Twitter as Assignment

David Carr’s New York Times article, “Why Twitter Will Endure,” reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about classroom uses for Twitter. I found the article by way of Twitter, though by the time I read it and decided to write about it, I could no longer remember who linked to it. This memory lapse in itself brings up issues of how Twitter works, how attribution and documentation work in the digital world–all worthy of discussion in the classroom.

Because I wouldn’t accept “I don’t remember” from a student if attribution were required or even appropriate, I made myself scroll back through several pages of tweets until I found this:

For anyone interested in why Brian Williams is an idiot, here is the link to the Time article in question.

Williams’ dismissal of Twitter aside, Carr makes some great points. I don’t know if I agree that Twitter is really “plumbing” as he asserts. Something new always comes along, after all. I do think it is here for a long stretch, though, and I think Twitter represents a communications style and way of thinking about information flow that will endure for quite some time. That’s why it’s worth bringing to the classroom experience.

Daisy Pignetti, among others, has done quite a bit of research and experimenting with Twitter as a classroom tool. I’ve followed her work along with listserv discussions on the topic for as much as a couple of years. I’ve also seen some really interesting professional uses of Twitter through conference backchatter, article sharing, and real, helpful discussions of academic issues.

Still, I’ve struggled with how to make Twitter work for students. If it is nothing more than a way for me to communicate to them, I can use any of a number of other tools–Blackboard announcements, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. If it is a way for them to communicate with each other, it gets messy, difficult for me to even understand how to track and assess. As a research tool, Twitter is perhaps a little too random. It will lead you to information but not through the most direct path.

That has me thinking about why I use Twitter and why I think it is important. David Carr’s article does resonate with my own experience. Twitter is about who you follow, not about who follows you or even who responds to you. Twitter is a way to receive varied information in one place, to get a sense not only of what’s happening, but of how people are responding to it.

This morning, in addition to David Carr’s article, I read an article about dolphin intelligence (via @courosa), saw some animations of mathematical equations (via @web20classroom), and browsed through lists of iPhone apps (via @mashable) all while doing other things and only casually paying attention to Twitter. This is my equivalent of what my father has done for years in reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’m just browsing through whatever information is there.

I do know who I am following, though, in the same way my father knew why he subscribed to certain newspapers and news magazines. He prioritized based on the kind of information he most wanted to know–local, conservative, etc.

I find people to follow who are likely to tweet things I feel I need to know. Sometimes I follow people because I think they are clever, but mostly I follow for information.

This is the kind of Twitter use the classroom needs. Thus, I think the best use I could get out of Twitter in my particular classroom situation would be to assign Twitter journals. Students would find people to follow on topics of interest to them and keep a journal of the most interesting bits of news and ideas found.

The best way I think would be to do this through blogs. Then it becomes a circulatory process just as it is for many professional writers. Find information within the stream. Write about that information. Feed what you’ve written back into the stream. Watch for reactions. And so forth.

I can see teaching an entire composition class as a Twitter to blog to Twitter to blog to Twitter process. I think that would make for a truly vibrant learning experience for all. Even as just one aspect of the class or one project, though, it would be well worth doing.

2 thoughts on “Twitter as Assignment

  1. Great article, Sharon. A lot to ponder. One potential use case for Twitter might be for the online lit courses…students there feel so isolated in particular in those courses and assigning a Twitter response to a reading or even a Twitter race–where they have to race through a reading, conducting stream-of-consciousness thoughts along the way–might be appropriate for a stanza of a poem. Longer works, I’m not sure. Might be too distracting.

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