Faculty Spotlight: John Marx

Dr. John Marx, UC Davis Department of English

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:

  1. Information Dissemination. He tweets announcements, e.g., a paper prompt has been posted to SmartSite, or something has changed in the reading.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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!

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2 thoughts on “Faculty Spotlight: John Marx


    (April 28, 2013 - 12:59 pm)

    Professor Marx might consider setting up a Google Voice number to share with his students. By using Google Voice, his students can text in their questions during lecture, and his TAs can answer those questions via text message from the Google Voice dashboard on any computer. Not all students would benefit from the answer to the question, however. In order to send mass announcements to his class (about changes in the reading, or to pose a question for consideration before class), Marx could also use Remind101, which allows students to “sign up” for text notifications from their teachers – teachers can send the messages from the Remind101.com website, or from an app on their phone. I use both of these tools with my seventh-grade students.

    Michael Sullivan

    (April 29, 2013 - 9:45 am)

    Over here at Academic Computing & Media Services at UC San Diego, we are running an iPad in the classroom pilot program. One professor is using TextMe on her iPad to field student questions during lecture that are texted into a number created specifically for use. Just letting you know it exists!

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