Whenever you decide to use a new edtech tool or social networking site in your classroom, you should ask yourself Why? Why using that particular tool? A message I’ll never forget from the recent #antwerpcall2014 conference (CALL: Computer Assisted Language Learning) is that we should aim at designing long-term activities and tasks instead of one-time activities, presentation by Michael Marek at @MiMarek1 and Vivian Wu. If we find a few tools and stick to them long-term, we’ll be able to improve our practices and design more meaningful tasks over time, find multiple alternatives, collect data and get ongoing student feedback.
If you’re looking into using Twitter in your (online) class, here are three things to consider before you can decide if Twitter is a tool you can use for several classes and school years:
Does it make sense to you? Does it have value in your everyday (work)life?
I’ve talked to a few teachers and other people who have Twitter but simply don’t tweet. They say they don’t know what to tweet. The platform doesn’t make sense to them yet. Other teachers are still not convinced by the whole idea of Twitter but feel pressured to use it in class because other colleagues are using it. Twitter has to do with having a voice and wanting to say something to the whole world. It aligns with some of the 21st skills we want to transfer to our students: innovation, critical thinking, managing information, and collaboration across networks. It may take a little while to figure it all out. Once you do, you’ll realize that Twitter is a unique site to find people with common job/hobby interests, to access relevant articles and resources, and to follow institutions, organizations or certain leaders in your field. Moreover, Twitter makes long distances shorter because, in education for example, you can follow and communicate with great educational leaders such as Tony Wagner at @DrTonyWagner and get inspired by his quotes, resources and ideas. You can collaborate with teachers around the world and express your ideas and reflections on best educational practices, short and to the point. It’s also easy to use on all devices. Once you value Twitter for what it brings to you as a teacher, you will be able to reflect on how it can be valuable to your students.
Explore how other teachers are using it.
Doing a little informal research is always helpful when choosing a new tool or platform. Talk to teachers who have used it, attend free webinars about this topic or look for an article or open presentation or video about the topic via Slideshare, TED or YouTube. This is how some teachers I’ve talked to (personally or via social media) use Twitter in their classes:
Some teachers are using Twitter to post homework assignments and due dates. Something to think about: But why Twitter? Couldn’t they just use the school’s online learning platform for this purpose?
Other teachers tell students to follow a famous person, for foreign languages for example, it’s usually a celebrity, writer or politician. Something to think about: This person may be valuable to you but is he/she valuable to your students?
Other teachers tell students to tweet reflections on readings and assignments using a specific hashtag or tweeting directly to the class twitter account. Something to think about: Do these reflections end once the class ends?
Other teachers ask students to check the feed of posts under a specific hashtag to see what has been said about a topic. This is usually done prior to class discussion on that particular topic. Students may not need to have a Twitter account for this purpose. Something to think about: Do you want students to somehow capture the most memorable messages?
Now how are you going to use it?
So far, I’ve personally used Twitter as a resource for authentic materials and authentic language in my classroom but I haven’t used it for any graded activities. I’m just not there yet. I want to experiment with these uses some more and take them beyond classroom use, that’s one of my personal challenges.
With a Business Spanish class I had with marketing and logistics students I used Twitter to show relevant quotes and bits of advice in Spanish that had to to with the topic we were discussing about. For example, when we discussed “Claves del éxito” or “the key to success”, I shared tweets from Frases de marketing at @frasesmarketing and Marketing en español at @MKTenEspanol on different dates and came back to those specific tweets when needed. You will find a few examples below but I must say that there are tons of tweets I can use and they just keep coming. It was a moment to reflect on authentic language use for their future careers; the messages had real, relevant vocabulary for them to learn, the messages connected with what they learn during their core discipline courses and some tweets could be very inspirational, poetic, and carried a message they could take with them and hopefully apply as professionals. It’s very easy to collect these tweets for class, simply by saving them to your favorites – that explains why I have so many on my Twitter account – and embedding them into your blog, class page, school’s online platform or slide presentations. Almost every time I check my Twitter I find a couple of phrases or articles for future classroom use.
Other way I used Twitter is that when we were reviewing some writing tips and spelling and orthography, I would show a couple of tweets from Ortografía at @ORTOGRAFIA of examples of “la tilde diacrítica” – accent mark to differentiate words that are written the same way but have different meaning – this meaning is marked with the accent such as in ‘te’ (you, object pronoun such as in ‘te quiero’ – ‘I love you’) and ‘té’ (tea, noun). @ORTOGRAFIA explained all the rules there were to know and gave great examples so why looking for something else or writing my own examples. Again, if students continue to study the language and become users of the language – which I always try to encourage – and find @ORTOGRAFIA a valuable tool for personal use beyond the classroom, then that’s what it’s all about.
How can you extend on all of these ideas?
Telling students to follow a specific account – such as @frasesmarketing for example – may be valuable once they value the content of this Twitter feed and have personal interest – beyond the classroom – in what this person or organization has to say. Your role can always be to expose students to different influential people or feeds they may want to follow, not simply telling them who to follow. You could show them along the course relevant tweets from different people/institutions they might find interesting. If they decide to follow them and continue to do so after the course is over, that is more valuable than just having to follow someone for that particular course. If you are lucky to have the same group for future (language) classes, they could give a presentation at a future time about what they have learned from following that one person or organization they chose. Students could also select some of the tweets that inspired them and include them in their (digital) portfolios, to reflect upon the meaning of that particular quote and how they can apply that message to their everyday (professional) lives.
Regarding Twitter class accounts, it could be great to build communities, connect and collaborate with other classes to enrich discussions so it’s not just the tweets of one specific class that are posted but of different students who take the same subject. Students could also curate content such as relevant articles or quotes and post them to the class account. Students could analyze what others have said about a topic by following the specific hashtag twitter feed and retweeting the messages they find important or sharing them/embedding them to the class page or class forum or select them and organize them using Flipboard or Storify, which are tools that allow you to create a collection of content and visualize it as an online magazine (Flipboard) or a story line or timeline (Storify) of tweets of a particular topic. Finally, students who plan to work in that particular field could continue to keep the account alive and encourage others to participate.
Here are some examples of the tweets I’ve used from @frasesmarketing and @MKTenEspanol
Regarding this particular tweet, a student said there should be a correction: “La ‘mala’ reputación de una marca o una empresa no se quita con Photoshop.”
Some tweets from @ORTOGRAFIA on “la tilde diacrítica. I’m posting more related tweets on a different blog entry.