Educational Tweeting

I have to admit, I didn’t find much use for Twitter for a long time. I’ve been a member almost since its founding in 2006, but didn’t use it too much. Until now.

This semester, I’m teaching Writing for Digital Media. I’ve approached this course differently in the past, but since then, I have had a couple of epiphanies that pushed me in a new direction. I decided to teach foundational literacies of digital media: (1) strong writing, and (2) the unique aspects of doing it for the screen. The latter forms the basis of my approach: I’m not teaching writing using digital tools that will wind up in print, but specifically tools writers use to compose for the screen. Word processing and desktop publishing are out; Wordpress and wikis are in.

Now, these tools are always in flux. However, one of the writing tools I thought was necessary to teach is Twitter. While many love to lament what texting and twittering are doing to the language, I happen to think that language is strong enough to take all forms of communication. In fact, I’ve thought for a while that academic composition could learn something from popular forms of new media communication. Let’s stop teaching writing that encourages bloated and awkward prose, and instead focus on writing that’s clean, tight, and succinct. You know, like a tweet.

This is a hard thing to do, especially for students that been trained their whole academic lives to write long-winded essays. I go into more detail about this elsewhere, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say, my approach has been to require word maximums, rather than minimums. Say what you need to say with the most economic, nuanced, and deliberate writing possible. You know, like a tweet.

Therefore, for the first time, I required my students to have Twitter accounts and actually use them. Their first exercise was to use Twitter to liveblog an event, like a class lecture. This was the first revelation. Going through their liveblogs was eye-opening: they actually had to be engaged with the material in a whole new way. Not only did they need to pay attention, but they had to distill what they heard into 140 characters. Reading many of their liveblogs made me feel like I was sitting in the classroom with them. Wow. (Interestingly, I spoke with a couple of colleagues who allowed my students to liveblog their classes, and they had similar observations. One said that she could see what students were getting and concepts that were not clear. It appears this tweeting in class can be educational for the professor as well.)

I decided to have my students continue to use Twitter. I asked them to begin communicating with me solely via mentions, or if it was more sensitive, through private messages on Twitter. Again, I wasn’t really aware of the brilliance of this at first, either. Rather than getting dozens of lengthy emails a day from students that often required a lengthy reply, here I was getting 140-character questions to which I could briefly reply. Ah: another wow moment.

Twitter and I are now tight. Another up side to this is that all students have cell phones, so requiring them to tweet — especially during class — is not asking too much. In fact, I know that most of them would rather be looking at their phones, anyway. I’ll be incorporating TweetChat into my classes as early as next week. Yes, I’m looking at you, Digital Humanities, with your fancy iPads.

I’ve begin looking around for Twitter support pages, particularly for education. I found several good resources, but none better than Edudemic’s 100 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom. I’m still going through it, but I’m happy to see that some work has been done for me.

More about this soon. Oh, and I have two Twitter accounts now: @drgrlucas for work, and @grlucas for other than work. Come and say hello.