Twitter (twitter.com) has morphed from being an online social media platform used for a quick updating of one’s life events to a powerful and popular social networking tool having a broader scope for giving and receiving information to and from individuals, associations, government agencies, celebrities, causes, etc. In just 140 characters, users can send and receive large amount of information in the form of shortened URL links to photos, websites, and documents. Creating a hashtag for an event gives participants an opportunity to connect with other participants.
It is an incredibly popular social media providing a forum for bringing large groups of people together to discuss global events in real time on a wide range of topics from hockey scores to presidential campaigns to celebrity sightings to news updates.
Twitter is often ridiculed as a tool for people to post inconsequential, egocentric, inane dribble and is certainly still used for these seemingly meaningless updates. However, Twitter is now taking a greater role as a real-time, immediate, a primary news source. You can follow @CBCShows, @CNNnews, @BBCnews, or a news aggregator @BreakingNews. There are Canadian federal members of parliament on Twitter, including Prime Minister Steven Harper. You can follow the New York City Ballet, or @HockeyCanada. For most people, Twitter is a:
- personalized live news stream
- real-time access point to a network finding people commenting on topics of interest
- tool for collecting interesting links to specific information relevant, critical and of importance to an individual user.
There is some literature on the use of Twitter in education and the classroom and much conversation regarding Twitter’s value and practice. I have used Twitter from time to time as a student feedback instrument and to engage students in cross-class conversations.
There are several points to evaluate before using Twitter in the classroom. Ask yourself if it is the appropriate tool to use for engaging students in the topic you are presenting? Would you be able to effectively use Twitter in the classroom if less than 50% of the students have a Twitter account? How would you present Twitter as a valid in class instrument to the students, gaining buy-in and increasing participation? Can you align the use of Twitter to literacy standards?
When I use Twitter in the classroom, I evaluate it by asking questions in the context of pedagogical structures for delivering literacy education, such as:
- small group discussions
- distributed group investigations
- collective brainstorming.
What I found during recent sessions where I incorporated Twitter in support of good pedagogical structure were these illustrations.
- As a classroom response system I ask a question to which the students respond using Twitter via the Internet at a computer station, laptop, or on their mobile device.
- Students ask me a question via Twitter.
- Using Twitter, students share information, ideas, and have discussion as a whole class or group in a class.
- Students develop virtual study groups and share resources.
- The class discusses assignment expectations, in-class activities, or instruction session recording their impressions.
Steve Wheeler writes a blog titled “learning with ‘e’s“. He has compiled what he considers the top 10 Twitter uses for education and instruction .
My experiences using Twitter in the classroom have been very positive. Students are excited to use it, the subject faculty is impressed with the level of classroom control I gain when tweeting with the students, and I incorporate much fun into the session. Twitter really can connect students to the topic, instruction session, tasks asked of them, and information shared. Students approach me easily now opening an interaction by commenting that they were in my tweeting class. Apparently I now a super cool @agentlibrarian!
Twitter Session Success
Several things must be considered before and during your sessions when using Twitter, such as:
- establishing Twitter etiquette policies and expected behaviours with class
- providing students with hashtag – it can be created on the spot
- if possible, displaying Twitter feed on separate screen
- making contributions to Twitter throughout the class modeling its use
- retweeting where appropriate
- asking students questions, encourage comments.
Try using Twitter on a small scale perhaps in one session asking for responses to specific questions. Many library information literacy instruction sessions are one-shots, short, and fast-paced. I believe we walk into the classroom strangers and have little time to connect and create an environment where students begin to feel more comfortable with us individually and as a group of professional librarians. While uing Twitter can heighten students interest in the materials we present, I contend that students become more interested in librarians who understand how they use social media. For more ideas about setting up Twitter, some practical pointers for using it within higher education environments, watch Christine Morris’ great video relating her experiences using Twitter in the classroom for an entire course.
- Follow other librarians. Look for others on sites such as Librarians Matter or a Twitter Directory.
- Retweet interesting or thought provoking posts, regularly and often.
- Tweet as much as you can but think realistically how frequently that might be. As you gain confidence you might begin to share experiences at conferences, share reference service experiences, contribute to the conversation about a new technology, a book, an upcoming event, an important website, and blog posts.
- Use hashtags to define your own tweets and to search within Twitter.
Finally, follow me on Twitter at @agentlibrarian