When Twitter Attacks

I’ve been pretty pleased (and surprised) by the excitement over a recent article that discusses the use of Twitter in my US History class.  I am especially happy that there has been a healthy debate over the use of Twitter in education.

Part of ‘entrepreneurial teaching’ is engaging with things you do not like (or hate).  That’s what I did with Twitter.  I originally I thought that Twitter was the dumbest, craziest, worthless site on the internet.  I had to put that aside to give this lesson a shot and it has been a great success.  Next time you think the same way about a teaching technique or anything in general, why not try it once?  After all, if you are not trying things outside of your comfort zone / personal bias (like Twitter was for me), you’re never going to improve as a teacher.

I wanted to take a few minutes to elaborate on the article and share some of my lessons learned.

  • Just because a class is using Twitter, does not means that is all the class is doing.  I cannot believe I have to say this, but yes, people actually think that I have jettisoned the entire curriculum for Twitter.  Twitter is a supplement to our already robust curriculum.  Everything I do on Twitter is in addition to what we did last year.
  • Twitter makes learning student directed.  There is no classroom, no textbook, no review guide.  It’s openness forces (allows) students to think on their own and organically apply knowledge.
  • Students become more engaged in history when it is relevant (duh).  Since the students are, on their own, tying current news stories to themes from US History on a regular basis, it is fostering engagement.
  • Applying themes from one era of history to another is critical thinking and critical thinking is a positive.  We know history repeats itself, but do you really know how much?  It only takes a student 140 characters to relate the credit crisis in Massachusetts in the 1780s to an article from today, but that student now has (at the very least) opened the door to a deeper understanding of both events.
  • It doesn’t matter what type of student you are (quiet, loquacious, weak writer, creative, analytical, unfocused), Twitter can engage you.  I’ve seen it.
  • Getting students to think about your course outside of class is always good.
  • Some people will automatically shut off or tune out as soon as they hear the word “Twitter” – I know because I used to be one of them.
  • My Twitter assignment does not “replace” the research paper component of the US History course.  However, for those not participating can opt to do a research paper instead.  Twitter, so far, has tremendously improved my students research skills, making them more information literate.  I see this as adding to, not taking away from (since nothing has changed) the research paper component of the course.  A few mentions in an EdWeek article helps give you a ‘taste’ of my class, but don’t assume you know everything that is going on.
  • Twitter is not a panacea or a plague, but especially if it fits into your own strengths, give it a shot, you may be surprised at the results.

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