Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Brief and True Report on the New Found Use of Twitter in the Classroom

The Chronicle claims that teaching with Twitter is "not for the faint of heart," a "daredevil" sort of thing to do.

Daredevil -- you know, brave, foolhardy, and done as a stunt.

Brave, apparently, because letting students communicate with you via what is seen as their natural medium, Web 2.0 (a misconception, by the way) might make you lose power. (??)

Foolhardy, because you can't control what the students say.

A stunt, because Twitter is on the web, therefore by definition vapid, ephemeral, a mere fad.

Oh, Chronicle of Higher Ed. Always bringing the laughs, always enjoying that so-called iced cream.

It was, I admit, with trepidation that I assigned Twitter as part of my new research course. It wasn't just a variation on the age-old Sakai forum, like the blog. It was really a new thing. But there were a lot of reasons I wanted to do it.

-Twitter is a real thing in the world. Despite the name, which suggests unserious chick stuff (pun intended), people use it and communicate with it. Somebody is, or somebodies are, the official tweeter for the American Museum of Natural History, the Canadian press Coach House Books, the Exploratorium, and the Harry Ransom Center, just to name a few. People, one day your job could be tweeting.

-As a medium, Twitter is qualitatively different from blogs and Facebook. It is public like blogs but social like Facebook. (Or rather, Twitter and Facebook are both social, but Twitter is social differently from Facebook.) In a course that examines various media, Twitter makes an interesting case study.

-The threshold of participation is low. It is informal and brief, meaning students are empowered to participate. It thrives on concision and links.

-Hashtags model a dynamic, non-hierarchical mode of organization that is typical of the web and distinct from most library catalogues. Students should be educated in the use of both models.

-Like most Web 2.0 applications, Twitter is interstitial. You never focus your attention on it; it's just sort of there, a low hum. I'm not above making my course intrude on my students' daily lives.

-Its publicness promotes community. Students see one another's thoughts and may respond in an informal way. This is especially valuable in the context of research.

-Other instructors have used Twitter to good effect.

I'm only three weeks into the semester, during which time the students have been tweeting for a mere two weeks. But so far I'm pleased with how it's going. The students are responding to one another. They know how to use a hashtag. They tweet more than the required minimum (because, I suspect, it's useful).

I tend to see an upswing in tweets the night before class; my students seem to use it primarily to respond informally to the reading. Sometimes it's kvetching, which I think is on the whole a good thing; the reading is genuinely difficult, and a certain amount of online griping means that no one is ashamed to admit it. Sometimes it's specific questions or observations. Sometimes it's just "Whoa" -- also a valid response. A few times, people have asked me questions via Twitter (my RSS feed keeps me informed of such things).

It is, as I mentioned, early in the semester. I'll be interested to see how the use of Twitter continues, especially as the students begin work on their research projects.

1 comment:

Doug said...

Professor Wm Ward @ has been using Twitter successfully using # tags for his classes, for example #mktng441. I have not observed general breakdown in the social order - yet!