How I use social media in teaching Part I: Twitter

In an earlier post I discussed why I use social media in teaching: as a pedagogical tool, and for my own professional development. In this post (the first in a series on how I use social media in teaching) I focus on how I use Twitter.

Until recently, I have not had much luck in using Twitter as a teaching tool within the classroom. In 2011 I experimented with Twitter as a backchannel for students in a small 300-level (third year) anthropology class. I set up a class account, which I used, and embedded the Twitter stream in Blackboard for everyone to see. I tweeted during lectures to show them the difference between thick and thin tweets (as David Silver describes it) and encouraged them to set up their own Twitter accounts. I designed in-class activities that involved composing 140-character questions and tweeting them to the authors of the films and articles we were watching and reading at the time. (The authors were all anthropologists I followed on Twitter, and I checked with them beforehand to make sure they were happy to receive and respond to student tweets.) I also monitored the class account and class hashtag during and outside lectures so I could respond to any student queries or comments.

Despite my efforts, it did not take off. The students just weren’t into it. As one student put it, they felt that Twitter was for “old people” like me.

Today I still embed my Twitter stream in Blackboard (using my own account rather than a class account) but I don’t encourage students to set up their own accounts or tweet questions to me during class. Instead, I talk about Twitter during lectures and draw their attention to my Twitter stream to model how I use this form of social media as an anthropologist. Most of the time they are astonished to find that I follow hundreds of anthropologists on Twitter and that we tweet about things other than what we had for lunch.

I have had more success with Twitter at Honours level. As I mentioned in a recent post, students live-tweeted from our recent Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference. They seemed to enjoy the experience and the interested generated within the wider academic community about their research (which they are keen to collate into a journal and make publicly available later this year).

For me, Twitter is most useful as a way to find out about current research, to engage in conversations about teaching practice, and to source new lecture material. In future I might try using Twitter to “co-construct” lecture content (an approach described by Daniela Retelny, Jeremy Birnholtz and Jeffrey Hancock), but based on my past experiences I think this would be best suited to a smaller, 300-level or above class.

There is quite a bit of information available on teaching with Twitter (e.g., Teaching with Twitter by Stephanie Hedge on Inside Higher Ed, and this guide on Web 2.0/3.0 Teaching from Dartmouth College Library). I am keen to hear how others – especially students – use Twitter in a university setting. What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked?

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