Instructors in the digital learning age are always looking for low-threshold tools to support their instructional practices. As blended classrooms and social learning gain popularity, instructors are looking for ways to connect with their tech-savvy learners and extend the limits of the traditional classroom communication. In various instructional settings, teachers and trainers have found Twitter to be an effective, low-threshold tool to extend their digital reach.
In March 2006, the social networking platform, Twitter, hit the Internet. Communicating through 140-character messages called “tweets,” users can share their thoughts and reactions in real-time. Users can also like, “retweet” (share), and comment on other users’ messages. Twitter offers functions like hashtags (#) to organize and connect tweets about a specific topic, and mentions (@) to connect with specific users.
Anyone who hadn’t heard of Twitter by the 2016 election cycle certainly became aware of it as real-estate mogul turned presidential candidate (and now president) Trump took his message directly to the voting public through frequent, and often controversial, tweets. The platform has essentially taken on a life of its own, allowing people to connect to any other entity in real-time. Politics aside, however, Twitter’s flexibility makes it suitable for limitless situations. Its popularity in the learning environment continues to grow. This post looks at several practical uses in education.
Twitter in the Learning Environment
Twitter is one of the tools that powered the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement. George Siemens and Stephen Downes used the relatively new platform to communicate with participants in their CCK08 MOOC back in 2008. Since then, Twitter’s use in the learning process has continued to grow in popularity. Recently, I reached out to my colleagues in the instructional trenches to find out how they are using Twitter. The folks who responded represented all levels of education from preparatory school to higher ed. A learner weighed in as well with the student perspective.
Sending reminders was a popular use. This is probably one of the earliest and most obvious uses for Twitter. Instructors at all levels indicated they send out reminders about due dates, special projects, and other classroom issues. My student responder stated the reminders she received from one of her high school instructors were very helpful. That instructor would send out reminders about major due dates and common mistakes that students often made in their work. With the highly competitive world learners live in today, having support like those reminders can make a big difference in how they manage their learning.
Whether it’s responding to student questions (tweeted, of course) or posting answers to assignments or discussions, instructors gave several examples of using Twitter to communicate answers to students. One high school instructor noted that she gets students involved with answering each other. My student weighed in here as well, noting that her high school instructor engaged with students to answer questions about the classroom assignments.
I really liked this example. One of my responders teaches social studies. She used Twitter to create faux profiles for historical figures. (She has since moved to a platform called “Fakebook” for this purpose.) She did not elaborate on how she managed the faux profiles, but I looked up Abraham Lincoln and found a Twitter feed full of Lincoln quotes. What a great way to make history come alive and get students excited.
One of the responders teaches writing for digital multimedia at the collegiate level. She requires her students to tweet several times each week. The students in her class are preparing for careers in mass media, and she incorporates Twitter in her classes because most communications professionals will need to use Twitter and other social media in their careers. She uses the course number as the hashtag. She does not give the students any parameters about topics, so they are free to tweet about whatever seems relevant to them. Her purpose is to get them tweeting regularly and establishing a presence. I checked out the course hashtag and found that tweets ranged from class activities to current news and local events. Students were retweeting and even responding to other tweeters.
Two instructors sent me really great examples of classroom management tweets. One, at the collegiate level, uses Twitter to manage multiple course sections. In the online world, it’s common to teach multiple sections of the same class during a given term. Twitter lets the instructor send out the same message to all sections. The other instructor teaches at a preparatory school (Pre-K through 12), and uses Twitter to manage projects she hosts regularly. She announces the projects and their registration links through Twitter, and then uses the platform to find partners for the projects. She noted that she also uses Twitter to showcase the work students and teachers are doing at the school.
What’s the Limit?
The one question I had was about the 140-character limit. My primary use of Twitter is to broadcast my blogging activities. So I wondered how the instructors felt. The best response came from the student perspective. She stated she did not feel limited by 140 characters, because if the communication required more than 140 characters it probably needed to be addressed in an email. That spoke to me, because I advocate the thoughtful integration of technology into the learning environment.
All these examples come from the academic setting, but nothing stops trainers and instructors in other settings from using Twitter. We often hear criticism about how the academic setting is behind the times. When it comes to Twitter, however, it seems that academia has embraced the microblogging platform. Some of these examples might inspire practitioners in other instructional settings to try Twitter or other social platforms to support their work.