Twitter Plus Teaching=Tweaching?

twitter-bird-white-on-blue

In one of my very first posts, I wondered how I might incorporate Twitter into my composition class. This week I actually tried it, and I think that it worked. I want to emphasize that it was by no means smooth going, but, as is normal for me, I take that as a sign of success. See Groucho Marx.

First, a little context. We are in the middle of our research projects and we’re currently emphasizing that our arguments are not simply us speaking our minds, but rather our engagement with bigger conversations. (I say us because I’m doing a project along with my class, in case you missed that post).

It’s important for me that my students understand that they already constantly compose writing within this model. Twitter, for example, makes use of things like hashtags and a “reply” function. For me, this is a handy metaphor for the conversational aspect of academic writing. The # is a symbolic representation of an ongoing, complex, and highly organic conversation. The reply feature is a way to speak directly back to an individual contribution to that conversation. This week, I made the argument that our choosing of topics is akin to applying a hashtag to something we want to say. When we bring an outside voice into our papers, through quotation or paraphrase, we are essentially hitting the reply button.

So to illustrate, I created a unique hashtag before class (#TwitterForComp) and Tweeted the question “How can we use Twitter in composition class?” In class, I had my students pull out their smartphones and laptops (their faces – you’d have thought it was Christmas morning) and tweet ideas aimed at that hashtag. This is where the messiness began.

Many students tweeted really thoughtful responses. Someone suggested that doing a hashtag search might be a way to discover articles or opinions about their topic. Someone else noted that Twitter’s required conciseness is good practice in formulating a thesis or topic sentence clearly and efficiently. I was rather blown away by responses like these, and there were more than a few.

There were, however, students who used the opportunity to goof around a little. This is completely understandable to me and, in some ways, I encouraged it, but it made me work a little harder to achieve my pedagogical goals. I am grateful for the chaos, however. It gave me an opening to describe for them what they were doing in composing these playful tweets and how that might be useful in their research.

I told them that they were, in essence, diagnosing what would get a particular audience’s attention and constructing humorous tweets to achieve that goal – to reach someone. I told them that I was not offended by this and that they should in fact do precisely that when constructing their arguments in their final projects. Their jokes were interesting because they were interested in their audience. “Interested people are interesting people,” is what I wrote on the white board. I noted that the interesting people I follow on Twitter (Drunk Hulk for example) gain my attention because of their creative engagement with the world around them. I applauded their improvisation asked that they think about appropriate ways to gain the attention and applause of their research papers’ readers.

We’ll have to see about the long-term effects of this class, but it seemed to have, at least temporarily, driven home the idea that their research papers are not simply a platform to scream their opinions at the world. They are, instead, an opportunity to thoughtfully participate in a conversation. I told them that a critic does not simply tell everyone what he thinks. That is what a douchbag does. A critic listens and responds.

I don’t want to be a douchbag. I value your opinion about this hashtag. Please reply either here or at the Facebook page.

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12 thoughts on “Twitter Plus Teaching=Tweaching?

  1. LOL! I’m still laughing at your last comment, “I told them that a critic does not simply tell everyone what he thinks. That is what a douchbag does. A critic listens and responds.” I love it! I may have to use it in my classroom, though I may need to look for another job afterwards. I also love “Interested people are interesting people,” I often tell my students, when they complain about being bored, that only boring people get bored. They don’t like when I say that. Yours is a positive way of saying the same thing.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer on the twitter/hashtag question. However, I am interested to see how and if it works to deepen the conversations. Great idea!

  2. What an interesting idea! I think you’ve hit on what effective writing does — engage an audience or readers. That’s obviously what Twitter is designed for, as well, though I’m often surprised at how many writers use Twitter only as a broadcast medium. That’s fine if you are a celebrity and start off with thousands of followers, but then it’s not really much about a conversation. Kudos to you for using it in a classroom setting.

    • Thanks David, I’m grateful for your feedback. I’m relatively new to Twitter and only got the idea for this exercise last semester, so I, like my students, am still learning how this works. Your input is most welcome!

  3. I’m sending the link to this post to a friend. She’s been contemplating use of social technology in her class. She had the same experience when she allowed her students to get out their phones for a brief demo…like Christmas, yes! But she wasn’t sure what to do with the idea in terms of pedagogy beyond mere demonstration. Your idea sounds plausible. I’m curious what she’ll think of it.

  4. Great post, I used a forum for threaded discussion on my electronic site in Foundations of Business last semester and found that what students said in writing was much more thoughtful than what they said in class. I started with a prompt and interacted with their discussion. I am not sure if Tweets with 140 characters can say much to qualify as real conversation, but your experiment was excellent and made a point to be sure!

    • Thanks Gail. I really do appreciate the comment and the support. I totally agree that this is a limited medium, but I do hope that my students can find a way to build on it so as to participate in more rigorous conversation. Your assignment sounds interesting! Please keep me posted in the future!

    • Ha! Well, I must confess that I did let that phrase slip out. Sometimes I get a little too into what I do, I guess. My students have come to expect nothing less, though.

      Thanks for reading!

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