In a summer grad class I taught I began using Twitter. I’ve heard amazing ideas and stories of uses in f2f courses for creating a backchannel for students to participate in class, and to identify when information needs further discussion. This second idea influenced my adoption of this technology in an online only grad class – could I use Twitter to create a digital archive of the course, similar to class discussions, and also use those notes to address any struggles with course materials. I specifically designed the assignment to create a store house of notes from reading, so students could use all the notes from all the students, plus LMS discussions, as they created their theory papers. It provided alternative approaches to course material, requiring students to find ways to write virtual notes about each reading in 140 characters or less.
Many students struggled in the beginning – thinking of notes in such short bursts was difficult to them. They wanted to write paragraph length notes. After the first couple weeks, Tweets were more effective for note purposes, and more useful to students as they wrote their paper.
Additionally, these notes demonstrated the learning and focus of students, so they served as an unofficial backchannel for me – I could gauge the responses of students and prepare for their projects more effectively based on their understanding, discussion and embracing of the course readings.
Moving forward with this assignment, I’ll be more overt with the backchannel. Students who experimented with Twitter were willing to include my handle when questions arose, and they were happy to engage with my posts when I responded, but few reached out to other students, instead preferring to post in isolation. I’ll work on engagement in the Fall as I use Twitter again in courses to further support engagement with the course, course materials, course concepts, and Twitter as a learning tool.