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Kwantlen, Social Media, Teaching

Twitter is Great 4 Learning – 5 ways To Teach to Twits

Kwantlen’s #kweetup brought together faculty and students to share ideas on how to make the most of Twitter in the classroom.  So many folks from that session have been asking questions over the weekend that I’ve been inspired to share some Twitter insights. Here are 5 ways to use Twitter for learning.

When I first introduced Twitter to my classroom I was surprised by how many of my university marketing students were unfamiliar with the tool.  A little research confirmed my anecdotal observations.  64% of Twitter users are over the age of 35 and the average age of a Twit is 39. (Royal Pingdom Study:Ages of Social Network Users )

So step one is often to get students set up with a Twitter profile – yes, you’ll have to turn many of your students into Twits.  There is good reason to do this.  Not only will it allow you to use Twitter in your learning community, but it will introduce students to a social media platform where current industry experts can be found talking about developments in their professions.  Good news – joining Twitter is free and setting up a profile is really easy.

With students ready, set-up, you can now go!

1. In-class Questions/Comments:

What & Why: Students can use their laptops, phones, iPods etc to engage in the class. Ask them to tweet questions or comments while you are speaking.  This allows them to join the conversation when it is convenient for them.  When an idea or a question comes to mind, they can tweet it immediately.  They needn’t worry about interrupting your impassioned story, nor forgetting to ask later. With your punchline delivered, you are looking for feedback and often discussion. You can turn to the Twitter feed, answer any questions posted there, and follow up on any comments. Since Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, you will likely find yourself asking the author of posts to identify himself/herself and elaborate on the idea or question – building discussion.  Consider each tweet the seed of a great in-class conversation.  If you don’t get to all of the questions during the class, you can revisit the tweets afterwards and tweet replies.

How: Method A – At the beginning of the lesson set a hashtag for your conversation.  It can be anything, but some variation of my course code has worked well for me.  If you want to keep the discussion primarily within the class you will want to choose a hashtag that will be unique to your conversation and unlikely to be used by others in the Twitter community during the class.  If you are interested in engaging Twits other than those at the desks in front of you, choose a topic based hashtag.  You may be surprised at who weighs in on the conversation!  Either way, you want the hashtag to have only a few characters as it counts in the 140 character limit.  You can then search for the hashtag and project the results for the class to see. 

There are a variety of ways to collect the conversation. You can use the search function inTwitter but should know that you will need to refresh the search every couple of minutes to capture new activity.  Twitter will tell you when new tweets have arrived, but won’t refresh the stream itself.  You can also use social media dashboard services like TweetDeck or HootSuite.  Both will automatically refresh without your intervention. I like HootSuite because it is web driven and I don’t run into complications with restrictions about installing software on classroom computers.  Those who bring their own laptop to class swear by TweetDeck so you may want to experiment with both to see what works for you.

How: Method B – During the set up stage when students are getting their Twitter profiles established, you can use Twitter lists to create a class list.  You can then use your preferred dashboard service to track the activity on the list and project these results during class.
2. Group Presentation Feedback:

What & Why: Group presentations are an important part of many of the classes I teach.  Twitter allows students from the class to provide feedback to their peers in real time and expands the critique beyond my comments and those of the most brave in the group.  Just like using tweets for questions and comments of lessons, students can tweet questions, suggestions for improvement and accolades to the group members while they are presenting.  Tweeting can keep everyone in the class busy and on topic during the presentation.  The feed can be reviewed by the group during the presentation to help facilitate discussion and also long after the presentation to help improve future presentation assignments.

How: Either the hashtag or list method described above can be used here.  Using a good hashtag will help distinguish comments from group to group. Again, project the search results for the class and group to refer to during the presentation.  If the presenting group is also using the computer for audio/visuals, you may need them to split the screen to display both, or make arrangements for more technology to support their “show”.

3. Alerts to Web Resources

What & Why: Bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo are great for collecting resources and sharing them with students but Twitter can be a great way for students to share web resources with you and the rest of the class.  Tweeting an article, youtube video, blog post etc that relates to a class discussion allows students to make meaningful contributions to learning discussions and also helps you to build a deeper resource list.  By sharing and commenting on these links a virtual class community begins to develop. If students are using blogs in your class, tools like Posterous can create tweets automatically to announce that new blog content has been published.

How: As before, you can establish a class list in Twitter lists, use your course hashtag, or even create a resources hashtag to allow easy following through Twitter’s search tool or your dashboard service.

4. Out of Class Group Conversations:

What & Why: Group work is a critical component of the marketing program.  Inevitably, organizing group activity is a challenge for students at one time or another.  Some use email, others try Facebook, at Kwantlen we have the group function in Moodle.  All of these have pros and cons.  Once Twitter has become part of the class culture through its use for questions and comments, you will likely find that students really make it their own.  They can “follow” their group members and get instant updates from them about meetings, ask questions, give and receive answers regarding their projects, share links to important web resources for their projects and organize themselves in real time.  Since there are countless apps to put Twitter on mobile devices most students can follow the conversation readily.  Since messages are only 140 characters, this is a time efficient way for them to keep in touch with what is happening in the group.

How: Again, it is very likely that after using Twitter in the first few classes students will see the merit in the tool and begin using it to their own devices.  If you want to facilitate more formally, you can share the Twitter lists tool and suggest that groups create lists of members.  As the instructor, you can then “follow” these lists and use the activity to help guide and instruct the group as appropriate.

5. Study Question Help

What & Why: Since not all course work is completed in the classroom, questions arise outside of class time.  In my classes, I expect students to have read the assigned material prior to class and be prepared to use the material in activities and assignments.  If they are reading something, but don’t understand it, they have typically had to wait until class to ask for clarification.  This road block prevented them from being fully prepared for class and so they couldn’t get the most from the class experience.  Like group conversations, once students are experienced with Twitter they quickly realize that it can be a place to get questions answered.  They can tweet their queries when the arise and they can get answers in real time.  These answers could come from other students in the class, from me, or from other members of the Twitter community.  This lightens up my email, allows class members to build community by helping each other, and gets students the answers they need when they need them.

How: As students become more experienced twits they will figure out how to direct their questions to the appropriate audience.  If they want to hear from the class they can use the class hashtag or know that they are are part of the Twitter list that class members are following.  If they want to get my attention directly they can mention me or send me a direct message.  If they think the broad Twitter community could help, they can hashtag key words in the tweet and so that those following key words can reply.

These are just the beginning of the ways Twitter can be used for learning.  I’m sure there are many, many other applications.  Since Twitter is about conversation, it is a terrific tool for generating discussion in learning communities. 

Thanks #kweetup attendees for sharing and for motivating this summary!


About amandabickell

Marketer - Teacher - Life Long Learner I love my job! I teach Marketing and Organizational Behaviour in undergraduate programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in BC. I consider myself a learning coach. My role in the classroom is to create an engaging learning environment where students are excited about their journey of discovery in the business world. Here I chronicle my coaching approach, share resources, and engage with students & colleagues. The views and perspectives I present here are purely personal, and don't necessarily reflect those of my university. If you are a "coach" too, feel free to borrow what you find here. Let me know how it works for you.


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