Twitter has many uses in the classroom. A quick Google search on the topic of using Twitter in the classroom yields millions of hits, ranging from an article by the National Education Administration to an article in the Atlantic Monthly. These, and other, sites suggest that Twitter is not just a fad and that it has a variety of uses, from simple to complex.
Twitter is a microblogging tool that is also a social networking site. When used in a classroom setting, this means registered students can tweet, follow, and respond to anyone else who is publicly listed on the site. It is a great way to help students form concise thoughts since users are limited to 140 characters when tweeting.
If you are interested in trying Twitter out, the best way to start is to register and follow some people you are interested in. Registration is free and easy. Create a personal learning community of educators and institutions that you are interested in getting updates from. Some quick and easy ways to get started using Twitter include:
- Use as a virtual bulletin board and post general updates and/or announcements about class.
- Tweet information in advance of class to get students thinking and the conversation started.
- Tweet and retweet materials (with links) that relate to class topics, like supplemental websites, articles, and videos.
All of the above ideas are somewhat passive—that is, you post and students read. If you want to get more interactive and create opportunities for student engagement (with you or with each other) here are a few ideas:
- Tweet material that will be later used as quiz/exam questions.
- Allow students to tweet questions about class.
- Ask students to tweet about the class discussion.
- Have students write a summary of class that day.
If you have tried some of this and you are looking for a way to create interactivity and community using Twitter, there are a variety of ways to do this. Some of the most popular ways are:
- Open up the class discussion (works well with introverts and large classes). Encourage students to reply directly to you and one another on topics you discussed in class.
- Connect classrooms (your own or with other faculty).
- Create a “real-world assignment.” Students have to find articles or videos that connect to class materials and tweet on a few of them with links to the source material. You can also have them further build community by responding to several tweets of classmates.
I have been using Twitter in the classroom for four years now and the question that I get the most often is about how I manage keeping track of the tweets. First, I want to say that this does not have to create more work for you. On the contrary, it can lessen your workload if you are reading several 140 character tweets instead of several one-page papers per student. Second, even though it seems like it might not be a challenging assignment for students, I have found that students struggle in the beginning with the limits since it is hard to communicate in 140 characters. The character limit forces students to think about what is really important, and I have found that when I take the focus off of how many pages they have to write, they produce really thoughtful work.
I do have a few tips to make managing Twitter easier. First, create a unique hashtag for your so students (and you) can find tweets easily. A hashtag is a “label” that allows users to filter and search so that you don’t have to read every tweet in your Twitter feed when you are grading. The hashtag needs to be unique, so when you are creating it, you might just search for it first to make sure it isn’t in use. I generally create hashtag that has my class abbreviation and TCU—something like #hrtcu. Every time they tweet, they are asked to add the hashtag at the end so that I can search for them. Note, the hashtag does count against the character limit, so make it as short as possible. Next, they have to create a public account (or change their settings to public) for you to be able to view their tweets. If students don’t have an account, or don’t want me to see what else they are tweeting (these are college students, so some of their tweets are NSFW!), you can suggest they create a course specific account like HR_lastname to keep things separate.
If you are tweeting a lot as part of the class discussion and/ or grading their tweets, you should strongly consider using a Twitter management tool. There are a variety of tools available that will help you plan your tweets and organize the tweets of your students. One of advantages of the tools is that they allow you to plan your tweets in advance and set release times/dates. So, you can sit down on Monday and set up all of your tweets for the week. They have built- in link shorteners which free up more characters for tweets and they have built-in search functionality.
The biggest perk of using the Twitter management tools is that they allow you to create and manage groups – which is especially useful if you have several different classes running. I generally try to sit down every weekend and catch up on grading the tweets. I signal to students that a tweet has been read by “liking” it and I update my grading spreadsheet at that time. I also have students reply to one another and I also grade those by liking and adding to my spreadsheet. If I see a great tweet, I will reply and/or retweet.
The two most popular tools for Twitter management are TweetDeck and Hootsuite. Both have free versions available. I started out using Hootsuite but moved to TweetDeck and find it much more user friendly for educational uses. Some of the key advantages of TweetDeck include an intuitive interface, ease in setting up groups and total integration with Twitter (Twitter now owns it). The downside is that it doesn’t have a mobile app, but is available as a desktop app. Further, it cannot integrate with other social media, so if you are currently using other tools like Facebook or WordPress in your classroom, then Hootsuite might work better for you.
I believe that Twitter is a fun and easy tool to use to extend the class discussion and hope that you are convinced! If you have any questions, want more information, or just want to connect please follow me on Twitter @TraceyRockett or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Tracey Rockett, Department of Management, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership, and the 2016
Koehler Center Fellow for Distance Education for the Spring 2016 Issue of Insights.