During a Twitter chat in the MOOC Open Networked Learning a question concerning Twitter in teaching was raised. I decided to try the social media last year in three courses for teacher students at Åbo Akademi University. My main reasons were that I wanted to interact with students during lectures, but I also wanted them to interact with each other.
Finally, I wanted my students to start building a network that wasn’t simply related to the place they were studying, which is a good place to start, but there are so many interesting discussions going on about school and I thought, why not encourage students to follow people around the world that happen to be on Twitter. Teachers, international leaders, poets and scientists.
Following at least 50 people and retweeting interesting posts regularly were part of the course requirements, I knew this because previous research is clear about this. Simply putting students in a certain learning environment doesn’t mean they will interact there.
Twitter is easy to use with a large group. Simply find a hashtag that you ask everyone to use. I asked my students to reflect on the topic of the lecture as a way to identify possible questions among students. But this is hardly the most engaging way to use Twitter.
I asked students to work on assignments together and publish summaries on Twitter. We also took some time to read through the posts and like or retweet the ones we enjoyed reading. Sharing what we know and think is fundamental in any learning process, and what I really like abut social media is the possibility to include pictures, videos etc. That can add new dimensions to learning and discussions through different modalities.
We tried role-playing as a way for students to read and process the history of ideas in pedagogy. Knowing that students sometimes find reading challenging I thought that writing about what they read might support them and they could share what they read with others. Taking on the role of a pedagogue in history might even be a little bit fun.
The anonymity of Twitter was important when polls were concerned. It turned out that 48 % of the people who took part in one poll about privilege had been bullied. When the students saw that they fell silent. Thinking about privilege through experiences of the people present, and of course others on Twitter that might have taken part in it, was a great way to address this topic in a large group. Twitter made something troubling obvious.
Not all students were thrilled at the thought of using Twitter, and I think it does take time for them to learn how to use a virtual learning environment such as this for learning purposes. Not everyone likes the fast pace and the short posts, not to mention the distractions, but this is an important skill to master in a society where the amount of information is exploding on social media.
If you teach students for several weeks and you have several lectures and seminars with them Twitter is definitely worth considering. It is an amazing tool since it is easy to use and it doesn’t take long to join. I allowed my students to use fake names and I think this made it easier for them to join, some decided to add their real name after the course.
Above all I think it offers an insight into the learning process of the student. I asked my students to collect their tweets in a document that they shared with me, but it’s just as easy to ask them to share their user name if they only use that handle for the course. You quickly get a picture of what they have been doing during a course and you can comment different assignments. Twitter can be used for reflective purposes, group assignments and questions to and from students, but probably for many other purposes too, that I haven’t thought about yet. The key is to get students to share, retweet and like, to interact all through the course in meaningful assignments, this isn’t always easy because they are used to individual studies and social media is something used in private for a lot of them.