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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Live-tweeting at academic conferences

With the Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference taking place at Victoria University this Monday, I have been thinking about how we could use Twitter. I crowdsourced a hashtag for the conference on Twitter (#AAHSC thanks to @prancingpapio) and in last week’s class mentioned that they would be welcome to use it to tweet from the conference. I like making anthropology public and this seemed like a good way for me and my students to share research findings, get the hang of live-tweeting, and practice presenting anthropology to a wider audience on Twitter as well as at the conference.

After class finished I remembered last year’s #Twittergate. I’m not sure what sparked it but in September and October 2012 academics used this hashtag to debate the ethics and etiquette of tweeting and blogging live from academic conferences (journalist Steve Kolowish from Inside Higher Ed summarises the debate which led The Guardian’s Ernesto Priego to list 10 rules for live-tweeting from academic conferences). Issues raised during the debate included privacy, control over ‘publishing’ unpolished ideas and research findings, accuracy of information, and respect (‘academic assholes’ use Twitter too).

Having followed some conferences from afar through hashtags on Twitter, I can appreciate why some don’t like live-tweeting. There is a real skill to summarising someone’s research ideas clearly, concisely, respectfully, and in a way that makes sense to those not at the conference. This is a skill I want to develop myself and in my students.

I want to encourage good live-tweeting habits at #AAHSC – basically all of the ‘do’s’ on Vanessa Varin’s excellent crowdsourced article on live-tweeting etiquette. When I open the conference I will inivte the audience to tweet using #AAHSC and briefly go over Varin’s list (which includes clearly identifying speakers, using Twitter handles, and careful listening). I plan to use Storify to collate the tweets after the event.

What ethics and practices do you follow when live-tweeting from conferences?