Science Networking Project: Twitter Revisited

In my initial post on using Twitter in the classroom, I had only begun to explore the idea as a method of information retrieval – a way for students to keep up with current findings. Since then I have been exploring ways to incorporate Twitter in more active ways, developing activities around the use of this technology. The higher-order learning objective that I hope to attain through this project is to increase students’ ability to communicate recent scientific findings and become actively engaged in the scientific community through the use of social networking media. To avoid students attaching strong associations between this project and their preconceived ideas about Twitter, in my syllabus I have named this series of assignments the “Science Networking Project.”

Getting Started

There are some preliminaries to take care of before getting to the good stuff. The first being: students will need a Twitter account (@IleneDawn has also suggested the use of HootCourse – I have just started looking into this site and what it can offer). The exercise of using Twitter in the classroom is to show students that these social networking tools have become an important tool not only in disseminating knowledge but also in generating productive discourse. Students may already have experience with this technology for other purposes, so I believe it is important to gain an understanding of how students already use Twitter.

The first step in this project involves some brief discussion based around the following questions: If students already have a Twitter account, for what do they use it? Have they already begun to use it for information retrieval, or does it primarily serve social functions? If students don’t have an account, what are their expectations of this technology? Having a brief conversation about this may reduce students’ apprehension towards the technology and allow them to see it as a valuable tool.

The next phase involves the practical issues of establishing the class’s twitter community:

  1. Open a Twitter account.
  2. Add your Twitter handle to the student list.
  3. I will collect the names and compile them in a list, along with a list of individuals or organizations that tweet news related to the course.
  4. Students will receive a copy of this list and will be responsible for adding their classmates and the additional twitter feeds on the list.
  5. I will encourage them to follow peers even outside the class. Connecting to their extended peer circle will results in exposing to scientific information those who may not typically pay much attention to this type of news.

After students have opened an account and are connected to our, at this stage, limited network of followers, the core of this project becomes designing assignments that encourage students to become engaged with this community. Through these assignments students will employ higher levels of learning through synthesis and written communication. Relating to this section, I would greatly appreciate suggestions from my readers for possible projects. Below I include a short list of ideas I have considered, that other individuals have contributed, or that I have found on in other sources.

1. Retweet two science-related tweets that catch your interest.

This exercise gets the students to actively look through their twitter feed and at least be considering subjects that are of interest to them.  Grading for this assignment would be low-stakes, simply giving a small point value for having completed the assignment.

One could argue that this approach is far too passive – that students could just retweet the first two articles that appear to be related to the course and gain nothing from the experience. To avoid this, the exercise could be coupled with an opportunity for the students to exercise their writing skills:

a. Students submit a short explanation (1-2 paragraphs) of what they found interesting about this particular tweet.

b. If the tweet links to an article or website, have them summarize the content of the link.

2. Find an article from a popular source, summarize (this part would be submitted to me), and tweet about it.

I like this exercise because the student must process what they have read, turn it not only into a summary for me, but then also tweet about it.  The format of Twitter only allows for a very brief summary or tag line about the source, which means students must draw out the core message of the article.

3. Find a blog post of interest, summarize, and tweet about it. (This can be from a list of blogs I will provide in class, or one that the student finds on her or his own.)

4. Have students attend a talk and tweet about it. (Suggested by Dr. Cheryl Neudauer)

I welcome additional suggestions of ways in which I can make this experience as valuable as possible for students. I will update the list of twitter assignments in future posts.

I close with one example of how Twitter has been successfully integrated into a history classroom. I discovered this video through a tweet from @cristinacost. Dr. Monica Rankin at UT Dallas shows some of the ways she has integrated Twitter into classroom discussion. You see some of the positive response from the students about the experiment.

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5 thoughts on “Science Networking Project: Twitter Revisited

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  1. I use and love the reading/responding to blogs as part of one-to-one coaching I do re use of participatory media as people are starting to think about use for research/professional development and/or teaching. it’s great for discovery – in terms of content, platforms, pedagogy, and how-to-network in the noded and disbursed spaces that connect Twitter, blogs, wikis and other social media spaces that educators use.

    The blog exploration makes me wonder if students could also follow a particular hashtag discussion or two or three as a way to network and learn networks. The academic hashtags google doc might be useful for supporting an option around this – students could use this as starting out place and could contribute to it as they discover/create hashtags: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1F5DReJd_YHu2RGcyhDkaZcOXEyekZPgADU2Ch8XzQz0/edit?hl=en_US

    Oh, and the link to blog entry on Twitter & Critical Thinking, whichc I mentioned in reference to using HootCourse as part of course coordination, is working again: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2011/10/twitter-as-an-enabler-of-critical-thinking/. The main use featured here is to collect student-generated questions for in class discussions.

  2. Thank you for your contributions to this discussion Ilene. The second link you provide gave me a better understanding of some of the advantages to a program like HootCourse for organizing tweets. I recommend readers check out that link. One point of clarification: Are tweets through HootCourse also tweeted through twitter, or is it an isolated twitter-like community? I’m assuming the former.

    I agree that Twitter is a great tool for discovery, though @linkalis points out in a description of her M.A. “Twitter Challenge” project (http://inquirewith.wordpress.com/twitter-challenge/): “Twitter is a vast landscape of information and networked ideas, as well as a repository for trivial details and even misinformation. The challenge, as students and teachers, is to learn to wade through the mess.” Certainly, students learning to assess the quality of the information they tweet is one of the goals of this project; as educators, we should keep this in mind and integrate it into class discussion.

  3. Hi to you both! Ilene, that list of academic hashtags is wonderful–thanks for passing it along! I’d been sort of halfheartedly picking through the #edtech postings, but now I actually prefer the idea of following hashtags for disciplines that are in no way related to anything I’m studying. Very fun list.

    And one of things I’m increasingly interested in is the broader demographic trends of Twitter/social media users. Maybe you guys have seen this already, but Pew put out their most recent data on Twitter demographics over the summer: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2007/twitter-users-cell-phone-2011-demographics From a global perspective, ComScore also had some interesting data: http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2010/8/Indonesia_Brazil_and_Venezuela_Lead_Global_Surge_in_Twitter_Usage

    And Aaron, I know you’ve also been thinking about the open access movement in sciences. I keep thinking about the “flattening effect” that Twitter/Facebook/blogging/social media could have on our academic structures. What if researchers were required to blog about, tweet, or otherwise figure out how to share their discoveries proactively through social media? That’s slowly happening already, but not in any “official” academic sense. With so much information floating around these days, I like that idea that part of the obligation of research could be to figure out germane niches for one’s work and become an active participant in communities inside and outside of the academy.

    And a question for you both: What do you think about the idea of adding syllabus language if Twitter or other social media is being used in class? I feel like could help clarify to students that they will be contributing to a public platform (such as Twitter) for class, and spelling out the different privacy options they should think about. (i.e. creating a separate “professional” account, altering privacy settings on posts, etc.) I was thinking about drafting this for my department/capstone project, but I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’m also not sure if this already exists somewhere…

    1. Again, great contributions linkalis. Thank you.

      I will try to address some of the open access issues you present in a later post (I’m finishing up “Reinventing Discovery” and would like to revisit the issue after I conclude that). Would you mind expanding a little more on how you define this “flattening effect?”

      Addressing the use of Twitter into the syllabus: my current syllabus draft for next semester already contains some of the description you suggest. In part, the use of Twitter was attractive to me because it has the potential (if I create effectively engaging activities or if the students are intrinsically motivated enough) to get them involved in a real community that extends far beyond the classroom. My thinking being that the students’ awareness that things they say will be “out there” may be motivation enough for them to think just a little more carefully about what they write.

      Yesterday I was involved in some amount of conversation on Twitter regarding some of the additional issues you put forward. A few of these individuals have already tried integrating Twitter into their classroom to varying degrees of success. Very soon, I hope to summarize some of that conversation and address issues including privacy.

      1. Just coming back to catching up – so have also just seen your newly posted post – and a hearty yes on getting students to either move toward a “more professional” Twitter account or work with managing two accounts, two profiles – Tweetdeck makes the management easy. A good number of the UK & US grad students i know using Twitter keep one account, working it as a social academic presence (an integration of work-life) – rather than a general socializing presence (often using Facebook for that – not many of the social/participatory media folks I know use Facebook for anything but day-to-day friends and family life things, which sometimes includes academics and politics as those are pieces of daily life). Those I know who started out using Twitter as a socializing thing quickly became bored by that mode.

        And you’re right – as I understand HootCourse, it’s the former.

        I’ve been using The Archivist for keeping track of Tweets; is designed for PCs, but web version can play nicely with Macs; great visuals, which is why I use it – gotta have data for work ;->

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