online courses and twitter

when I initially began requiring twitter use in an online graduate class, the goal was to understand note taking behavior to attempt to help future students as textbooks for purchase phase out of the lower division undergraduate curriculum. Graduate students and upper division students continue to purchase textbooks for a variety of reasons, so their note taking could be similar to mine with underlining physical pages. There is the possibility in all cases that students simply purchase the electronic book for cost or preference reasons. All together, the goal is to find alternative ways of taking, tracking and keeping notes.

During the first semester I saw bonds begin to form with groups of students, who then used twitter to maintain and continue class connections. Students began directing tweets at each other as part of their normal course tweeting. In this way, the course twitter feed began to resemble a class discussion more than a forum based discussion board does. yes, there are character limits, but the overall feel of the space became conversational and bonding.

So this semester I began requiring twitter use in 1 face-to-face senior-level undergrad course and 1 online graduate course. I also offered the option to online grads in a second course – although as expected the use has been extremely limited here, mostly my previous twitter students posting messages and directly contacting me for immediate feedback.

In my online graduate course, now in week 4 i’m finding an amazing amount of engagement, interaction and discussion through twitter. Observations:

  1. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after I posted grades
  2. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after students began conversing more and note taking less, but the conversations are still mostly focused on the readings and highly engaged
  3. Not all students read and post at the same time, so groupings of high conversation activity form around people reading and posting together – which adds to engagement and conversation
  4. Students (online AND f2f) enjoy the direct contact to me – they run ideas by me, let me know when assignments will be late and generally keep me updated.

Potential updates in future use

  1. I’m intending to implement Twitter in the other online course. I really think the combination of twitter engagement and DB forum engagement is adding to learning – i have no data for this, it’s all observational based on conversation. The conversation in the twitter class is amazing
  2. I’m intending to build twitter into the questing in my upper division undergrad course. I have blog posting, as blogs are a requirement, but I think there are ways twitter can develop as professional a connection
  3. I still have students not filling out profile entirely who don’t appear in the class hashtag list – I need to play with settings more to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to share in the conversation

Overall, while Twitter sets a character limit for messages, when used appropriately, it can provide space for conversation and engagement with course readings that compliments the DB forums provided in an LMS. I feel online students can learn more from the combination of interaction types.

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