I have been experimenting with using Twitter in my teaching this term at the University of Lincoln, on two separate American studies modules, level one and two respectively. The way this worked was relatively straightforward: I set up individual Twitter accounts for each module and requested that students follow the module account on their already established Twitter account, or sign up for one if they didn’t already have one (this was quite unusual, our students generally all had Twitter accounts already set up, and were very proficient at using them!) Based on weekly texts, I tweeted helpful questions, hints and small portions of analysis before every weekly seminar. I would occasionally post pictures and other forms of media that were pertinent to that particular text (for example, when tweeting about Tennessee Williams’ memory play The Glass Menagerie, I provided photographs of set design, images of different actors portrayals of the characters, and even links to videos demonstrating the enactment of certain scenes – all extremely important to understanding the dramatic text).
Students were required (although not assessed upon) to tweet at least once upon the set text – and the bounds of what could be tweeted was very loose. Students tweeted their opinions, themes and motifs they had noticed and occasionally hyperlinks to other resources from the web. I requested that the student tweet the module account by using the module accounts’ twitter handle. When I received the notification that someone had tweeted the module, I would retweet the text onto the account and generally favourite it. This collated all students tweets onto a central web page.
I found that using Twitter was a dynamic and exciting use of social media in teaching and learning. Students were able to voice their opinions in an unencumbered but very accessible arena. Students generally were very plugged into the system of tweeting, most students being notified of tweets on their smart phones immediately, and able to formulate responses immediately as well. I found that it was also beneficial to re-feed the Twitter platform in seminar settings. I.e –I would bring up the Twitter page on the overhead projector at the beginning of class for the students to see, and single out particular Tweets and ask the student who had written it to discuss it and perhaps expand upon it. This amounted in a sort of cohesiveness between the experience of seminar instruction and out of class student learning.
Generally students loved the inclusion of Twitter in the modules. Students claimed they would like to see the innovation in other modules, with notable enthusiasm:
“I found it really helpful and engaging and it was so helpful to see other people’s views as well as Muzna’s comments and views – they gave me lots of ideas. I got the idea for my essay from the tweets!”
“I liked seeing other people’s opinions on the texts and seeing their feedback next to mine. I’d love to see it for future modules, I think it helps to interact with the module and connect with the texts.”
It’s something I intend on keeping on in future teaching. Here is a link to the Twitter account for a level one module titled ‘Making Americans’
In future, I would like to experiment with using Twitter within the classroom, as well as outside of it. I would like to think through how we might use social media in real time, in some sort of structured activity. What that would look like specifically is something I am yet to explore, but I imagine it might be a dynamic and interesting use of a form of digital media that is both familiar and accessible to our students today.