Introducing Students to Twitter Literacy

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I use twitter in my classroom to give more introverted students opportunities to participate without having to raise their hands and speak out. It isn’t something they encounter in many of their classes, so it takes some time to introduce them to Twitter, help them set up professional or discard accounts, and get them to a point where they’re tweeting discussion questions in the first five minutes of class without blinking an eye. I’ve written in a previous post about student reactions to Twitter and what you should think about before bringing it into your classroom, but in this post I’m going to speak more specifically about the first few days with Twitter.

Day One

I’ve stopped doing everything on the first day of class. It’s overwhelming enough to go over an entire syllabus of assignments, readings, and the like. Especially if you need students to log into multiple media platforms, you could easily deter them from taking your class if you try to do it all at once. So I take it one at a time. On the first day we review the syllabus together and I tell them that GoogleDrive folders and Twitter are coming…but we’ll go over them later. All I have them do is email me from their preferred email address (way better than collecting their email addresses and then typing them out!) and then I share the class DropBox folder with them (I prefer DropBox over Blackboard for hosting materials like PDF files).

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I do show them my own Twitter profile and explain what they’ll be using Twitter for, but I tell them to wait until next class to get really into the weeds. This semester they’ll be using Twitter to do three things:

  1. Post discussion questions using the class hashtag #HC220 in the first five minutes of class. I use these tweets to take attendance.
  2. Complete close reading assignments where they translate early modern English into present-day English.
  3. Practice writing thesis statements for their papers in 140 characters or less.

I invite them to create their own profile at home or advise them to wait until the next class if they’re unsure about navigating it on their own. I also scan the room to make sure everyone has access to a smart device or laptop for class. So far I’ve found that every student has a smart phone–even if they have no laptop or computer at home, they all have smart phones. Many of them write papers on their smart phones. Accessibility has not yet been an issue, but if a student didn’t have the technology, or let’s say the classroom didn’t have steady streaming WiFi, then I would simply collect their “tweets” on paper.

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Visit the PALS Twitter page for more inspiration

Day Two

On day two, I tell them to create either a professional Twitter account or a discard account that has zero identifying information about it. We talk about what makes a strong password and how they could make up a discard gmail address to use to log in that has no association with their personal names or whereabouts. We discuss the dangers of public profiles and the fact that things posted on the internet are there in perpetuity. I also tell them about the professional relationships I’ve built from Twitter (with authors of the books I read for my Orals Exam) and the opportunities it has opened up for me (like writing guest posts for PALS and becoming a curator for We the Humanities). If the Executive Director of the Modern Language Association is on Twitter, there’s a very good reason for me to be on there. My use of Twitter in the classroom is largely shaped by professors I’ve met on Twitter.

I show students my own Twitter profile again, pointing out some very specific things:

  1. My Twitter handle is @nemersonian, which is supposed to mean “an Emersonian” from back in the day when “@” was a cute way of writing “a.” I make fun of myself a little and tell them a story about when I was 14 and the internet was invented…I made a terribly embarrassing first AIM name that made perfect sense for a 14-year-old obsessed with her adorable brand new kitten named Bixster. They laugh, my point is made, it works.
  2. My head shot is a clear photo of just me, with my face large enough to recognize. I’m wearing professional clothing with nothing distinguishable in the background and I’m smiling. If they want to remain anonymous, then they can leave their photo as the stock photo of an egg that Twitter gives new users.
  3. My description is short, to the point, and accurately reflects the subjects I tweet about so users know what they’re getting if they follow me.
  4. I don’t post any identifying information about my location other than the vague “New York, NY” below my name. There are creepers out there and I don’t want my students to be vulnerable to that stuff.
  5. My banner is also nondescript and professional. I’m an environmentalist and I’ve hiked 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail, so it’s no surprise my banner is a mountain scene.

This is actually a great opportunity for your students to get to know you better and for you to make it known that you are available and accessible. I tell my students they can direct message me on Twitter and it’s like a text message going to my phone (without me having to give them my personal cell number). Even though they will rarely use this option, it does make me seem more available to them–and that’s huge for building trust from the outset.

We go over all the navigation buttons at the top, talk about what hashtags do (make conversations searchable on the internet), and I demonstrate on the projector how to compose a tweet. As I do this, they can build their accounts on Twitter while I’m in the room and they can ask me questions, or they can just watch me and build their profiles at home. I give them the weekend to do this.

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Day Three

On the first day of class after they’ve created their profiles, I take attendance by asking each one of them for their Twitter handles (their visible usernames). I add these to my roster to help me take attendance. Then I ask them to post their discussion questions about the reading using the class hashtag.

I look up the hashtag and see several profile photos that relate to the course content, handles that use the course name, and some brilliant questions. They’ve had to think of them at home and prepare, take time to consider the readings deeply and reflect on them before composing good questions about them. This is especially true when you only have 140 characters to write out your thoughts. Because of the character limitations, they have to do this at home and be ready when they come to class. It’s one of the many reasons why I love using Twitter to take attendance. We have better class discussions.

I’ll wrap up by showcasing some of their tweets from the first day. But to give you an idea of what this looks like, I stand at the front of the room and scroll through their tweets, choosing which ones to ask the class aloud. I have an idea of what I want to cover, but they normally hit my main points on their own and then drive the discussion where they want it to go. I love student-driven discussions. They so often surprise me and delight me. Stay tuned for my next post about writing a thesis in 140 characters or less!

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