Is This a Problem? Twitter in the Classroom

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.

NCTE, Twitter, writing, Las Vegas, English, Language Arts

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?

Twitter in the Classroom?

Depending on how many people you follow on Twitter, it could be impossible to keep up with Tweets during a real-time discussion. Imagine a screen with fifty or so Tweets, updating every ten seconds, and only about 20% of them being from students in the class.  In order to organize the students’ Tweets, we used the hash tag #Torgchat and the website Tweetchat.  Many students didn’t take my suggestion to use the Tweetchat site, and if you’ve done much teaching, you probably already realize that there’s lots of times you’re talking but nobody’s hearing anything you say.  I used to blame the students, but now I’ve accepted that part of the teaching environment and am trying to figure out what I might do about it.

NCTE, Twitter, writing, Las Vegas

By using the hash tag #Torgchat, the website Tweetchat could collect just the Tweets from our discussion and collect them on one screen.  This can now also be accomplished through the Twitter search feature, but one thing Tweetchat does is put the hashtag in automatically. Students participated via their phones or computers. I teach at a school where the price of a laptop is included with tuition, and before you start to figure out how you will manage this yourself or start booking times in the computer lab, you should know that my first uses of Twitter to enhance classroom discussion didn’t go very well. Still, you might have suggestions for me or ways to improve on what I set up for the class.  More next post on how we used Twitter, what I didn’t like about it, and what I plan to do in the Fall of 2012.  Love to hear of your own plans you’re formulating.

In November of 2012, I’m a part of a panel discussion related to Twitter. You can read more about that here.