Blog Post

05. Tweeting reading responses: an interactive alternative to response papers

In several 100 and 200 level undergraduate classes I have TA’ed, we have required students to submit brief (no more than one page) reading responses for each reading.  Students were expected to bring a hard copy of their responses to class, and typically the TA collected them at the end of each class.  This was a way to ensure students were doing the reading and that the discussion section would be more than just uncomfortable silence, or worse, the TA talking the entire time.

My experience is that reading responses are overall a good way to hold students accountable to the readings, to provide an initial structure for the conversation in discussion section.  For the shyer students it was a way for them to ease into the conversation by saying or even reading what they had written.

But for some students, reading responses turned into meaningless busywork.  Those who didn’t complete the readings just scribbled something down during class.  For the TA, the responses could create a lot of extra administrative and grading work.

Here is a way to convert this kind of assignment into one that is more interactive and potentially effective, using Twitter.  (With credit to this post from Michael Ullyot and this one from Robert Williamson Jr. describing their own assignments, which helped me structure the one below)

Many have made the case that micro-blogging on Twitter is a good way to improve writing skills, by helping to distill main points and use concise language.  Likewise, Twitter can be used to build analytical reading skills and motivate students to engage with the readings and their fellow classmates.  It can also help make the instructor and students more responsive to each other.  It might also save time and paper.

Assignment - Reading Response Tweets

Goals:

  • To practice critical, careful reading skills
  • To hold students accountable for reading assignments
  • To structure and enhance class discussion

1. Create a Twitter account for use in this class.  You can create a new one for this course, or use an existing one.

2. Sign in and search the course hashtag (eg, #Geo200) and save the search (click on “save” to the right of the search results).  Later from your homepage, when you click in the search field your “saved searches” will show up, and you can click on the search to see what people in our class are posting.

3.  Carefully complete the reading assignment.  Remember to start early enough so you have time to digest the reading.  While reading, note (in whatever form of notes you take) answers to these questions:

  • Who is the author (what background/profession coming from, etc)?
  • What is the purpose of the reading?
  • What is the puzzle or question the author is addressing?
  • What is the author’s main point or argument?
  • What evidence or reasoning is provided to answer the question?
  • What are the underlying assumptions behind the reading?
  • What are the implications if we believe the author’s points?
  • What are the implications if we do not believe the author’s points?
  • What are your questions or concerns with the reading?
  • How does this reading connect to the themes of our class?

4. The instructor/your TA will tweet out 1-2 additional questions tailored specifically to the given reading.  We will always do this by first thing Monday morning.  To check those out, log in to Twitter and check our course hashtag for a tweet from us.  A response to these questions can count towards your two required tweets per reading.

5.  Review the reading and your notes.  Choose your TWO strongest points, responses, or questions you would like to share with the class.  If you’re having trouble choosing, go through your notes and responses to the questions above and think about what you found most striking or compelling (or not) about the reading, what you would like to discuss further, or what you think would be most useful to others in the class.

6. Distill those two points or questions in the most thoughtful way you can; remember you only have 140 characters so be deliberate!  Tweet your two points by 9 PM the day before your discussion section meeting.  Two tweets per reading are required.  Always include the course hashtag when you tweet material related to our class! #Geo200  You may use other hashtags as you see fit.  Remember your tweets should advance our class discussion and help us better understand the course readings and the concepts.

7. Check our course hashtag often.  Feel free to tweet responses to your fellow classmates’ tweets, to the course material, to post related material and questions.  This is not required as part of your graded reading response tweets, but it is encouraged and could be very fun and rewarding!

FAQs

-Privacy.  Remember that your tweets are public and will be archived.  Please act accordingly and respectfully.  If you prefer your tweets to be only visible to your followers, you can change this in your account settings.  If you opt for this, please notify your TA via email or direct message on Twitter.  If you have any other questions or concerns about privacy, please contact the instructor or your TA.

-Grading.  Your required tweets will be graded as 10% of your class participation grade (worth 25% of your entire grade in the course).  We can only find, archive, and assess your tweets if you use the course hashtag, so please don’t forget to use it.  As with in-class participation, quality is much more important than quantity, so if you only tweet twice per reading and your tweets are meaningful,thought-provoking and detailed, you can certainly get full credit.  We will also consider good faith effort and improvement in quality over time in our assessment of this aspect of your participation.

79

3 comments

This is a great idea for the dreaded (from the perspective of the TA) weekly reading response/summary. Have you found that the simple fact that they are using twitter gets the students more interested in the assignment?

83

This is fascinating.  Thank you for such a detailed write-up of it -- it's really useful to think about, and I've bookmarked it.  Have you successfully run an entire course on this metric yet?  I'm interested in the following for my own potential adoption of something like it next fall:

-Questions of grading -- how does one explain to a student how a Tweet (or several Tweets) were graded?  Is this any more or less awkward than any other kind of  grading?

-Are there any students who do not want to participate b/c they do not have and do not want to have Twitter?  Is there an option for them? 

-Does it seem to help students critical reading / distilation skills, or do they just sort of summarize/book review? 

80

I've not implemented this yet in my classroom, I just propose it here as an alternative to what I've been doing as a TA for the past several years which is dealing with reading responses...so thanks for the questions!

I imagine that for some students the simple fact we're using Twitter will get them interested, while for others there will be resistance.  I imagine not all students will have the same access/comfort with Twitter so that might create some push back.  But even these various reactions/interactions, positive or negative, might create more buzz and excitement than reading responses on paper! :)

-Yes, some students might not want to have Twitter and I don't think they should be required to if they are strongly against it for whatever reason. (Although there are various options in terms of privacy settings or creating a more anonymous account just for the class etc. it may be worth discussing with students)  I suppose those students could email in their 140 character responses. And be held to the same quality standards but just not on the public forum.  The instructor could then incorporate them into the discussion.  Too many exceptions may create too much work for the instructor though.  This is a tough one I struggle with.

-Again, not having tested this systematically, it's my hope that this would increase critical reading/distillation skills.  Each of the 140 characters become precious and weighty, especially because it's for a public audience. I think it should be emphasized to students to summarize only to the extent that they are making a point/raising a question/isolating a line of tension or connection between readings/concepts.  If summary, then *analytical* summary. 

-The grading question is fascinating.  I think the quality > quantity standard is the basic principle to explain to students.  It's qualitative and holistic, and students don't like the "you know it when you see it" explanation, so this might be a challenge.  Providing a few examples of more solid/less solid tweets might help.  With reading responses in the past we've used the following scale (or something similar) as a benchmark to quickly grade responses, so perhaps it could be used for tweeting responses too: 

5 or check plus plus = conscientious, thoughtful and clearly engaged response *the class discussion is better because of this contribution*

4 or check plus = conscientious, thoughtful and clearly engaged response

3 or check = clear signs of engagement, but too casual in approach, could be more careful/detailed

2 or check minus = on topic but not clear that student sufficiently completed the reading

1 or check minus minus = did not do the reading, BS'ing

98