Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Twitter in the Classroom

After I came back from the mobile learning conference, I met with a faculty member who was looking for ways to engage large classes (75 students) and since I was jazzed up about mobile learning and BYOD, I suggested using Twitter. Surprisingly, she was interested in pursuing it. I sent her the nice video about Monica Rankin from UT Dallas who uses Twitter in her in-class discussions and she found an even better article written by Monica Rankin about her use, since the video had become so popular. The article resonated with the UWEC faculty member since she currently was conducting her discussions similarly.

We explored options other than hashtags because they seem to go away fairly quickly (our conference hashtag tweets no longer came up in the search after only 6 weeks), but there didn't seem to be any if the goal was for the whole class to see them. So she created her own Twitter account and came up with a hashtag for each class that wasn't UWEC-specific (FERPA!).

She told the students they did not have to follow her and she would not follow them. Again, to be conscientious of FERPA, they also did not have to user their full names on their Twitter if they didn't want to and they could create a different Twitter account for school (it is necessary to associate a different email with it though). The whole Twitter experiment was optional.

She lectured for a little while and then posed some questions for them to discuss in small groups. The students had the option to tweet their responses to the questions or to ask additional questions via Twitter, using the class hashtag. She circulated and I circulated a little and refreshed the hashtag search (we just used the Twitter webpage rather than Hootsuite or Tweetdeck). I was mostly there for questions but I think I only answered two. After the discussion time, she went through the tweets and discussed them and asked a few follow up questions.

It went very well in the first class. The tweets were almost all on-topic and what she was looking for. It was interesting that one student who tweeted for class, got a response from one of his twitter followers saying "too bad (student name) is in (class hashtag)"but later the friend also tweeted "must be cool if everyone is tweeting about it" which was kind of fun. FYI, both of the friend's tweets, who is not in the class, came up in the class hashtag page because they were replies to tweets with the hashtag in them. So it is important to note that anyone could use the hashtag and the tweets did show up in the feeds of the students' followers.

In the second class (she teaches this twice in a row), one student immediately noticed the hashtag on the whiteboard and started tweeting  about his performance on the quiz and other things only marginally related to the class. About half of the total tweets were off-topic. This surprised both me and the faculty member and we learned that it should probably be explained that use of the class hashtag should relate to the discussion questions from class so there isn't as much unrelated information to wade through. It was not bad though. I just checked the hashtag again and noticed the most recent tweet was a student explaining that the tweets with that hashtag were for his class.

I thought it was extremely interesting. Probably 95% of the students in the class had a phone, smartphone, laptop, or ultrabook to use. Not all tweeted, but many were following the hashtag on their device. The faculty member thought it went well and she is going to explore other ways to use it too, such as having them tweet from the perspective of a historical figure! She may also use Twitter as a way for them to increase their participation grade. She said that the off-topic tweets may slow down once the initial novelty wears off. I admire her adventurousness for trying it out and am interested to see how it goes.

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