Twitter for Students
Twitter is an application that everyone loves to hate. Maybe you have noticed people, probably younger than yourself, manically using the tool or have heard tales of the frivolous interaction it encourages i.e. “I’m eating fruit yogurt”. To the casual uninformed user the value of Twitter is minimal. It can be a distraction, your musings may go unread, comments unappreciated and it can certainly be a waste of time. That being said, so can the casual act of reading a free newspaper, which commuters discard after they have reached their destination. Filled with seemingly useless information, these editorials are commonly considered the dregs of the journalistic world, however they serve to inform, entertain and distract for the ten or so minutes it takes to read them. Twitter does the same in much more manageable form, but not only can you control the content you see, you can even be a contributor. Sure there is a lot of fluff on Twitter, but it’s a meritocracy where you can reward the thousands of smart, funny and inspiring people who use it by following them.
Two years ago I might have held some of these negative opinions myself, fortunately I was introduced to the tool in a strategic manner, and over time I have learned to hone my use of it in a way that I find beneficial. It can be a powerful tool for research and communications, a source of news and information – all of which I can appreciate first hand. However there is one way in which I have not had the opportunity to appreciate Twitter and that is in a classroom setting. As a relatively recent Ottawa U. graduate I wish I had.
There are two main reasons I see educational value in Twitter, to increase class participation and to improve communication skills.
In a large classroom it can be nearly impossible to facilitate participation and many students feel apprehensive about speaking up in such a large forum. There have been many articles written about the benefits of active learning strategies, using new technologies and tools to engage students who otherwise sit listening to an instructor, taking notes and often not taking it all in. Used correctly, Twitter can facilitate conversations in an educational context. Many educators are already using Twitter to increase participation (check out this Dallas U. case study), allowing students to submit questions (or rather ‘Tweets’) using their laptop or cell phone (which they are bringing to class anyway). Educators and TA’s are then able to respond to questions/comments in a live feed directly in the classroom.
This post focuses on Twitter, however it is worth noting that social media as a whole has been integrated into the class room in a variety of ways, many of which claim to have improved academic performance. Social media is an inexpensive solution to required participatory tools. Did anyone else ever have to buy an over priced “clicker” when they were in school?
I did for a first year economics class of +400 students for mandatory participation marks – I couldn’t tell you what the information associated to that clicker was nor can I look it up now. Had these participatory activities been facilitated using an identified Twitter hashtag, I would still be able to look back and reference the content.
The most commonly known thing about Twitter is that it limits your messages to 140 characters. Again characters, not words. These two sentences are 139 characters to give you an illustration of how little that truly is. Twitter forces it’s users to be concise i and every punctuation, letter and symbol is considered precious real estate. Additionally, if you are writing a tweet that you hope to have re-tweeted by others, you should keep it under 120 characters.
The 140 character limit is a challenge when trying to present a complete thought. This is why Twitter in the class room can force students to exercise their editing skills and increase their vocabulary.
While Twitter asks us “What’s happening?” it can be used in far more complex way. The value comes through the ongoing conversations, exchange of ideas and articles and is also an excellent tool to network.
Not on Twitter? Here is a great resource for tips on how to get started.