Each student Tweeted a reaction or question they had about the syllabus. Most of the students stared at their computer or cell phone screens. From my walking around the room, I saw that students were reading each other’s Tweets and responding to them. I had the website Tweetchat up on the projection screen with everyone’s Tweets. What stood out most to me at this moment was the silence. The only noise in the room was fingers punching the keys of laptops. There was a chuckle or two. Several students nudged one another to point out something on the screen.
I took most of what I could observe as positive with one major exception: I’d thought Twitter might facilitate classroom discussion, and although that may have worked virtually, what stood out to me was the absence of audible discussion and that the students weren’t looking at each other. I’m not sure this matters. Is it better to have your head up and talking with others than have your attention on a screen reading and responding to texts? I want to be careful to not conclude what happened as ineffective just because it was different. Do I have to have a noisy classroom to have an effective one? Maybe…
I do take time to have students write in class because I know the likelihood that they’ll try it outside of class is low. So given that pedagogical choice, perhaps the silence that goes with giving students a chance to experience Twitter isn’t necessarily negative. Will the administrators who observe me see this as student engagement?
Several of the students’ tweets were missing from the Tweetchat screen at the front of the room. In most cases, this was because the students had tweeted through Twitter and not Tweetchat, even though I’d suggested the site and shown students how to get started. The students who used Twitter had forgotten to add our hash tag “#torgchat.” Why would the students resist my suggestion to use Tweetchat?
I don’t think it was resistance at all. It was that the students hadn’t heard me suggest the site. I can’t stress this lesson enough about teaching: when a teacher (or anyone?) talks, there’s a large majority of the audience that doesn’t hear what is said. It’s difficult for at least some people to sit still and concentrate on someone speaking. I imagine this always being a challenge but is it more of a challenge than ever because there are so many options for our attention spans? (incoming emails, texts, and messages; TV, ads)
Rather than getting on the students all the time about not paying attention, I just try to figure out what I can do in order to get them more engaged. So I’m trying Twitter. So I’m asking myself all the time, “What can I have the students do that isn’t sitting and listening?” I wonder, what are some of the best ways you have found to get students / colleagues to “hear” what you are saying?
Using Twitter to Enhance Discussion in the Composition Classroom
I started with Twitter in the spring semester of 2012. I invited students to create accounts so that we could use them along with classroom discussion. We talked about privacy and potential problems with going public with writing, and I told the students that they might have a good reason for not wanting to use social media. One student shared a horrific story of Facebook identity theft and harassment. I also noted that I sometimes consider abandoning my online life, and that I’d enthusiastically support any student who wanted to skip the social media component of the class. We all, I thought, would benefit from some powerful voices warning about the dangers of being too digitally connected.
Even though I was worried that there would be students who would see my offer as a way to get out of some of the classwork, all of my students signed up for Twitter. I think there were less than five who already had an account. One or two of the students had internships during which it was their primary job to Tweet and write Facebook posts.
Here was my starting place: in addition to doing our regular, go around the room, sharing to begin each class session, the students would also Tweet a highlight of what they planned to say. So the idea was that students would listen to the one or two students who talked AND at the same time, Tweet comments to the class or as a “reply” to one particular student. I thought of this as a kind of transparent note-taking process. It used to be I’d write down golden lines of something someone said or jot down a question I had for later, but with Twitter, these notes could instantly be put up on the screen for everyone to see. Maybe we’d see from the Tweets that many writers were gravitating toward the same lines from our reading, or that the writers in the class had some of the same sorts of questions. For example, if more than one student didn’t understand what I meant when I said student work should strive for “intellectual ambition,” perhaps our discussion could dig in on that feature of my expectations for their work.
In the coming blog posts, I’ll share how my idea worked, what I learned, and what I plan to do differently in the Fall of 2012. If you’ve used digital texts in the classroom, I hope you’ll join in the conversation. Have you thought about how social media might impact classroom communities? Have you used Twitter in your classroom? If this article interested you, I hope you’ll consider signing up for periodic updates by typing your email in the upper left hand corner of this page. Thanks!