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Twitter and Your Online Class

A 2010 study conducted by Faculty Focus found that more than a third (35%) of the 1400 higher education professionals surveyed "use Twitter in some capacity," which was an increase from the previous year. While not all higher education professionals agree that social media, and particularly Twitter, is useful for learning, we are finding out more about its capabilities as instructors experiment and report on their successes and challenges.

In several previous posts I've written about our own use of Twitter for chats here at Inside Online Learning, the online student's perspective, and how this tool can be used to help build a Personal Learning Network. With today's post I aim to provide specific examples of how Twitter is currently being used by instructors within the parameters of an academic course and hopefully spark a few ideas along the way.

Examples and Ideas

Below are a few ideas to get you started on the road to exploring social media in your course with Twitter. Think about how these activities might add to your course with options for one-way and two-way communication with your students. If you are new to Twitter and interested in trying it out in your course, small steps are the key.

  • Introductions: When you think about the fact that students are often asked to do this in every course, especially in online courses, having a new way to break the ice and get to know one other can be a good thing. Twitter allows students to create individual accounts with their own "handles" and brief profiles. Students may already have Twitter accounts and can choose to create new ones specifically for use in your course.
  • Course Announcements: While your school's learning management system (LMS) may already have a course announcements feature, Twitter offers an alternative way to communicate updates, reminders, and cancelations, and can be a good back-up if for some reason the LMS goes down or is unavailable for an extended length of time.
  • _____ of the Day: Fill in the blank with Question, Idea, Word, etc. Twitter can be used for a variety of discussions tailored for your students and course content. This idea is just one of many reported by MindShift.
  • Book Clubs: I participated in several book club discussions last year via Hootcourse, a system that helps to organize Twitter groups and discussions by capturing tweets and adding your book club hashtag.
  • Optional Interaction:  The use of Twitter in your course does not have to be required. In a film course at the University of Toledo students opt to use Twitter "for course updates/reminders, in-and out-of-class discussions…." And the instructor even encourages students to follow actors and directors (e.g. Kevin Spacey, Judd Apatow) who are also on Twitter, and discussed in the course.
  • Class Assignments: You can create a myriad of assignments related to Twitter, delivered via Twitter, and even evaluating Twitter. Brian Croxall documented his Twitter assignment, for an English course, that involves the use of this social media system to explore how members of the course make connections and "to see if it changes the culture or society of the class in any appreciable way."
  • And more assignments … Take a look at a list of Out of this World Resources that includes a dozen additional Twitter assignment examples and resources recommended by educators. 

Want to know more about how other instructors are using Twitter? Many are sharing their impressions and lessons learned on blogs and college websites. Take a look at this example, Reflections on my first use of Twitter, from environmental studies instructor Gavan Watson. Gavan provides great detail about the activities that were planned, the reality that emerged during the term, and the instructions given to students. Monica Ranking, a history instructor at the University of Texas-Dallas, also provides a detailed account of her Twitter Experiment that includes best practices, limitations, and strengths from her perspective.

Twitter Resources

A Twitter Primer: If you are completely new to Twitter, you might like this article from Ryan Cordell and The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want to).” It covers the basics of the tool itself and provides the perspective of how it might be used in an educational environment. 

Twitter Adoption Assessment Tool: This was designed by Rick Reo for use at George Mason University and also made available online for all of us to use. This tool gives you a range of activities in which Twitter could be implemented with your students based on how active/passive you want the interaction to be and how much time and effort you have available to engage in the activities. 

Rubric: The University of Wisconsin-Stout developed a Twitter Rubric that addresses content, frequency, hyperlinks, mechanics, and comments and contributions. Rubrics like this one can help you decide what elements of Twitter interaction are important for your course and also help you convey your expectations to students.

Additional Reading: When I asked my Twitter network for recommendations this morning, these two books were immediately suggested: Social Media for Trainers by Jane Bozarth and Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education edited by Charles Wankel. This second book has a chapter devoted to Twitter written by Lisa Chamberlin and Kay Lehmann

Explore and Experiment!

Mark Sample, from The ProfHacker Blog, reminds us "there is no single right way to teach with Twitter." So give yourself some room to experiment and see what makes the most sense, and is the most helpful, in your courses. If you are already an experienced Twitter user and have explored the use of this tool in your course, please share a tip or two with those that are new!

(Image credit: Rosaura Ochoa)