Last week, two important things happened: my students started working on their first major paper assignment, and I signed up for twitter. In lieu of assigning a formal proposal, I decided to ask my students to tweet a draft of their thesis statement. Because a thesis statement encapsulates the clarity of the argument and the organization of the paper in a single sentence, this assignment offered a quick and easy way for me to gauge how students were doing in the writing process.
Using twitter was beneficial in a number of ways:
1) Students could see their peers' tweets to get ideas. They could get in touch with fellow students who were addressing similar topics, struggling with similar problems, or succeeding in ways that they weren't. Even if students decided to tweet under a pseudonym, they could still engage in our online discussion.
2) I could read and reply to their tweets immediately, giving private feedback to individual students through messages and giving general advice to the class through our shared hashtag. The feedback was precise and directive, focusing on the particular issue that they needed to develop next--specificity, clarity, organization, etc.
3) The exercise helped students to think about writing in a concise and compelling way. If you have 140 characters, and you are going to share this thought with the world, how do you phrase your argument? Being clear and compelling isn't just the premise of twitter--it's also the groundwork for a good thesis statement.
As I was telling a colleague about the assignment, he decided to use twitter for his class discussions; students would post one question or response to the reading before class, and that would provide a starting point for the class discussion that day. Since then, I have been thinking about using twitter for peer feedback on presentations, or having students tweet the most important thing they learned each week in class.
So how do you use twitter in the classroom? What has worked? What hasn't? What advice would you give a teacher using it for the first time?