Blog Post

The Power of We: Collaboration in the Classroom. Or, How I Live-Tweeted My Class With My Class

The Power of We: Collaboration in the Classroom.
Or, How I Live-Tweeted My Class With My Class

We were 9 students (7 tweeting) and 1 instructor, tweeting for 3 hours,
and we sent 200 Tweets!


Today, Monday October 15 2012, is Blog Action Day 2o12. Rather unfortunately hash-tagged #bad12, Blog Action Day is a day that brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day (BlogActionDay.org). The topic of 2o12 is The Power of We. In the spirit of the We, bloggers share and circulate their #bad12 posts via the various digitally-connecting networks that unite Us. I would like to begin my reflection with the ending line of Ernesto Priego’s flowing #bad12 contribution, The Power of We: Social Media as a Platform for Collegiality: “The Power of We means believing, sometimes against discouraging evidence, that there’s strength in numbers, and that collective intelligence and collaboration are quickly becoming the default mode of 21st century research.

 
Last week in my undergraduate 21st Century Media class I not only challenged my students to live-tweet our class session, but I also joined them in so doing. It was an incredible success. Truly. It. Was. An. Incredible. Success. Knowing that attempts at both in-class and outside-class Twitter assignments have resulted in wildly differing outcomes (see Adeline Koh’s reflections, for instance), with some "digitally native" students disliking or even resenting the project, I started with a casual challenge, Let’s Experiment!, untethered from rubric requirements or obligatory participation, and went from there.
 
Challenge: Let’s Tweet!
 
Result: We were 9 students (7 Tweeting) and 1 instructor tweeting for 3 hours and we sent 200 (meaningful!) Tweets! You can read our Storify here: 21st Century Media, Live-tweeting class with my students. One of my students said it was the 'best' and 'most interesting' class she'd had in 3 years!
 
Here’s how we got there:
 
The class assignment for our session last week was to 1) read the assigned readings – selections from Ian Ayres, Sandy Pentland, and Ian Foster – and 2) choose a life-logging or data-mining tool or method from the research list I’ve compiled and distributed and be prepared to present your chosen tool/method to the class. Fortunately each student is already in the practice of bringing his/her laptop to class, so I did not need to specify. Prior to class, I asked each to tell me if they had a Twitter account but I did not tell them we’d be tweeting the class. 
 
In class, I prefaced with a bit of the following: In my experience, there are three foundational methods of learning: reading, teaching, and ‘doing’. In our 21st Century Media class, it seems ever more appropriate to appropriate ‘doing’ & ‘making’ into our course curriculum. In our unit on data-mining and life-logging this week, it seems even ever more relevant to use our 21st century media tools to learn, and to add our own data to the world as we talk about the data that we knowingly and unknowingly release via our various devices and connectivities. 
 
And then I challenged, but did not require, them to live-tweet the class. One of my students did not have an account and another chose not to participate. The rest of us were onboard. After asking if any of the students had ever live-tweeted a class or event before (No!), I realized a bit of prefacing would be required. I gave no proper specific instructions but did give them a brief recitation of what a meaningful vs a useless Twitter act might be. For example, Tweeting ‘oh dear’ is a rather useless tweet and adds no real relevant information to the world of the digital classroom. Tweeting interesting reflections, questions, and or relevant links is a meaningful twitter act. This was key for both those new to Twitter (“I have an account but don’t use it…”) and those who use it for decidedly non-academic reasons (“I had breakfast with my mom! #yummypancakes”). I then went through a few specifics (see list below) and then we started.
 
My students were brilliantly savvy and were easily able to multitask – they tweeted (meaningfully!), responded to classmates’ tweets, and carried on an energetic in-class discussion all at once. My quiet-in-class students flourished in the online space. My active students expanded their vocabulary of possible participation routes. I recognize this might be a rare success but I recommend you give it a shot. I challenge you to challenge your students AND yourself to create innovative learning environments that mobilize the affordances of our contemporary networked condition. Ending again where we began, I return here again to Priego: collective intelligence and collaboration are quickly becoming the default mode of 21st century research. And teaching and learning can indeed benefit from the modes and methods of the collective – and collectively connected – We.
 
 
Important preparations and suggestions for live-tweeting class:
  1. I had previously chosen a hashtag that was not yet in use and wrote it on the classroom black/whiteboard. I added my own twitter name to the board and then add the names of all the other students to the board as well. With only 9 students, this was quite easy.
  2. Mobilize your own Twitter networks to solicit participation from those you think might add to the conversation.  Announce your intentions to live-tweet along with time, topic, and hashtag to be used. We had a professor in Boston (we were in Durham, NC) and a visiting scholar from Philadelphia participating with us.
  3. Make sure all N00bs know how to use hashtags. Choose a hashtag that is not yet in use.
  4. I did not require my students to tweet nor did I ‘assign’ they do so.
  5. I did, however, give them a brief recitation of what a meaningful vs a useless Twitter act might be.
  6. Storify or otherwise archive afterward! 
  7. Tweet with them! They loved it. And with the student-presentation + seminar conversation format worked beautifully to allow me to do so. It was remarkably seamless and it added depth, bulk, and annotation to our in-class conversation.
 
(Lucky) Plusses that may have facilitated our success: 
  1. We have met as a class already sans Twitter and thus have already forged connections between us. I can see how using Twitter on day one might stunt the growth of this sort of in-class interconnected relationship.
  2. The class topic was especially appropriate
  3. The class format was especially appropriate: Each student was assigned a brief presentation on a data-mining or life-logging tool. When one student was ‘on’ the others could tweet.
  4. My students were brilliantly savvy and were easily able to multitask – they tweeted, responded to classmates’ tweets, and carried on an energetic in-class discussion. I know this might be a rare group.
  5. Each student regularly brings a laptop to class so I encountered zero tech access issues.
  6. Each student, save for one, already had a Twitter account. Though only a few were Tweeting with any sort of regularity.
  7. I had a small class. We were only 10.
  8. I was tweeting along with them.
  9. We shared links via twitter and could collectively look at websites and share information about the data-mining tools we were presenting. Example: After grabbing the web link from Twitter, one student looked at the About page for the project while another looked at the Project Theory page and both were actively telling us (in class) about what they were reading.
Again: go, do, take up the challenge: create innovative learning environments that mobilize the affordances of our contemporary networked condition and the Power of the We.
 
Amanda Starling Gould
Duke University



 

72

11 comments

Great resource here to add: "The Difference Between Thin and Thick Tweets" via David Silver.

 

asg

65

Amanda -

Your post inspired me to have my class live tweet during an interview. For my class, Gender Through Comics, we are reading a comic book and then interviewing the author, usually via skype. For this event, we read The Walking Dead first trade, watched the first episode of the TV adaption, and then interviewed one of the writers of the show. I emailed my students the evening prior and basically told them the guidelines. Right before the interview I reminded them of acceptable and not acceptable tweets and basically what was in the email. Of the 16 students in attendance, seven tweeted. Some did not have twitter and some refuse to do twitter. It was a great success. I had several people outside of the class email me about how they enjoyed following the tweets. This was a great experience to have and one I plan to do again. When the students do their final presentations, I plan to have the class tweet, also. We have a few interviews left, so I will keep the live tweeting as an option. Many of my students said that this was their favorite interview yet, probably because of the tweeting. They really seemed to enjoy this experience and are anxious to do it again. Next time, those who do not have a twitter account will have ample time to set one up.

If anyone cares to see the tweets, our hashtag was #WGS310.

I really appreciate you sharing your experiences as it gave me the courage to try this! Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to live tweeting for my MOOC in the Spring semester, also.

Best,

Christy Blanch

69

Christy,

Fantastic project! I love the idea of collaboratively skype-interviewing an author, and having the students tweet during the interview is a brilliant addition. I am thrilled you tried it and doubly thrilled that you shared your experience (experiment) here with us. Thank you! 

Keep us posted on future experiments, please. Do you think the non-adapters who 'refused' to tweet will choose to opt-in the next time after seeing how well it worked for the other students?

Amanda Starling Gould

70

Fascinating, thanks for describing in such detail. I do talkbacks and other literary work for a theatre company that is involved in a lot of transatlantic coaborations and have been reading about ways to facilitate talkbacks and play development via Skype. We tried this for one project over the summer and it proved an efficient way to have a 3 city, 2 continent dialogue about the work in progress.

68

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade here -- nor do I think I could even if I tried -- but this idea does raise some troublesome questions for me. Amanda, you start off with several tacit assumptions that may be obviously justifiable and already answered for most people, but that aren't obvious to me. Maybe you could help me understand your perspective? 

1. Tweeting allows students to communicate effectively -- one of the perennial problems I have with Twitter is that it is inherently reductionist. Your message must fit into 140 characters, and often less on account of retweets and hashtags. Why do we assume that complex ideas can be scrunched into this space? I worry about oversimplifying messages by imposing the artificial 140 character restraint. 

2. Students who refuse to tweet are being difficult or backward or afraid -- has anyone asked any of their non-tweeting students why they choose not to tweet? 

3. Being multimodal is always good -- it may be that for some students, communicating on several different media (verbal in-room conversation, twitter, FB, taking notes) all at once may work really well. But I worry that, for some students, asking for simultaneous participation in multiple media hampers their ability to learn or communicate effectively at all. Is it fair to effectively punish students (if through peer-pressure and negative attitudes if not through grades) for needing or wanting to focus on one channel rather than multitasking? 

4. Inviting participants from outside the classroom is a good thing -- I can see situations in which this might be valuable, but I can also see dangers and downsides. Every really worthwhile class I've taught or been in has developed its own dynamic. Maybe disrupting that dynamic by adding other participants could be valuable, but it might also prevent the class from functioning well. It also disrupts the idea of the class as a safe space for experimentation, in my view. 

I obviously remain unconvinced that tweeting in class is a valuable experience, but I'm eager to find out why so many people are so excited about it. 

Erika Szymanski

72

Erika, Thank you for your comment. WIth all due respect, I disagree with your identification of my assumptions. I did not intend to definitively project any of the four you list here. I champion classroom experimentation and encourage instructors and students alike to try myriad tools and methods to create innovative knowledge environments. However, I neither proclaim that using Twitter is the 'best' way to do this nor do I claim that Twitter will work for everyone or every situation. My class was a course on 21st Century Media, and like I say above, I believed - and believe - it appropriate - if not critical - to explore and use 21st century media tools/methods as we learn about them via 'traditional methods' through our readings and by looking at our chosen art/literary works. I explicitly say above that I did NOT require my students to tweet. I most certainly did NOT say that non-tweeting students are "being difficult or backward or afraid." Dear no. And yes, we did talk about why we use and/or do not use Twitter and about how we use it and how we could use it. That was all part of the experiment. And it was a success by all standards: the discourse was impressively raised, the participation was likewise expanded as my 'quiet' students were rather eloquent on Twitter, the students enjoyed it (they've asked me if we can do it again), and the dynamic of the classroom adopted a new energy and excitement that had not been present before. We will indeed do it again. And, I assure you, I will continue to diligently evaluate our use of such tools and their effectivity for our class goals/purposes. The day they become ineffective or intrusive or disruptive, we will pivot and try something new (again). 

Amanda Starling Gould

86

 

Thanks for sharing this, Amanda! I teach intro to writing, and although there’s no real new media component required in my department, I think any freshman writing course being taught today should ask students to rethink what literacy means in the 21st century. As such, I’m always trying to find new ways to engage students meaningfully with technology and to encourage them to be self-reflective about their use of different writing environments. I’ve considered using Twitter before, but wasn’t really sure how it might fit into a classroom assignment.

I have to admit that I don’t love the idea of live tweeting an in-class discussion. I’m not sure that I have the multi-tasking skills for that, let alone my students! My classes are also much larger than yours—typically about 21 to 24 students, not all of whom have access to a laptop. But I do really like the idea of having them live tweet an event or a lecture, perhaps outside of our regular classroom session.

If I were to attempt this with my students, I’m not sure if I’d make it mandatory or not. Could you share your reasoning behind not making this a requirement? And out of curiosity, what justification did your one non-participating student offer? Had he/she changed his/her mind about using twitter afterward? Did you ask your students to reflect in any way on the discussion afterward? And finally, is this something you would you recommend trying in a freshman comp class?

67

Great thread! Amanda, the class you teach sounds incredibly interesting and I love how you challenge students to examine the possibilities and limits of platforms like Twitter. Like Heather, I'm interested but maybe a little afraid to try this in an introductory college writing class.

Heather, I've had mixed luck with TodaysMeet: it's basically a chatroom you can enter into without registering or logging in, and you can delete it in a set amount of time. I don't remember what the character limit is, but it is more than 140 characters. I've tried it here and there--mostly when we are listening to a piece of audio in order to keep students engaged. Although I've never live-tweeted a class (yet!), I have made Twitter a semester-long project for my more advanced writing students. I've found that students need particular help with the following:

1. Identifying their own writerly role on Twitter--what content can they add that is new, interesting, informative.

2. Writing concise, direct sentences.

3. Figuring out how to switch their rhetoric to suit the audience.

The third point is where TodaysMeet comes in. The first time I introduce it to a classroom, there is inevitable giggling, attemps to write under fake names, silly, non-class-related hashtags, etc. It's amazing how quickly their rhetoric changes once they're communicating in an online medium--even when they know I can read what they're saying! The jokes come out, the "LOL"s are rampant. I invariably have to remind them (or tell them for the first time) what the point of a backchannel is, how to communicate on it, etc.  Despite the general silliness it initally engenders, it provides a low-stakes way to practice writing within a social, digital platform, especially for students who have never used social media for anything other than casual entertainment. Perhaps you might have success trying it with your first-years before delving into a full-fledged (and far more "permanent") Twitter account.

65

Hello Heather. Thank you for your comment.

First: I challenge you to try it. We as instructors and as students learn through experimentation. If it doesn't work the first time, experiment again differently; either drop the Twitter idea in toto or conceive a new use for it. In your initial trial, you and your students will be able to see what is working and what is not. And, presumably, if you ask them to come up with new ways that they might like to use Twitter - or any other digital composition tools for that matter - in the class context, you might be surprised by their creativity. Whether you do so prior to the first trial or after is up to you.

Second: I would also recommend that you begin tweeting yourself if you do not do so already. I recommend you live-tweet a lecture or seminar or conference talk and live-tweet while you are planning a writing task or during your writing. You should be savvy and, through your own trials you will come to see how Twitter might be useful in the context of writing and/or in documenting a lecture/class.

Third: I chose to make this participation optional for several reasons. This first time was an experiment. I did not want to force the experiment nor did I want to force a student to do something that would make him/her feel uncomfortable. There are many ways to contribute to a class and our students have different styles of contributing, I respect that. This particular Literature seminar is not about being tech-savvy but about critically thinking about and engaging with the theory and the art/text works that loosely represent the issues and affects of our '21st Century Media'. In other courses with different goals, I think differently about tool use. In answer to your question, my quietest student sent me a private email asking if we could use Twitter again next week. I suspect that the two that chose not to participate (one without a Twitter account) will indeed participate this week. The sparks flying through those that were tweeting were palpable.

Finally:

Here are two reflections on tweeting in writing composition courses that you might find useful: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Twitter_and_the_student2point0.html and http://verbalcupcake.net/2011/06/this-twitter-thing-does-help-twitter-in-the-english-composition-classroom/.

Good luck! And please report back if you try it.

asg

@stargould

 

66

Thanks, Amanda, for starting this discussion with the description of how you structured your experiments.  It's really important to see how certain attempts ended up working in practice.  I certainly understand the reticences expressed here and there.  Nothing is harder than breaking out of the mold of instructional delivery that has become ingrained in us in so many ways.  There is no magic solution, only experimentation.  What you did may not suit others, but it has the great advantage of having been an experiment you shared.

 

 
70

Thank you for those resources and for responding so thoroughly to my questions! I will likely not attempt to do anything with Twitter this semester, but I think I may do some experimenting in the spring. I will report back with the results.

87