How Twitter Saved my Literature Class, 10

Welcome to the final installment of “How Twitter Saved my Literature Class: A Case Study with Discussion.” For more on teaching with twitter, read the full text.

When teaching with Twitter, faculty can adopt a number of strategies to augment the class discussions and assignments without hijacking them. I will list here six approaches that I tried in 2009, and then four more that I will try the next time I am teaching a large enrollment course that would benefit from more student interaction, reflection, and engagement.

  1. Establish a Twitter account just for your teaching. One can establish as many Twitter accounts as one has email addresses (free Gmail accounts can help with this). I use an account just for my teaching (andyatucdavis) that is separate from the personal Twitter handle that I have used for a couple of years (andyojones) to stay connected with the social and professional communities that are important to me. Students are also encouraged to create dedicated class personae to tweet from (though they can include mention of their personal Twitter account on their class Twitter account bio, in case people want to find out more about them). This way, class participants can follow their peers without having to worry about reading through irrelevant tweets.
  2. Choose a hash tag that works for your class or subject area. For my class, I chose #ucdf (even though that was later discovered to be the acronym of the United Cheer and Dance Foundation). Using a hash tag made it easy for anyone who wished to follow the class conversations about great fiction to do so. Conduct a bit of hash tag research to ensure that a current academic or professional conference isn’t using your same hash tag; otherwise both your students and the conference-goers could become confused. See “HOW TO: Get the Most Out of Twitter #Hashtags” (Parr, 2009) at http://mashable.com/2009/05/17/twitter-hashtags/.
  3. Set clear expectations of how you expect your students to use Twitter. Discuss the number and quality of tweets that you would like to see, as well as some options of rhetorical approaches of their tweets. At first I asked students to tweet quotations, questions, and comments. After we realized that the QQC approach was too formulaic for readable tweets, I encouraged students to offer at least three valuable tweets before each class meeting, one of which must be a response to a statement or a question presented by a classmate. This approach encouraged the sort of positive peer pressure that made students so eager to share in class. See “Fourteen Types of Tweets” (Comm, 2009) for an excellent review of the varieties of tweet categories and functions.
  4. Reread the class Twitter stream as part of your final preparations for class. Note areas of student enthusiasm and confusion. Demystify what deserves demystification, but also lead the class in a discussion of what students feel to be the crux of a text. If you can, allude to Twitterers by name to involve them in the conversation and to validate their out-of-class work.
  5. Validate and reward substantive and helpful Twitter participation. Suggest ways that students can present the quality and quantity of Twitter participation at the end of the term in the form of a portfolio. Recognize the importance of class participation and preparation by rewarding those who sustain the spirit of enthusiasm and critical inquiry in your class. Make your policies clear beforehand so students know at the beginning how you expect them to invest in your class.
  6. Tweet multiple media. My class appreciated my tweeted links to pictures of Rome at the time of Daisy Miller (James, 1878), and Oxford, Mississippi at the time of “A Rose for Emily” (Faulkner, 1930). Challenge students to direct their peers to relevant images, audio, and video that might help them understand the settings and context of assigned texts. The Web site http://www.tvider.com, for example, makes it easy to share video and other media with Twitter followers.

Examples of more ambitious uses of Twitter as a teaching and learning tool.

  1. Set up a RSS feed of class tweets on the course Web page. I saw productive use of this strategy at the Computers and Writing Conference in 2009. Conference participants were encouraged to respond to and ask questions about the presentations they were observing, and all the participants could watch the instant reporting in real time. Having such a Twitter stream on the course Web page allows all class participants to check in on the most recent posts that include the shared hash tags.
  2. Share your work as a faculty member with your students. Students look up to faculty not only for what they communicate in the classroom, but also for how they conduct research, solve problems, and consider the intellectual challenges of preparing for class. That said, these processes are largely hidden from our students, and thus they represent a missed opportunity for students to learn about the multiple layers of focus and commitment required to do the work we do. Generally speaking, students who see evidence of a professor’s commitment to the class reward that faculty member with stronger course evaluations, and with their own increased focus upon course objectives. If you want to point students towards what books you are reading, or what news story that you are following, use a URL shortener such as http://www.bit.ly or http://www.ow.ly. They will allow you to fit long links within your 140-character tweets.
  3. Use a time-delay application to front-load your tweeted wisdom. If you are teaching a class where students would benefit from a series of lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you would like to upload once a week and have them be tweeted on a schedule that you determine, consider one of the many simple tools that allow one to give the illusion of your Twitter industry. For instance, as a writing teacher, I would love to augment my literature class with a half-hour critical thinking or writing lesson once a week, but we wouldn’t usually have time. Instead I could upload pre-tweeted links to relevant handouts from online writing labs (the OWLs at Dartmouth and UNC Chapel Hill are two of my favorites), and watch as they are tweeted at predetermined intervals over the course of the week (or the semester). This approach would help students recognize their writing deficits, and address them in a systematic fashion with the online help of expert resources. See the “General Writing Resources” (2008), and “5 Time-Saving Twitter Tools for Managing Your Friends and Tweets” (Guajardo, 2009).
  4. Consider using Twitter as a personal response system (aka “clickers”). Most of your students currently carry cell phones that allow them to tweet. In large classes, faculty could invite students to tweet responses to a polling question during lecture, and then ask a student or TA to monitor the responses. In the coming years, more of our students will be bringing to class tablet computers to which assigned texts have been uploaded. These same networked computers will provide student multiple opportunities to interact with faculty in real time using a variety of media, including instant messages and Twitter. See “10 Personal Response Systems Teaching Strategies” (Wetzel, 2009).

I hope this narrative of discovery and these resources are helpful to you. The British biologist and mathematician Jacob Bronowski (1973) once said “We are all afraid for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilization, has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do.” My hope for my classes and for yours is that the right mix of strategies and teaching tools will help our students find the practice and then the confidence to engage meaningfully with our lectures, our class activities, and our class discussions, and thus develop the effective communication skills and higher-order thinking skills to commit to a lifetime of curiosity and independent learning.

Jones, A. “How Twitter Saved my Literature Class: A Case Study with Discussion.” (2011). Teaching Arts and Science with the New Social Media. A collection edited by Charles Wankel. United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 91-106.

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