Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

Twitter in the Classroom

In the last two weeks of Term 1, I decided to experiment with twittering with students. The dangers inherent in this made it all a bit daunting, but considering how very public twitter is, I decided that it would make me very accountable and in some ways perhaps be ‘safer’ as I had many witnesses to every communication.

The idea behind the experiment was that it would help students to learn to be succinct – capturing an idea or thought in 140 characters or less.  With the move towards reducing the amount of words students write in HSC exams, students need to learn how to dispense with waffle and to encapsulate an idea in a succinct manner. Students also struggle to put together a thesis statement under exam conditions – given only a few minutes with an unseen question, it is very tempting to skip the planning process altogether and just start writing their essay.  Students sometimes struggle with creating a thesis under these conditions with only a few minutes to plan, and every minute that they take in the planning process, takes away time for them to write their essay. The art of being succinct is becoming ever more important for our senior students. Most of them have Facebook accounts and complete status updates on their facebook pages so I was thinking about twitter as a way to combine their current social networking with learning a new and useful ability for school. What better way than learning to express themselves in 140 characters or less on twitter?

The biggest issue: the DET portal does not allow Twitter (it is a blocked site) and therefore all of this had to be done at home for both the students and myself. This meant having school infringe on my homelife in a big way, and raised questions of equity in that not all students may have access to the necessary computing and internet requirements at home.

Now for the current results of this little experiment.

Bottom line: It didn’t work the way I thought it would.

I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I can’t ‘group’ my posts so they only go to my students. Thus, every post I tried to send to them went out to all my followers on twitter. This made me ridiculously self-conscious about what I said to the students, and paranoid about irritating such fabulous twitterers as Darcy and Lyndon who deigned to follow my tweets.

Thankfully, Darcy was patient, understanding, and as always, provided me with a possible solution: edmodo (www.edmodo.com). Next project for the holidays now is setting up an edmodo account ready to start with my students next term, where the experiment will continue, just on a different platform.

As for the actual twittering…

I suggested that my Year 11 Extension English class, currently studying ‘Dracula’ and its appropriations in popular culture, use twitter to consolidate their ideas about the text prior to their exams in Week 11 of Term 1. Of the 10 students in that class, 9 students joined twitter and began to ‘follow’ me and use twitter.  They struggled to know what to say without having any kind of stimulus, so I tweeted questions at them – which of course then went out to everyone that follows me, not just them.  I tried prefacing my tweets with ‘Year 11,’ so that it was like addressing a letter just to them, in the hope that the others following me would understand that this was a tweet that was not for all. The students began responding to the stimulus questions but it was a bit shallow and not having the effect that I was looking for. Then, students began using it as a forum to ask questions about the upcoming exams. I had to be extremely careful then about making sure that they did not have information that the rest of the class did not have  – equity, fairness, validity – all these had to be taken into consideration. The students started telling their friends about twitter and soon there were a number of Year 11 students on twitter that were not in my class – and then some of them started asking me questions about the exams as well. So now I am talking to students that I do not have a relationship established with in the classroom, and that barely know me due to me starting at the school in Term 1. The dangers here now were palpable. It would be far too easy for my words to be misconstrued and they also started asking questions about the exams.

The first thing I want to say is that I survived, and continue to survive, the experience. My worst fears were not realised and these incredibly intelligent, well-behaved and considerate students used twitter appropriately and with understanding when I couldn’t give more information. The very public nature of twitter helped, as they could read what I had said to others and that assisted everyone to have more information and to understand the limits of what I could say.  The Year 11 Extension English students made a real effort to engage with the process, and I am now going to use edmodo with this class to continue this experiment further, as they are obviously keen to use technology, social networking applications and willing to interact at home as well as at school. I need however, to make sure that the 10th student will also engage with edmodo – it will be all or nothing at all. Also, must check that edmodo works through the DET portal so we can work on it at school and eliminate some of the equity issues.

Being a particularly insane person, I also gave the offer to my Year 12 Advanced English class to twitter about ‘Citizen Kane’, prior to their assessment task in Week 11. With the task being an unseen in-class task, it was similar to the experience that Year 11 were undergoing in preparing for their exams, so my reasoning was that they may need to also learn the art of being succinct in exam conditions. This was less successful in terms of take-up. Of the 19 students in my class, only 10 took up the offer to follow me on twitter. They did not tweet about Citizen Kane at all, just used the opportunity to ask questions about the assessment task, which of course brought up all those questions about equity and validity again.

Out of the 22 students at school that are now following me on Twitter, only Year 11 really used it for what I had originally intended. Now it simply seems to provide access to me so that they can ask questions about texts and tasks. What do the students think? Some think it’s lame, some think it’s fun, and some have signed up and never really used it. But it’s early days yet, so we will see where it goes from here.

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April 19, 2009 - Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | ,

3 Comments »

  1. Well Melissa, you continue your superstardom! You continually create innovative opportunities for your students and staff (and anyone else who may be interested)! I for one will be visiting here regularly…perhaps it would be useful to incorporate some PDHPE specific info???

    Comment by Tara | April 19, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks, Tara! As for your comment about PDHPE specific info – twitter and edmodo are useful for all subjects 🙂 However, if in my travels I find some great PDHPE material, despite the fact that I am an English teacher, I shall advise you immediately of the wonderful new resources I have found for you!

      Comment by mgiddins | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] with my students and the results of that can be read in my earlier post: Twitter in the Classroom: https://mgiddins.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/twitter-in-the-classroom/. Darcy then suggested that I try Edmodo so during the holidays I went to : http://www.edmodo.com […]

    Pingback by Edmodo « Mel’s Manic Mutterings | April 28, 2009 | Reply


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