Are you using Twitter? A study conducted last year by the University of North Carolina found that "one in every 40 scholars is on Twitter, on average tweeting about five times per week." And the use of social media in academia continues to grow as instructors and researchers embrace these tools for communicating with their students and peers, as well as disseminating their scholarly work.
Available as a free, web-based system, Twitter provides several benefits as a class discussion option. No special software or downloads are required, only account set-up and an Internet connection. Twitter accounts can be accessed on a variety of devices ranging from computers to smartphones and tablets.
An Online Discussion Alternative
While there are many potential applications for Twitter in education, it's the real-time chat possibilities that offer an alternative to the traditional online course discussion, moving the conversation from asynchronous threaded forums to live synchronous interaction online through. It all takes place through the use of a common hashtag (#) to filter participant contributions. Here are just a few of the ways in which instructors can incorporate live Twitter chat discussions with students in their courses:
- Engage in discussion around a predetermined topic or question in lieu of, or as an option to, threaded forums within your online classroom.
- Review reading assignments to better understand students' comprehension of concepts and progress with the materials.
- Propose solutions to a given problem scenario related to the course topic, requiring each participant to include resource links with their suggestions.
- Conduct a meet-and-greet session in which class members introduce themselves and relate previous experience with course subject, motivation for taking the course, etc.
- Invite a featured guest who is active on Twitter to answer student questions and provide his or her perspective on a course-related issue.
- Hold virtual office hours at scheduled dates and times when your students know you are logged in and monitoring Twitter for their questions.
- Conduct an exam review session that may include reminders about important concepts as well as provide time for students to ask questions about exam preparation.
Twitter is just one social networking platform that can be put to use at the course level. As you consider how it might work for you, focus on the features, functions and capabilities available to host and facilitate online communication in an academic environment.
Before Your First Twitter Chat
Through our weekly OnlineCollege.org #IOLchat sessions, we've tried a number of techniques and strategies to encourage live conversations and facilitate professional networking. Through our trial and error we have developed a few recommendations for preparing to conduct a live chat session:
- Participate in another chat. There are many existing Twitter chats that focus on teaching and learning topics. Consider participating in one or more of these scheduled events before leading your own session. You'll find that this participation provides some practice with the platform and the flow of information.
- Create a hashtag. This is how your Twitter messages, or tweets, will be tied with those of your student participants. Find something unique to your group that is short, will be memorable, and contains only letters and/or numbers. Some instructors use their course prefix and number, such as #EDU999.
- Decide on a discussion topic and questions. Think about how you would structure a traditional online discussion and develop a specific topic and related questions to focus on during the chat session and help your students prepare in advance. Make sure your chat questions require more than just yes/no or agree/disagree responses.
- Announce the time and date. Let your student participants know when to log in and consider publicizing the event both via Twitter and other course communication tools, such as announcements and email. This is a real-time session so all participants will need to add this to their calendars.
- Recruit an assistant. If it is possible do so, find someone to be present and assist with the administration of your chat session while it is taking place. Ideally this person would have Twitter experience and could help you facilitate the discussion.
- Start slowly – run a “test” chat. Consider hosting a brief orientation session to allow you and your students to get more familiar with the platform, use of the chat hashtag, and the flow of a live text-based chat event. This is helpful to set expectations and troubleshoot the technology before meeting to engage in a course-related discussion.
There are challenges to conducting effective online discussions from both student and instructor perspectives. A live Twitter chat may not be right for every course, but it does provide a viable alternative to existing options within a learning management system.
Explore the Possibilities
A new report titled Social Media in Online Higher Education: Implementing Live Twitter Chat Discussion Sessions is now available as the latest addition to our Online College Research series. This post presents an introduction to Twitter and a brief overview of how this tool might be used as a discussion forum alternative.
Take a closer look at the full report for more in depth coverage of ways in which Twitter can expand your discussion options and enhance your professional networking efforts. In it you'll find examples of how Twitter is being used by educators; a checklist of tasks to get you through the before, during, and after stages of a live chat event; information about advanced chat strategies and Twitter management tools, and a list of existing live chats for educators.
Have you participated in a live Twitter chat? If so, let us know more about your experiences and thoughts on possible uses in an online course setting.
Image credit: shawncampbell, Flickr, CC-BY