To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Part 1: Engage Beyond the Walls of the Classroom with Twitter

This post is the first of a two-part series about Twitter co-authored by April Lawrence and guest contributor Julie K. Marsh (see the second post here). Julie is a PhD student in Curriculum and Educational Technology at the W&M School of Education and a former 8th grade English teacher. Her current research interests include Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), creativity in the classroom, design thinking, and participatory culture. For more information, please visit her website at

Are you as ready to tweet as this guy is? Don't worry, you will be!

Are you as ready to tweet as this guy is? Don’t worry, you will be!

In our Designs for Technology-Enhanced Learning courses, elementary pre-service teachers are given an introduction to computer-based instructional technologies, curriculum-based planning with technology, and emerging trends and issues in educational technology. Students acquire technical skills in selected software applications and integrate emerging technologies into the curriculum. Our students will be completing their student teaching experience in local elementary schools in the Spring, and most will apply for their first professional teaching position for the following academic year.

We encourage our students to engage in discussion about educational technology both inside and outside of the classroom as well as to make connections between the topics from week to week. Additionally, we discuss the importance of our “Internet presence” as future educators. (We bet a few of you have googled your child’s teacher. Or, if you’ve ever served on a search committee, perhaps you’ve done a quick Internet search of the faculty candidates.) One of our goals in this course is to make students aware of their Internet presence as well as to offer a mechanism for connecting to others within the profession.

We chose Twitter as one of our class tools.  With 140 characters in each tweet, Twitter allows students to participate in class discussion by commenting, questioning, and sharing their opinions in a medium they find easy to use. Our students will be in their first professional job by this time next year. With this in mind, we’ve encouraged students to use Twitter to connect and engage with other educators as well as to build their own Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

The Accidental Participant

We’ve been pretty happy with student engagement on the Twitter forum so far.  Even though most of our students came with existing Twitter accounts, many of them hadn’t considered how they might use Twitter professionally. It’s been neat, too, having both of our courses (we teach separate sections) engage with one another. However, by far the coolest and most surprising effect of using Twitter has been the unintended engagement we’ve had with folks outside of either of our class sections.

One of our topics that we discuss in class is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  (Universal Design for Learning is a framework for curriculum development.  You can read more about UDL in this post from John). Students tweeted their questions and observations as they completed the class readings and exploration of a website dedicated to UDL. After a few days of folks tweeting about UDL, the National Center on UDL and the the Center for Applied Special Technology picked up our hashtag and started engaging with us directly, including retweeting and replying replying directly to some of our students’ posts.


During the week when we focused on copyright and fair use for educators, William & Mary arts librarian (and copyright guru) Kathleen DeLaurenti came in to speak to one of our class sections. That week, Kathleen was able to engage with students by providing resources on our class wiki, but also continued engaging with us beyond the class visit by using our Twitter hashtag.

Kathleen’s willingness to continue engagement with the course led to a class shout-out from the Impact Survey, a research initiative out of the University of Washington that helps libraries understand how their patrons use the Internet.

While we have been able to transmit the importance of building personal learning networks and of making professional connections to course readings and discussions, the real-life engagement from these accidental participants has allowed students to practice connecting in a professional learning community that exists beyond the walls of our classroom.

Stay tuned for the second part in this two-part series on using Twitter to engage students beyond the walls of the classroom — we’ll give you some tips we’ve learned firsthand on how to get started using Twitter in your class.

About April Lawrence

April Lawrence is the Academic Technologist for the School of Education. A high school English teacher for ten years, April also worked in online course design and development before joining the AIS staff. April is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership at William & Mary. Her research interests include exploring the intersections of culture, technology integration, and learning.