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.

Using Twitter in the Classroom to Facilitate Discussion

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.

Twitter, NCTE, discussion, social media, pedagogy

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!

 

IRL, Storify, and Girltalk: First Day at Blogworld

Like just about everyone, I know what the letters LOL mean (although I think I might not type them anymore) but I encountered a new one I hadn’t heard:  IRL.  Do you want to hazard a guess?

I’m at a conference this week in Los Angeles called the Blogworld New Media Expo, and on the first day I was introduced to a website called Storify during a presentation by Kate Brodock and Jeff Cutler.  Although I only saw Storify in action for about a minute, it seems to be something I could use to not only capture an online Twitter conversation, it would also give me the rhetorical space to offer my take on the conversation.  For example, I participate sometimes in a Wed. night Twitter chat by using the hashtag #FYCCHAT.  The letters stand for First Year Composition.  Using Storify, it looks like I could pull tweets from one of our conversations into a page that would allow me to tell my version of what happened during that nights’ chat.

Lots to Do near L.A. Convention Center

I’ve been thinking about audio essays where you’d hear the writer’s voice cruising along the same as if they were reading a paper they’d written, but instead of quoting folks, they’d integrate audio clips. The essay I have in mind would be an audio version of something you might read in the op-ed section of the newspaper (as if people still read newspapers) or in a journal about teaching or writing, except for that in the audio essay, you’d hear not only the voice of the writer, you’d also hear the voices of the writers being quoted.   So if I were to write this kind of essay about my time here at the Blogworld New Media Expo, you’d hear an audio recording of my voice telling you about what I was up to, until I went to a clip from something I’d recorded or otherwise gathered online.

Malibu hiking Blogworld Los Angeles

Sis Got Me Out Hiking Near Malibu

As for the letters “IRL,” they were spoken to me yesterday when I was talking with some folks including someone named Marlo who has a radio project she calls “Girltalk With Marlo.”  Her card describes it as “relevant, intelligent talk radio.  Women’s issues.  Women’s Voices.”  Sounded cool and so if you’re a woman, you might want to check it out.  Marlo was telling me about a meet up, and I thought she was talking about a virtual one, but she corrected me by saying, “IRL.”  I was baffled.  The Indy Racing League?  (yep, I’m a transplanted Indiana Hoosier).

“No,” Marlo said, “In Real Life.”

Mmmm, I’m getting old.

Prof. Torg’s take on Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD

If you have a Facebook page, own one of the latest cell phones, blog, or tweet, then you ought to at least check out chapter 13 in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.  In the following quote from the last chapter, a once big-time music executive laments about the state of the business.  Feel free to substitute ART in the place of MUSIC.  Here’s Bennie:

“The problem is,” Bennie went on, “it’s not about sound anymore.  It’s not about music.  It’s about reach.  That’s the bitter pill I had to swallow” (page 312).

Whose taste in art is for sale?

So when Bennie says “reach,” he’s talking Tweets, he’s talking Facebook Friends, and he’s talking hits on somebody’s blog.  The last chapter takes place in the future—and she could just almost be talking about right now—we all have to wonder if a book or album or any kind of art is really good or it’s just being promoted very well.  What is the Tweeter getting paid to say that this new artist is the next Bob Dylan?  What perks or gifts have been sent the book blogger’s way?  I just attended a BEA blogging panel where there was talk of ethics in the blogging world.

It may or may not have occurred to you that a novel can pay-off in various ways:  you can be made to feel as if you get to know the characters like people, the text can make you think, cause you to believe you are getting smarter, or make you bawl your eyes out or want to break stuff.  Another pleasing feature of a text can be the language, the words the writer chooses and the ways that the writer puts the words together in the form of sentences.  Egan’s text has that feature.  There are sentences beyond this one that would make for better examples of word choice but there are some original choices here—prewallet, overhandled, Sow’s Ear—and the clever detail of the guy who drinks flakes of gold.  An expensive habit, especially these days when an ounce of the stuff would cost over $1500.  This quote comes from the first story (notice also that it is a long sentence, not an always easy thing to pull off) when Sasha remembers stealing a wallet from a woman in the restroom while she was on a date.  We’ll also hear about Bennie here and we get to see him in the stories that follow.  He’s worth meeting.  Now here’s Egan’s sentence:

“Prewallet, Sasha had been in the grip of a dire evening:  lame date (yet another) brooding behind dark bangs, sometimes glancing at the flat-screen TV, where a Jets game seemed to interest him more than Sasha’s admittedly overhandled tales of Bennie Salazar, her old boss, who was famous for founding the Sow’s Ear record label and who also (Sasha happened to know) sprinkled gold flakes into his coffee—as an aphrodisiac, she suspected—and sprayed pesticides in his armpits.”

I tore that brown thing out on the side and used it as a bookmark.

This is a novel-in-stories, and I loved the first two.  I moved very logically with Sasha the kleptomaniac to her once boss Bennie in the second story who drinks the gold flakes and picks up his son from a previous marriage.  Most of the characters in the book are connected to the music business.  Egan almost lost me on the third story which takes place on an African Safari.  I felt internally frustrated as I was reading and trying to link each new story to the ones which had come before it.  On page eighty-seven, I wrote in the margins:  “I don’t know what the hell is going on or where I am.”

I gave up on trying to connect the stories and just tried to live in each one as a separate world.  I’d say this reading tactic helped, but really I think what happened is the stories got more interesting.  There were many good stories in a row and then on page two hundred and eight, I knew right where I was.  The stories were puzzling together.  I could see where all the pieces might go.  And then Chapter 12 is a Power-Point slide journal.  I don’t generally go for the story that could be called gimmicky.

I was just at a Writers Conference at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and most of the table moaned when I held up the book and showed off some of the slides.  One student is doing an MFA graphic novel thesis.  Suddenly, she was more interested in the book, and another guy at the table said, “I’ll never read a story like that.”

Fine, readers have their tastes I guess.  For me, Egan and The Goon Squad had won me over by the time the Power Point came up.  By the fifth slide I was laughing and my wife was wondering what was up.  It’s great the way I was taught by the text how to read it.  I say Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is one you ought to read if you’ve got grown up and thinking tastes in reading.  I do.

Citation Information:

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad. New York: Anchor Books,    2011. Print.

Drop me a note if you want:

william.torgerson (at) gmail.com