Today I’d say I’m moderately active (I’m @markhofer if you'd like to connect). I try to tweet out interesting articles that I find online, I share blog posts I’ve written, and I’m taking baby steps towards creating more connections, participating in tweetups, etc. I think this might be hard for me, because I’m not much of a social media guy. I have LinkedIn and a dormant Facebook account, but I’ve never really enjoyed or figured out the best way to make these tools worth the investment of time and energy. When I read about colleagues in higher ed using Twitter and other social media services in their teaching, I’m particularly skeptical.
Finding balance between skepticism and open-mindedness
The place of technology in teaching and learning can be a bit of a polarizing topic. There are some folks who would argue that technology has no place in the college classroom. Even if they are personal users of technology, they argue that these kinds of tools create distance between the students and the instructor, distract from learning, and may even make students lazy in their thinking. On the other side, of course, you have the technology evangelists who not only promote the use of technology in the classroom, but go so far as to disparage those who resist. I think that as faculty who care about student learning, growth and development, we have an obligation to situate ourselves somewhere in the middle between these two poles.
Just because I’m naturally a bit skeptical about Twitter in the classroom doesn’t mean I should dismiss the possibilities out of hand. I recognize that increasingly my students are active and engaged in these spaces, so it makes sense to consider the possibilities. Like with anything, though, I feel like tools and resources should be selected based upon how they serve students and engage them in my course content. In an effort to better judge the tool's affordances and constraints, I decided to do some research. Fortunately just at that time, I came upon a resource created by Jamison Miller, PhD student and graduate assistant in the William & Mary School of Education Technology Integration center, called Twitter for Educators.
Miller highlights four different strategies for using Twitter in courses:
- Continuous asynchronous discussions throughout a course
- Focused, synchronous “tweetchats”
- A Twitter essay activity
- A synchronous Twitter journal club
Affordances of Twitter in the classroom
- The informal feel of Twitter and short length of tweets might encourage greater and more organic participation in discussion, particularly in responding to each other.
- The 140-character limit for tweets forces students to synthesize their ideas and be concise and clear in their communication.
- “Unleashing a tweet into the world,” as Jesse Stommel phrased it, encourages students to consider their audience, tone, and perspective.
- If also active on Twitter, students can engage directly with the author(s) of an article or book used in class using an @ reply.
- Using a specific hashtag for a journal club or community reading allows students to quickly tweet their reactions, ideas and questions as they go, which may promote increased engagement in reading and connections around ideas from a text.
Constraints of Twitter in the classroom
- The 140-character limit may encourage shallow ideas and thinking.
- The character limit can also make it difficult to provide context for contributions.
- It can be difficult for students to reference texts and sources as they contribute online.
- Asynchronous discussion is not threaded in the way that a discussion board allows – consequently, it can be difficult to follow a string of tweets as a conversation.
- Using Twitter as a back channel during an in-class discussion may create a kind of distance between participants and may decrease active engagement in the face-to-face discussion.
In the end…
I found it interesting that in exploring some examples and thinking through the affordances and constraints that Twitter can be both a positive and a negative. Much of the value or limitations with Twitter as an instructional tool depends on how it would be used and for what purpose.
While I am still suspicious of Twitter as a way to post substantive contributions or to facilitate sustained threads of discussion, I’m starting to understand targeted ways that Twitter might be useful in my classes. In particular, I like the idea of Twitter journal groups for students to share ongoing ideas related to a reading. I worry a bit that this might lead to a muddled, difficult to follow collection of isolated and de-contextualized notes. Like anything, I suppose, it will take some trial and error experimentation and some input and advice from my students to make this a meaningful learning experience for my students.
Where do you stand on Twitter and other social media tools in the college classroom? More importantly, why?
Please post your comments below.