Last year when I taught this course, I tried to roll Twitter into it, but after the initial setup, most students didn’t keep up the way I had hoped. This year, I made it an actual assignment. Three, actually, I divided the semester into thirds and required that everyone meet a minimum standard. They had to post at least twice a week, and in each time period they had to have shared 2 resources, had 2 @ messages and 2 retweets. That’s all you had to do for full credit. The objective was to keep them going back, and hope that they started going back without prompting. I also always offer to work out an alternative for those that really, truly do not wish to use social media in my course, but no one has asked to exercise that option yet. We also go over the privacy expectations when we are getting started. Having this as an actual assignment definitely made a difference.
Top 5 benefits of using Twitter in the classroom, as according to Gretchen:
1) Relationship building. I have two class sessions each week, and it’s hard to build relationships in those two 1:15 periods. The students that engaged in the Twitter exercise built deeper relationships than those that didn’t. For instance, I have never given much thought to the sports programs here, but having two softball players tweeting about their victories made me much more interested – I noticed headlines in the paper that I would’ve skipped, because I was looking to see if my students were mentioned. In addition, my students know more about ME through Twitter, more than they probably know about any of their other instructors. I do not have a special ‘work’ twitter account, I’ve rolled everything together as a “Gretchen” twitter account, because I am a teacher AND a geek AND a mom, AND a runner, AND a citizen of Maine AND AND AND. I can’t compartmentalize my love of teaching and technology as separate from the rest of the things that make up who I am.
2) Beyond the class connections. I have two students that are former students, but have stayed in touch on Twitter, and have sought assistance in their other classes by sending an @message or DM to schedule an office visit. I am certain that they have appreciated this level of access.
4) Sharing current events with the class. I do a tech survey at the start of each semester, and very few students are reading or watching traditional news anymore, so I can’t assume they will see things that impact teaching and technology and local politics surrounding education. I try to share news and information that they might otherwise miss. (By tagging it with #ed307, it shows up in a special widget in our Canvas course as well.)
5) Modeling the digital footprint. My students know a lot about me (see #1) but they also see how I can be authentic without being rude or unprofessional. I talk about this openly in class — they will never see me complain about work or my family online. Ever. I will never tweet bullying comments about peers or students, or share things inappropriately. I also think it helps my students to remember that professionals use twitter, too, and maybe they will think before they tweet if they know their teacher is reading along. I am clear that I understand that they are college students and in a different station of life, but that they should still be thinking about the impression they make using social media. I would rather have them learn in my class, which is a safe space, than learn in the ‘real world,’ where it might jeopardize a job opportunity or other relationships.
Here’s my favorite twitter story from the spring semester, though. And it really ties to the “building relationships” piece. One of my students had to unexpectedly miss class and drive halfway across the country. On her drive, she tweeted:
And I followed with:
That was at 6 pm, and I didn’t hear anything again until an hour and a half later, when the student tweeted this:
The farm my mom grew up on. THE farm. Not just a farm nearby, THE FARM, 750 miles away from here. On the left is the house and on the right is the barn. The vineyard is between the highway and the buildings. I couldn’t believe it! I tweeted right back at her:
And I sent the pic to my mom, who was on vacation, and she emailed back:
“Amazing. That your student captured a photo so clearly showing the old farmhouse and barn. It was a moment to remember good times there…and especially onMay Day. I think that was a gift from Mom….Alesa and I used to celebrate May Day by picking violets from the pond, putting them in Dixie cup bouquets, sneaking up on Felton’s porch, knock loudly, leave the cup of flowers and run and hide while Loretta discovered her surprise. Thanks for bringing back happy memories for me.”
So, why does this matter in teaching? A good teacher builds strong relationships with their students. I strongly believe that Twitter helps me foster those relationships beyond the classroom. Without twitter, I’d have never known that my student was going to be passing through, and without that relationship, my student wouldn’t have felt compelled to try to take the pic. But because she did, it set off this little chain reaction of good stuff — I shared it on facebook and my mom’s childhood friends were liking the photo and commenting. My grandmother has been gone for 27 years, but whenever these small miracles happen, we call it “a Nana thing.” That my student grabbed this photo, and brought back so many good memories, and (I think) lightened her own spirit a bit, was totally a Nana thing, but it would never have happened if not for making Twitter part of my teaching practice.
Two side notes that came up since I started working on this post:
First, I’ve been nominated for the Hashtagger award from Social Media Breakfast: Bangor, for my use of twitter in education. I’d love to get your vote!
Second, my evals for this term arrived while I was finishing up. They were overwhelmingly positive, and jumped up from previous semesters, and the two things I did differently this term were that I required Twitter and used Canvas. I am convinced that both of those things are what made the difference.