To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Part 2: Getting Started with Twitter in the Classroom

This post is the second of a two-part series about Twitter co-authored by April Lawrence and guest contributor Julie K. Marsh (see the first 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 www.eduhuh.com

Julie and I are both teaching sections of Designs for Technology-Enhanced Learning courses this semester. These courses are for elementary pre-service teachers, and they’re given an introduction to computer-based instructional technologies, curriculum-based planning with technology, and emerging trends and issues in educational technology. One of the tools we’ve decided to use in our sections is Twitter.  We’ve learned some important things about getting started using Twitter for a class that we’d like to share with you in this post.

Step One: The Hashtag

Choose a class hashtag that is easy to remember.  We chose #crin09 since it was the title of our class, and it was short and sweet.  Remind your students to use the class hashtag every time they tweet.  Using a hashtag makes reading and responding easier because you can use the search function within Twitter to show only those tweets using your specific class hashtag.  With a hashtag, students do not necessarily need to follow each other on Twitter in order to see posts that pertain to the course.  We let students decide between using their existing Twitter accounts or creating a new account just for use in this course.  Either way, the hashtag makes it easy to see the Tweets related to our course without requiring students to follow us or each other.

Step Two: Create a Widget

Create a Twitter widget using the hashtag you’ve selected.  A Twitter widget allows you to display the tweets related to your course within your course area (in Blackboard, a course wiki, or a course blog or web page).  To create a Twitter widget, visit the Twitter widget setup page. Here’s a brief summary of how to do it:

  1. At the Twitter widget setup page, get started creating a new widget.
  2. Use the search tab to create your widget. Enter your selected hashtag in the “Search Query” box. Doing this will make it so that only tweets that use this hashtag will appear in your widget.
  3. Your new widget takes the form of html code. Select and then copy this code — make sure you get all of it. This code can be embedded (i.e. copied and pasted) wherever you can input html code (WordPress, Blackboard, and WM Wikis are three places that accept html where you might want to put a widget). We have embedded our twitter widget in both our Blackboard and WMwikis course areas.

Step Three: Have Students Create Their Twitter Accounts

Ask students to create a Twitter account.  Some students may already have an existing account, but they may choose to start a separate account just for the purposes of class discussions.  You may encourage your students to follow one another as they start to build their own PLNs.  However, if students are reticent to follow one another, they can still see each other’s posts as long as they use the hashtag.  This is also a good time to discuss social media etiquette with your students.  After they have set up their account, we ask them to follow at least one educational technology organization, at least one educational technology professional, and to find at least one William and Mary student or local educator directly involved with educational technology.  When students follow others, especially those directly interested in what they are studying, they are able to learn more and share more.

Step Four: Give Students Tweeting Instructions

Assign readings and explorations like you normally would to your students, but also ask them to tweet their comments and questions outside of class.  You may choose to give your students specific prompts to respond to, or you may choose to simply ask your students to tweet their questions and observations.  It is important for students to understand you are looking for more than “I like that” responses (meaning, boring and bland responses).  I tell my students to imagine they are at a dinner party having a wonderful conversation with an interesting person.  How would that person respond if, after telling a funny and detailed story, my student responded to him by saying, “That’s great.”??  The interesting person may feel insulted.  Same goes for social media.  Students want to make sure they are detailed in their tweets, share interesting resources, and ask good questions – they should answer other students’ questions, too!

Known Issues with Using Twitter for Class

We have come across a few glitches along the way, but nothing that has made us forgo using Twitter as a class tool:

  1. Sometimes a tweet with both a hashtag and url does not appear within the Twitter widget.  This is a known issue, and Twitter is currently working on a solution.
  2. Sometimes on mobile devices, only the “top” tweets will show in the Twitter widget.  (On a computer, users can select to see “All” the tweets categorized under a hashtag.)
  3. A few students may not want to tweet.  One of us has made tweeting an explicit part of the class participation grade and one of us has not.  We’ll assess at the end of the course if requiring students to participate by associating a grade impacts the participation.  If students are hesitant, you may want to have a conversation with them to figure out why (they may have a good reason).  If it’s just that they are new to Twitter, you might walk them through setting up an account and sending a first sample tweet.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

If you are interested in exploring additional ways Twitter may be used in the classroom, check The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers. For us, using Twitter in a graduate level course that prepares students for licensure and participation in a profession makes perfect sense. However, it might be more difficult to find useful educational applications for Twitter in a general education course. We’d love to know if there are other instructional uses of Twitter around campus.

If you’d like some assistance setting up a Twitter community and widget in one of your courses, feel free to email us: April Lawrence adlawrence@wm.edu or Julie Marsh jkmarsh@email.wm.edu

Got Twitter tips?  Share them with us!

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.