How Twitter Saved my Literature Class, 6

Welcome to installment 6/10 of “How Twitter Saved my Literature Class: A Case Study with Discussion.” For more on teaching with twitter, read the full text.

On the second day after we discussed this more social and casual approach to Twitter as a learning and collaboration tool, I noticed some visible improvements in the classroom. One was that attendance increased. We would sometimes go three or four classes without a single student missing class. On occasion, students would write me emails apologizing in advance, and profusely, for having to miss one of the lectures because of a family trip, a medical appointment, or a funeral. As teachers, we are used to hearing such excuses, if students bother to make excuses at all for missing a lecture. There’s an old joke among writing teachers that we sometimes feel guilty for assigning research papers because of how such assignments seems to threaten the health and well-being of our students’ grandparents. As all my students managed to attend most of the lectures, I remember remarking to a colleague that assigning Twitter work, by contrast, actually improved the health of my students’ grandparents, and that its use might be recommended if only for this reason.

Another of Twitter’s profound effects was not only the consistent number of the students in the class, but also the improved quality of our discussions. As teachers, we have often faced long and awkward silences after asking open-ended questions about a topic that might have come up in the day’s reading. I learn the names of all my students on the first day of class, not only to make my students feel valued and comfortable, but also to make them feel uncomfortable: that is, to be able to call on them by name in class, and thereby require their participation and their contributions to the class discussion. In this class, I rarely had to put students on the spot. A few classes after encouraging a more casual and conversational style using Twitter, I found myself feeling more like orchestra leader Leonard Bernstein than like Ferris Bueller’s high school history teacher Ben Stein, for I would ask a question about a story that we had read the night before and see at least a dozen hands go up (Hughes, 1986).

Leonard Bernstein (photo from Olivier Bruchez)

Impressed and almost overwhelmed, I used my own hand gestures to recognize, welcome, and celebrate the many raised hands. Students felt not only like they had an opportunity to speak, but also a compulsion to speak. At times I would even have to list the names of students on the board so that we could remember in which order their comments, questions, objections, and clarifications would be heard. All of us could tell that something magical was going on, and I could hardly keep from smiling.

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

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