Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tweet For Your Thoughts

Large classrooms can make students feel anonymous, and as a result, many may feel less compelled to actively participate or pay attention during class. Whether it is in primary or secondary school, or in a college classroom, getting students to become engaged in the materials being presented can be a frustrating battle. This is especially true now that students can become distracted during class by a number of things, including the Internet and technology. Yet, teachers can use these very same things to bring the interests of students back to the classroom, such as is the case in some classroom experiments with educational Twitter accounts.

Twitter fosters critical thought in the classroom because it removes the element of self-consciousness from the equation. Those who do not actively participate in class or ask questions when they are confused often fail to do so because they do not want to speak up. This is why in most classrooms, only the same handful of students seem to participate time after time while the rest remain silent. Twitter allows for even the shyest individual to reach out and expand on the topic discussed, as it allows students to get their queries answered without being afraid of classmate judgment. In fact, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas has a fully Twitter-integrated class, which allows for students to tweet their thoughts and questions to the professor while class is being conducted, according to an article published on Mashable. The professor and the class teaching assistants regularly look over these tweets and respond accordingly, whether through Twitter or live during the lecture. Classroom participation has increased since this tool was first introduced.
In addition, Twitter allows for students to continue thinking about a topic long after the class has ended, thereby encouraging critical thought even outside of class. Students may formulate new thoughts on classroom lectures after mulling over the information for longer than a single class period would allow, and once they have a new question or epiphany about the topic, they can tweet about it and receive responses from other classmates or from the instructor. Students in the class can all set up a Twitter account even a separate one solely for educational purposes and "follow" their instructors and fellow classmates. This way, they will receive updates each time something new is posted about the class. Instructors can keep the information on Twitter organized as well, using hashtags to label different classroom topics.

While Twitter is not without its flaws after all, each "tweet" can only be 140 characters long, which can make sharing thoughts on a complex topic challenging it certainly holds promise when it comes to inspiring students to put their thoughts and interests back into their classes.

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  1. Hey Eric, thanks for this thoughtful post. Although my school blocks Twitter, I've taught students how to use it and made it an option to participate outside of class. Many have and they love it. I have former students who continue to remain involved in my class Twitter, informing me of anything from what movie they're seeing on a given weekend to how they performed on a particular test.

  2. Mark,

    What you are doing is fantastic - simple, yet extends learning beyond the classroom as students are actively recording their thoughts, ideas, as well as being provided and opportunity for feedback and reflection.