Twitter Project: The Response

Thanks to some helpful re-tweets, some interesting discussion on Twitter and in the comments section of my previous post produced some suggestions and highlighted some challenges that may be encountered when trying to integrate social media into the classroom. I wanted to take a moment to summarize this discussion here, which, I hope, will generate some helpful followup discussion.

Kelly Gull (@asmkelly) re-tweeted the link to my original blog post and put me in contact with some others in the Twitter community who have implemented similar ideas in their own courses.

The first response I received was from Mark Martin (@markowenmartin) who tweeted, “Sure enough. I’m not sure the students were as enthused as I was.” This was quickly followed by Steven Hecht’s (@Profmicro) response, “My experience is more like yours. And…do you follow back students? Some things I don’t want to know.” The latter part of this response I found somewhat surprising, as I always assumed that I would follow the students back. One of the goals I envisioned with this activity, was to invite students to engage with a professional online community. Not following the students, in my mind, would suggest to them that while I wanted them to use Twitter, I wouldn’t be willing to engage in their network on the same level. I feel this creates a sense of exclusion between myself as the instructor and the students, making the tasks seems more like an assignment rather than an attempt to form a learning community. Alison Link, a masters student at U of M, is also interested in using Twitter as an education tool (Link to her Twitter Challenge project here). In a comment on my previous post on this topic, she entertains similar considerations as those expressed above:

“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.)”

In response to Hecht’s comment, “Some things I don’t want to know,” I wondered whether having students create a separate professional account would limit any “TMI” situations. In fact, part of this exercise would include developing the students’ understanding of the importance of creating a professional online presence. Students should be aware that what they share is public and learn how to engage with the online community in a respectable, professional manner. Rebecca Achterman (@RRAchterman) tweeted, “I did not follow back, just used hashtag. Twapperkeeper made grading easier.” Aaron Best (@aaron_best) provided a similar response, indicating that not following students is a common approach, at least in the context of the discussion I have seen. For instructors who are not inclined to follow their students, there are tools for keeping track of the class Twitter discussion. Twapperkeeper is one example of how one can create an archive of Tweets based on #hashtag, keyword, and @person. Irrespective of whether one follows students back, using an archiving program such as Twapperkeeper seems essential to organizing for discussion and grading purposes.

The initial response indicating the difficult to motivate students to become involved tempered my enthusiasm for how successful integration of such an activity in my own class would be. A response from Best, however, provided some encouragement: “Engagement has been decent, not stellar. Some highly involved; others will never be. Happy w/ 1st try.” This was followed by a response from Mark Martin: ” First steps can be wobbly, I know. More structure, and pointage?” Kelly Gull also indicated that @dawessner has had success in integrating Twitter into the classroom, but as of yet he has not entered this particular conversation. I would be interested to hear his opinions. Also, from Best: “We’ve got some structured activities and similar learning goals… can discuss if interested.” Yes. Interested.

Perhaps a focus in this discussion should be specific activities that encourage greater involvement, activities that are engaging and provide a meaningful learning experience. One this topic I would be most interest in hearing from those who have attempted using Twitter in their courses.

1. In what ways are others implementing Twitter in their classrooms?

2. What specific activities have you developed that utilize Twitter or other forms of social media?

Perhaps by finding the most effective and engaging exercise to link with our use of Twitter in the classroom, we can limit the resistance on the part of students to using this technology. Quite possibly, one of my readers is aware of an existing resource describing effective classroom activities utilizing social media and could provide that. If not, I think it would be helpful to utilize this community to combine our ideas and identify the most effective among them.


Teaching with twitter

As part of the advanced molecular and cellular biology course I will be teaching next semester, I have been considering ways to integrate social networking into the course. I would like to encourage students to use twitter as one of the ways they can keep current with information in the field. Therefore, I pose the question: Who (or what organizations) are the best people to follow on twitter in the field of molecular and cellular biology?

Please post your suggestions in the comments.

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