Dr. John Marx of UC Davis’ Department of English has been experimenting with Twitter in his classrooms for a couple of years. He wanted a tool to foster asynchronous communication in his classes, and Twitter was just so easy: “students can tweet using smart and dumb phones, the character limit makes posts quick and snarky, etc. It clearly had a lot going for it.”
I asked Dr. Marx about how students can use Twitter from a “dumb” phone, and he sent me this brief – it explains how you simply text your 140-character tweet to a designated code and it will show up on the Twitter feed!
After experimenting in several different classes, Marx determined that Twitter works best with 50+ students. Marx explains that such “classes are big enough that students feel anonymous and a little alienated from the proceedings. In those classes, conversation out of the classroom is tough because no one knows anyone’s name and it takes real nerve to pipe up during lecture.”
He typically uses Twitter in three ways:
- Information Dissemination. He tweets announcements, e.g., a paper prompt has been posted to SmartSite, or something has changed in the reading.
- Pre-class Conversation. “The day before lecture,” Marx explains, “I’ll tweet and see what happens. Usually, I’ve found, some adventurous souls will tweet and off we go, chatting.”
- Student Questions During the Lecture. Marx’s students use Twitter as a “back channel” for asking questions, which he describes as the “lecture equivalent to the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen on CNN.” While Marx lectures, the students tweet and his graduate TAs respond. “Periodically,” Marx explains, “I’ll pause and check in with the TAs to see what questions are popping up on the Twitter feed and I’ll field a few of these. At this point, I should say, people will also typically raise their hands and interrupt, so the whole feel of the class changes.”
While he’s clearly had some great success using Twitter in the classroom, Marx says it isn’t ideal because most of his students don’t seem to be using Twitter outside of the classroom. Texting is the technology that students really use, Marx says, so he’s on the look-out for an app that leverages this more common technology. Leave a comment if you know of one!