twitter, organized according to the different levels of the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy, from lower to higher order skills:  Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.  Similar charts could be made to flesh out Bloom’s affective and psychomotor domains of learning, or other pedagogical models favored by practitioners, and how Twitter can be used to facilitate learning content and skills.
  • Along similar lines except as a visual spectrum, this graphic offers ideas for using Twitter in a 21st Century classroom according to the categories: Think&Observe, Share&Interact, Analyze&Evaluate, Create&Design

Twitter baggage checked. Check! Pedagogical justifications. Check!  Now to combine the ‘why’ with the ‘how’…

Grounding use of Twitter in particular pedagogical objectives is an important lens for one to hold in mind as s/he searches for particular activities and assignments online, inevitably coming across one of the so many “how to use twitter in the classroom” lists, even one that’s more thematically organized such as this one:  60 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom

Much of the content out there stops at listing activities as fun and cool in and of themselves, which likely won’t sway those who think Twitter categorically inappropriate for the classroom.An activity using Twitter may or may not be appropriate to achieve a particular learning task or objective

  • Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, another post from Mark Sample lauded by practitioners, covers some important nuts and bolts, organized along 6 aspects: organization, access, frequency, substance, archiving, and assessment
  • This solid collection of links and list of best practices for live-tweeting for note taking from Adeline Koh lays out not only “how” but “why” of implementing a Twitter assignment.
  • This report back from HASTAC’er Katie Hobbs talks about how and why her undergraduate English class used Twitter for collaborative note-taking.

If all the lists and how-to guides on “Teaching with Twitter” make your head spin:

aburgin

My Own Baggage

This is such a useful post for me. I've been kicking around the idea of using Twitter in my classroom for a while now, especially since I've started teaching in a Computer Integegrated Classroom (CIC). The bottom line is, I'm not sure how. I have ideas, yes, but having never used Twitter, I'm a little nervous. I'm all about student engagement, but I want to find a way to make Twitter work productively in a writing classroom. What concrete skills can I teach them through Twitter without getting bogged down by the medium itself? How can I, the instructor, keep control of the classroom, especially with regard to troubleshooting, when I've never had a Twitter account (and when students have teased me in the past for calling it "Twittering." Apparently it's "tweeting," gang. Duh. Everyone knows that...)? This is not to say that I don't think it's an avenue worth pursuing; just that this is my baggage. And maybe typing it here will "check" it. At the very least, you've compiled concrete tools here that I greatly look forward to exploring and hopefully utilizing in my classroom. Thanks! 

petradt

Teaching with Twitter in a literature classroom

What a wonderful post with great resources and leads for further pedagogical ideas!  Thanks so much. I did a literary public Twitter role play with my students a while ago (on Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray) and will do a variant of this again soon. It was a great experience. If you're interested, my write-up is here: http://litilluminations.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/a-public-literary-twitter-role-play-oscar-wildes-the-picture-of-dorian-gray/

All best!

GabrieleDillmann

Teaching German with Twitter

Thank you very much fro this excellent post! The resources you are listing are exactly what I have been looking for in order to experiment with Twitter in my German language classroom. After I saw how Petra uses Twitter in her literature classroom (Wilde's Dorian Gray), I became intstantly fascinated with the potential of creating really sexy, refreshing exercises with Twitter. Once I have "played" with it in my courses a bit, I will share soem experiences. Again, thank you very much for this!

Gabriele

dehertoghlb

Re: Teaching German with Twitter

Hi Gabriele,

Once you integrate Twitter into your German classes, I'd be fascinated to hear how it turns out.  I love studying German (and am preparing for my doctoral German translation exam), so it would be nice to know about alternative ways to study/use German on the web.

Cheers,

Lori Beth

t.grobs

baby steps + fun!

I'm so glad people are getting something out of this post.  I'm working through my own baggage, that's why I undertook to write about it!  So thanks AJ for your comment; I'm taking baby steps to introducing Twitter into the classroom, so I totally empathize.  I have a Twitter account but use it rarely, and when I do mostly for lurking. As for the classroom I think starting small and with optional Twitter activities might be a way to ease into it, that's what I am planning for the next class I teach.  Giving students an optional writing prompt can be a low-stakes place to start, maybe something like what you can do on oneword.com where you get a word or a question or the beginning of a sentence and instead of 60 seconds to write about it you have one tweet (=140 characters) to respond.

I'm trying to be light-hearted about this topic and remember that it should be fun, even the troubleshooting parts (?!)

Petra, just reading your *write-up* about the literary role play was so fun, that I can't imagine how much fun the activity itself must  have been for the participants! 

Thanks for everyone's comments, and hopefully we can keep sharing ideas and reports back! best wishes, T