How Twitter Saved my Literature Class, 5

Welcome to installment 5/10 of “How Twitter Saved my Literature Class: A Case Study with Discussion.” For more on teaching with twitter, read the full text.

While I was optimistic that with Twitter I could address my timeliness and relevance concerns with the QQC assignment, I hadn’t anticipated my students’ initial objections. Student pushback was immediate, and actually rooted in impressions they had formed from media representations. Few of them had Twitter accounts, and many of them originally thought of Twitter as picayune, specious and faddish – a needless means to update friends on meal choices, or a way for Hollywood celebrities to blather about their whims to vapid fans. How could students represent or quote a meaningful or substantive portion of a literary text using only 140 characters? How could that same character limit allows students to respond to each other’s questions? What thesis statement could be that short and still make a meaningful assertion?

These were all valid concerns, and many of them were debated in class. And the debate was fruitful, for as we talked I realized that my students were learning important lessons about communication, clear thinking, and clear writing. Having taught writing classes for 20 years, I was comfortable leading debates about the tools, processes, and strategies for writing clear and substantive prose, but in the literature classes I teach I usually leave far less time for this focus on process. I enjoyed hearing my students’ comments about rhetorical strategies, the paths to successful writing, for I knew such discussions would help them deepen and clarify their thinking, and submit stronger essays about assigned stories.

As this was the first time that I taught with Twitter in a college class, I had a number of misconceptions about possible uses of the tool that my students helped me address and resolve. At first I thought that Twitter would function merely as a place to share among the students the QQCs that otherwise they would share only with me. I imagined that all the students could benefit from the opportunity to review each other’s insights, each other’s favorite quotations, and each other’s questions about the text. In class some students would reflect on another student’s submitted QQCs, but they also began registering complaints with Twitter. When Twitter was used only to list my students’ QQCs, that is, their questions, quotations, and comments, interest in reading the other students’ tweets sank.

But when certain enterprising students responded to each other’s questions, and many conversations broke out, students became deeply engaged, and ended up writing much more than was required about the stories we read. This practice by the students corroborates many lessons that we know about learning, such as the need to inspire intrinsic motivation for students to take on assigned tasks and projects (Malone & Lepper, 1987). In their discussion of an organismic (or active and volitional) motivational theory, Deci and Ryan (1985) assert that “The active-organism view treats stimuli not as causes of behavior, but as affordances and opportunities that the organism can utilize in satisfying its needs.” From my perspective as a teacher, I should have recognized that Twitter should not have been used merely as a means of enforcing preparation through the recording of QQCs. Twitter gave me another chance to focus on learning rather than teaching, and I almost missed the opportunity.

Discussions with students helped me realize that this social impetus to read, to ask questions, to hear them answered, and in short to socialize while engaging with sometimes difficult texts, would appeal to my students and drive them to make discoveries that I might not have anticipated. I listened and learned, and the class policy sheet on the desired function for Twitter evolved alongside our understanding of the texts.

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.

Post Author: Simon Dvorak

1 thought on “How Twitter Saved my Literature Class, 5

    Kenneth Finnegan (@KWF)

    (February 28, 2012 - 3:39 pm)

    So other than the shear novelty of it, how was Twitter any better than using the UCD smartsite chat room feature? I’ve seen all this emergent student behavior using that system as well, but only when the professor bothers / knows how to log into smartsite and turn the chatrooms on for us (why they’re disabled by default is beyond me).

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