Twitter: Just the (Teaching) Facts, Please

Is Twitter something you are considering using, but you aren’t quite sure where to begin?

Twitter is a public micro-blogging tool that allows you to broadcast and receive 140-character messages from your computer or cell phone. Messages, called “tweets”, are – by default – public and visible to anyone, unless you change the settings. Individuals who have subscribed to you (the act known as “following”) can see your tweet, and you receive a timeline of messages from all those whom you are following. Unlike on Facebook, following is not reciprocal:  that is, you can follow a celebrity, politician, or author without him or her following you in return. You can also join your tweets to a larger conversation by using a hashtag (#), for example #wintervacation. Clicking on a hashtag brings up a list of all the tweets that have used it—including tweets from users you don’t follow.

The key points to remember are that these messages can be created and read on cellphones, meaning Twitter is a highly mobile technology; and that each tweet is limited to 140 characters. That means the writer needs to be concise, but must do so without sacrificing clarity or substance.

If you’re totally new to Twitter, you might want to check out this intro video on Howcast, which nicely covers some Twitter basics.
[howcast url=’’ height=’240′ width=’360′]
(note that the video is preceded by a short advertisement)

On the teaching front, professors have used Twitter strengthen connections with students, continue the discussion outside of the physical or virtual classroom, update students on class news or world news with class relevance, share resources, and apply class concepts (via submitting weekly questions, tweeting while reading an assignment or listening to a presentation, or creating public relations campaigns or other relevant course assignments).

Here is the experience of one marketing professor:

Despite engaging with my online students on discussion boards and over e-mail, I still felt a lack of true connection compared with my experiences with on-campus students. I felt unfulfilled as a professor, and I wondered how my online students felt about their connection with me . . . I decided to find new pedagogical methods to improve online engagement. I quickly saw potential in the rising popularity of Twitter. I decided, for my next online course on strategic electronic marketing, to use Twitter instead of the discussion boards included with my college’s course-management software.

She used twitter to connect her online and on-campus students, having them share their final projects and reflections on dedicated twitter feed.

Her assessment?

*   Twitter’s avatar feature allows for head shots, which helped humanize our tweets. This feature, absent from plain-text responses used on other online discussion boards, helped make the process more personal.

*   Twitter allows real-time discussion among students and instructors. The format allowed me to offer constructive criticism and ensure that their conversations remained on track during the project.

*   Twitter creates a community. It enabled my students to communicate with one another during the semester as they shared their successes and struggles.

*   Twitter can help bridge the gap between online and on-campus students. My on-campus and online students followed their classmates’ tweets and provided one another with advice and support, from suggestions on how to improve their marketing videos to cheering one another on as the teams reached their campaign milestones.

For a local connection, here is a history professor at UT Dallas and her students discussing their experiences with using Twitter.

Intrigued? There are some great Twitter resources especially for the higher education setting: Practical Advice for Teaching with Twitter, A Framework for Teaching with Twitter, 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the College Classroom, Twitter for Academia, 25 Ways to Teach with Twitter, and Twitter in the Literature Classroom.

Here are some resources for getting started. This is a primer just for academics: How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To). The article provides some step-by-step directions for setting up lists and using hashtags – both of these are ways to avoid having all your students tweets appear in your timeline.

Likewise, the London School of Economics has put out a guide about Using Twitter in University Teaching and Research, including a table identifying the elements of different types and styles of tweets. A word of wisdom from our friends across the pond: “It is best not to tweet if you’re feeling ratty late at night and never when drunk either!” Indeed.

Students may not be as familiar as you think with the technology. One professor estimated that about half of her students had never used Twitter before. While this is a hurdle, it can also be part of valuable learning experience – especially for courses on journalism, marketing, and communications. In fields where social media literacy is key, your students will need some familiarity with Twitter. On the other hand, you may also have students who create an entirely separate “school Twitter” account, in order to keep their personal tweets semi-private and their groups of followers distinct.

If some students don’t want to or can’t set up Twitter accounts, you will need to consider making arrangements for all course-related tweets to be accessible to them in some manner.

Last, I’ll leave you with this: 100 Serious Twitter Tips for Academics.


One thought on “Twitter: Just the (Teaching) Facts, Please

  1. Pingback: Twitter: Going beyond the basics | TCU eLearning

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