Using Twitter to Teach in Higher Education

Post date: 09-Sep-2013 12:48:35

Many people that work in education are using twitter to develop professional networks, find resources and share information. If you're looking to use twitter more often in the classroom as a means of engaging learners and developing various digital literacies with students then there are a number of considerations to make.

Why use twitter?

Twitter is a free, multi-platform, social media tool that can help participants to develop a professional network as they move towards the real world of work and continued professional development. It is easy to use, many students are familiar with it, it can embrace the distraction of using phones in class, and extend the class beyond the two hour session.

    • Positive aspects of using twitter in the classroomTwitter could allow external contributors (industry/academic/other classes) to take part.
    • Social media can capture instinctive, reactive thinking.
    • Social media can help to bridge the gap between education that takes place behind the closed doors of academia and the real world
    • The need to formulate ideas in 140 characters can be a worthwhile challenge.
    • Introducing social media in an academic/professional manner may help students understand how it can be used in such a context

Possible negative aspects of using twitter in the classroom.

    • Occupying a space in a public domain can be a daunting prospect for students and could reduce participation rather than encourage it.
    • Students may not see twitter as something that can be used to project academic/professional issues.
    • The use of 140 characters can simplify an argument or create difficulties in understanding meanings

Ideas for using Twitter in education

The following diagram is a copy of Mark Sample’s Twitter Adoption Matrix which featured in his Framework for Teaching with Twitter post. This diagram presents a series of categories in which twitter can be of use. Below that I have presented a non-categorised, rather random list of ideas for using twitter in the classroom. The two together may inspire you to create further uses in your own practice.

Protected conversations: to overcome the initial fear of occupying a public space, create a new course twitter address and protect it’s feed from public viewing. Encourage students to do the same so that you have created a mini social network that only those invited can have access to. This can create a space where participants can practice their twitter skills and build confidence prior to embarking on a full blown twitter experience.

User guides: Highlight some of the formal/legal and informal/social rules of social media use. Establish class rules and best practice in order to encourage participation and maximise the quality of the experience.

Connect classrooms: create links with other institutions and schedule tweetchats or use the same hashtags to connect

Electronic voting: Voting tools have been used for some years but they are limited by the use of handsets that might need to be collected, supported and charged up, plus the software that accompanies them can be time consuming to use. Twitter allows for quick responses to be created in response to questions that are asked to gauge learning or to pose thought provoking questions that might stimulate conversation.

Presentations: Twitter feeds and hashtags can be embedded in prezi or powerpoint if required and other tools can also be combined with twitter to present feeds in a more visually stimulating fashion (see visibletweets)

Conference tweets/hashtags: Promote hashtags for conferences that are taking place elsewhere to raise awareness of contemporary conversations. Promote your own conference hashtags to attract other online particpants

Post sample exam questions: putting some content exclusively on twitter will encourage more students to participate.

Post supplementary questions and tasks after a lecture: Anything that might get students reading more has to be a good thing.

Promote a hashtag: By including a specific hashtag on lecture slides, and pre-posting content with this hashtag, you can encourage participation without actively requesting content.

Give rewards for use: By reviewing the previous weeks tweets and highlighting worthy contributions and resources, students may be encouraged to participate in future weeks.

Embed twitter in the structure of a course: By including hashtags, and addresses in module guides, students will be able to anticipate its use and see social media as a more integral part of the teaching experience. When producing reading lists, why not include a list of relevant tweeters that the students can follow. This year I have included twitter feeds in one of the panels of LearningSpace (Moodle, our VLN). These can show the whole feed for an address or a hashtag that could be the module code.

Twitter detectives: Set a task that requires the use of twitter to find the answer, generate resources or discover new people to follow

Recap generator: create time in a lecture to allow students to summarise previous content into 140 characters or to find resources and websites that would be useful for others to read after the lesson. Adding the module hashtag will allow all participants to find it, or Moodle to pick it up and include it on the content for that module.

Share curated resources: There are tools available that allow the user to find, collate and publish web resources in a way that is engaging and exciting to view. Twitter can be a method of sharing these resources that could be produced by you, others or from groups within the class.

Consider using other apps in conjunction with twitter: There are apps that will schedule tweets for you, search within feeds, curate content, save articles for reading later, create polls and allow you to project walls of tweets onto a whiteboard. This article won’t go into these in any depth but in no particular order try some of these out if you are interested. Tweriod, Hootsuite, Pocket, Flipboard, Snapbird, Storyful, Storify, Atlas, Tweetdeck, Buffer, twtpoll,Twitterfall, visibletweets, tweetwally,

This academic year, I am going to take a more structured approach to using twitter in my teaching and learning but if you have more ideas about using social media in the class then I would love to hear about them. Find me at @benjanefitness or the course feed @marjonuniHEPA

Inspiration for this article, and further reading:

Earle, C.R. (2013) Teaching with Twitter: Engaging Students in Large Lectures

Miller, S (no date) 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom

Mollett,A. Moran, D. and Dunleavy, P. (2011) Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers

Rich, E. and Miah, A. (2013) Can Twitter open up a new space for learning, teaching and thinking?

Sample, M. (2010) Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter