For the last year or so, I’ve wondered if I could find a productive use for Twitter in my teaching. In case you don’t know, twitter is a micro-blogging tool which allows users to broadcast “tweets,” messages limited to 140 characters, to a network of colleagues or friends defined by the user. I got an idea over the summer which I tried out last Fall. I thought this experiment failed, but it didn’t, rather I did! I was so involved with other, bigger projects that I didn’t put enough effort into the Twitter project.
What I wanted to do was use twitter to implement the idea of the “minute paper.” I asked students to send a weekly tweet to the course twitter address, econ201, identifying any concepts we had covered which they didn’t fully understand. I planned to then review those concepts first thing the following week. I told students that I wouldn’t call on them to explain any concept they identified as not understanding. But any other concepts were fair game for questions. I hoped that the micro-blogging format would enable me to follow along with a minimum of time and effort.
The project started slowly since the students seemed to have trouble understanding twitter and only a couple people tweeted for the first few weeks. Students didn’t seem to get that saying ‘no questions’ was okay too.
One problem I ran into was that I had to make a conscious effort to check the course twitter account, unlike my personal account which comes to me automatically. I wonder if it would be possible to use two separate tweet catchers (like twirl), one for each of my two accounts? I set up the separate account for the course because I thought it would be better for all the course tweets to be together in one spot.
Another issue was that some students thought they had to send direct messages, so I didn’t discover those until a bit latter in the term.
After the first exam, I stopped checking the course account, apparently just about the time the Twitter experiment took off. Since I had committed to giving students credit for tweeting, near the end of the term I finally went back to the econ201 account where I discovered some really useful communications. The tweets fell into three categories: actual questions which were what I asked for, administrative questions either about twitter or the course in general (e.g. I missed the deadline on last week’s aplia assignment. Is there any way I can do it now?), and what I call “just tweets.” This latter tended to be “hello world” type messages and they were largely at the beginning of the course. What was particularly valuable was the ability, in at least some cases, to “hear” students think. It was as if the students were honestly dialoging with themselves. There was apparently something about the medium that prompted those kinds of reflections, which I haven’t seen in any other format. It was also very easy to differentiate between genuine questions and fake ones, where students were apparently simply trying to get credit for the assignment.
In any case, I saw enough of value for me as a teacher that I’m going to try the experiment again this semester and hopefully any breakdown won’t be with me.
For more on academic uses of twitter, you might check this article.