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The New Twitter

Recently I posted on the value of Twitter in the classroom. As Twitter has fully embraced the extension to 280 characters, I’m wondering how this changes my use in the classroom.

In my last post I walked through my 5 “why I use Twitter in the classroom” ideas. Of those 5 reasons,¬†brevity made my list at #5 with “focus on communicating the message”. Even at #5, and even as I mentioned, 280 characters is brief! For instance, this paragraph is 280 characters.

While I don’t love the decision, I liked how hard 140 characters made communicating (and I worry how much more drama will be possible with 280 characters), I want to shift the conversation to the possibilities for pedagogy.

This semester I worked on developing assignments that asked students to engage with analysis in their writing – to analyze articles in class, to extend conversations, to find the ongoing conversation, to add their own ideas and opinions. Getting students to extend conversations means hoping they read the article well enough that we could begin the conversation with a brief overview, then extend begin analysis. There were good days and bad days with the initial reading expectations with students. As we move into the later portion of the semester, the reading and willingness to discuss has decreased further.

This is where I think the 280 characters might actually add to pedagogy – where the additional length might serve educators.

First, I should begin with quizzes. I know a lot of faculty who give various reading quizzes. Basically, check-ins to ensure the students completed the reading to support discussion in class. I like this idea, but I hate quizzes.

Second, I know a lot of faculty who require written reading summaries. I hate building all the assignment submission links for students to upload summary writing. I feel I have to undo so much summary writing work to teach analysis in writing if I require these summaries regularly.

In the Fall semester I required students to post Summary Tweets (ST:) before class began – in addition to the required tweets for class – to facilitate discussion. For the most part this was successful, it increased engagement with the materials because an assignment was attached to the reading. The downside, students read conversation posts for the gist of the reading without actually reading the assignment. This is both good and bad:

  • Good: students read for conversation. Even if they didn’t read the article, in browsing through the posted summary tweets, students were able to read for conversation to determine the main themes of the reading. As a reading skill that will support good writing – this is amazing.
    • While I didn’t use the summary tweet approach this semester I want to investigate how this reading can support awareness of these reading. Can students summarize AND reflect on reading/writing practices now that Twitter has allowed for more writing?
    • Can students analyze and development mindful awareness of their writing when reflecting on the readings?
  • Bad: students didn’t read the assignment.
    • Students who did read the assignment struggled more with differentiating their post from peers than on engaging with the materials.
    • Students who did read the assignment read to post a summary, not to engage with the materials.
    • Can all of these bad be overcome with the mindfulness and reflection that could help students learn writing?

Ultimately, my major concerns are students need to read the assignments, but students also need less practice with summarizing the articles. Yes, summarizing, quickly, author points in essays is an important skill. But, analysis and doing something with that information is so much more important. How can the increased character count in Twitter support better writing about the readings?

I really think the key is in mindfulness and reflection. Having students not just tweet the summary, but reflect on why that part, how they read and found that section, why they find it important, what they learned about analyzing that information. In this way, students will be responsible for demonstrating their learning (less important), and be responsible to their own learning (super important).

Now, to actually develop an action plan for implementing this……Spring 2018 with Twitter at 280 character, here I come ūüôā

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Twitter in the Classroom

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education¬†post, Jason B Jones discusses Heather Froehlich’s steps for using Twitter. These pro-Twitter discussions inspired me to write a “why I assign Twitter in the Classroom”.

  1. Finding the conversation: in using a course hashtag students build consistent conversation, and students join ongoing conversation. A consistent place to find class discussion, and practice wading through who they choose to follow to find the content conversations builds so many important critical thinking and media literacy skills directly related to writing and composing!
  2. Entering the conversation: one of the key features of Twitter is public writing, all the time. In learning to join that conversation in productive ways for a composition course, students develop awareness of entering ongoing conversations. Again, a key learning feature of composition courses.
  3. Public writing: students often enter higher education with varying social media accounts. As younger generations continue to find digital tools that older generations don’t understand (hello Snapchat), the tools will change. Selecting a social media tool that students curate public intellectual writing for the duration of the semester could help them in their futures.
  4. Community building: the 140 (or 280 in new Twitter) character limit shifts the composing practices of students. It’s rare that students will use their 140 characters to communicate something inane like “I agree with what you’re saying here #coursehashtag”. I think the combination of entering ongoing course conversations (thanks course hashtag)
  5. Focus on communicating the message: Twitter only allows 140 characters! Even if the 280 trial run extends to all users, 280 characters is not much space for communicating clearly.

While students may push back a bit, or require some time to become accustomed to public conversations, the use of Twitter has real benefits for students too. Their public writing is practice for the public nature of the internet, and a space that allows students to curate their public social media profiles in meaningful ways for future employers. They can highlight the engaged ways they interact with others in a real social media archive. They can lock down other profiles, leaving just their course related public writing visible to potential employers – showcasing their writing strengths and ethos development.

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Quantity of Writing in Social Media

Last week I co-facilitated a Media Literacy Institute. As we discussed ways of integrating movies, television, pop culture, games and social media into classrooms I reflected on my own use of social media in classrooms (I gamified some of the lessons asking for Twitter posts, so I actively encouraged social media use).

As I finish preparation for my next course – Teacher as Writer – I’m rereading Yancey’s¬†On Reflection.¬†This is helping me reflect on the MLI and project forward to the classroom space i’m creating for the next course. This reflection space is interesting and complex for me. Yancey’s discussions of reflection return to ways of using reflective assignments and reflective teaching to help strengthen student understanding of their own writing – to help students develop agency over their writing to increase their comfort when confronted with various school and real-life writing situations (tons of important room for student recognition of the rhetorical situation as part of this pedagogy).

For these two grad classes, I’m teaching mostly K-12 teachers. So I’m reflecting on my practices, my pedagogies, and the ways I helped students at the MLI develop their own understanding of writing and media literacy. Additionally, this course was attended by K-12 educators who can use these principles in their future classroom spaces, so as I reflect on my classroom practices I must also reflect on how I created a reflective space for teachers to consider their applications of the assignment they experienced during the week. Since my next class has a similar student population, I’m then projecting forward to how to create a reflective space where educators both learn the course content (writing) and consider ways of integrating the principles covered in their future classrooms.¬†Educator training is such a complex mix of content and modeling.

Back to the main title – as I’m considering this reflective space of content, modeling and reflection, I was also reading about social media as we discussed these spaces at the MLI. Most articles I read last week about the direction of Facebook and Twitter reported the number of unique accounts created each day as proof of the health of the spaces. While I understand that a new person becomes age eligible to create an account everyday, is new account creation a valuable measure of social media health? This afternoon I looked at my Twitter API data scraper for the MLI and noticed the number of unique tweets created – over 1200. This led to my question for this post (that took me forever to get to) is the amount of writing important when social media is used in a classroom?

In most of my semester long courses, I require students to post 2-3x per week (depending on number of course meetings) as a sign of engagement with the course and with the course curriculum. For the MLI, a Twitter account was necessary, pre-posts were required, a gamified curriculum offered, and yet not everyone in the class posted on Twitter. Is that necessarily a sign of engagement failure, or a sign of lack of comfort with a specific social media tool.

Again, returning to numbers, what if anything does over 1200 unique posts, most during the week of the Institute mean? It shows we did a LOT of writing – which is a YAY to my Rhet/Comp heart. It’s a solid number for representing trending topics in the twitterverse, but is that meaningful. The measure so often associated with Twitter – trending hashtags, large quantities of posts – appears as valuable data in most API scrapers. But, from an educator standpoint, as I reflect back and project forward, is this meaningful data? Am I, in ignoring the ‘meaningful measures’ subverting the designed use of this social media space, or simply using the affordances to meet my pedagogical goals.

Ultimately, I want to be more reflective in the classroom space about our Twitter usage. I want my students to recognize their contributions, not just fulfill course requirements. For the MLI this reflections and projection related mostly to ways of integrating Twitter or a similar back channel in K-12 learning spaces. But we didn’t always connect this back to pedagogical goals, and possible sites of subversion of the designed affordances. Would that be helpful?

Like usual, I have no answers for my questions, but as a scholar working on a pedagogical piece on Twitter I need to reflect on what I’m doing, what Twitter thinks I’m doing, and how my students work within this space in the classroom.

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Public Teaching

Two of my classes have been reading Learning {Re}Imagined  to begin our discussions of the purpose of academic writing, from shared background readings on goals of education Рespecially technology and education. The Twitter discussions from one class in particular have been fantastic! The types of tweets and content engagement that remind me why I teach.

This class has also enjoyed adding and circulating (retweeting) additional content – articles on current events, additional articles on writing, additional articles on education. As we’re going through this, these additional articles are then spurred tons of discussion about the goals of education – students began applying these ideas to their majors (sciences and education) to make the information relevant to them and their goals for the class.

Then, we were trolled.

This happens when you discuss current event articles and other Twitter users follow that information, but it’s always a bit jarring to me. This particular trolling moment, in combination with current political events, made me consider what it means to publicly teach.

The traditional model of the college learning process, the college classroom, is students come to class and all learning is confined¬†to the classroom space. Learning occurs through reading and lectures, sometimes tests/exams or papers to test knowledge. This traditional model has also become popular in online courses – MIT and other institutions have public courses (available for free or a fee). Most of these free courses consist of video recorded lectures, discussion boards, exams and papers. I’m reading¬†Desiging Your Life as a possible #villeonebook selection and the authors mention the perceived unfairness that only students at their university could access their class and how design thinking can help college students (especially those graduating) – so they wrote a book and created a website with supplemental information. Additionally, MOOCs publish courses. Technology has made public teaching more possible, and in many ways reinforced the ‘traditional’ college model of reading, lectures, exams and papers.

These ‘traditional’ public teachings don’t operate the same as holding class through Twitter. While the content may be controversial, the course structure embeds that controversy within a ‘classroom’. On Twitter, my students may have discussion about these topics at any time. A course hashtag doesn’t put up the imaginary classroom boundary walls that exist with online courses. This open discussion, then becomes an open discussion – open to the trolls of twitter.

This moment of trolling is the moment of public teaching – even if I don’t engage the trolls, my content and my pedagogy with Twitter led to the moment where my students and I were¬†trolled. While this can happen in a MOOC or an open course, the imaginary boundaries seem less likely to inspire this approach to ‘entering’ a conversation.

I don’t intend to change or modify my Twitter practices. I continued on the conversation with my students leaving out the troll, and I will continue to engage my students with these public conversations and this public inclusion of articles and ideas. But, I am grappling with ‘what does it mean to teach publicly’. How do students feel about the public nature of class when they are identified by the troll? How do we deal with outside influences within our artificially created ‘online’ class?

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Makerspaces and the Digital

McGrath, Laura and Guglielmo, Letizia (2015). “Communities of Practice and Makerspaces: DMAC’s influence on technological professional development and teaching multimodal composing.”¬†Computers and Composition, 36, 44-53.

I was drawn to this article because of the use of makerspace pedagogy with digital tinkering, or what the authors called ‘messing around’ with digital space. I regularly design Quest days to engage these ideas, I aim to create an atmosphere drawing from makerspace theory with promoting playful experiences and tinkering. I then typically ask students to explore digital designing, digital creating so students can create useful artifacts for themselves from the class to help improve their writing.

In this article McGrath and Guglielmo discuss their experiences at a DMAC summer event in 2006, and the ways they’ve developed similar experiences in their own classrooms. I think the key to this is their aim to support “pedagogically effective use of technology” (p. 46). I also like their inclusion of Communities of Practice to model a supportive, engaged community within the classroom as a way to promote tinkering and assisting.

But, this is also where I struggle with the implementation – in my own classes. Some days we discuss readings, some days we engage in projects, some days we write twitter essays. Each of these approaches fosters different understandings of learning and community – so how do students recognize how to engage with the course material? Is there a transition period while students begin to learn what engagement looks like for a given day?

When we assign longer assignments, that utilize course time across subsequent course meetings, the community expectations are a little easier for students to become familiar and comfortable with. But what about the early portion of the term when we have one-off days as we build up to assignments. This is a space i’m working out as I begin a longer project on Twitter in the classroom with a peer – how do we structure the use of Twitter so it’s importance to the class is obvious without affecting use too much? I want students to tinker, but I also need to value the assignment so I ask for in-class tweets (similar to in-class free writing assignments). That fosters a type of engagement, a type of value, a type of tinkering. How do I think help students see that playful approach when they begin their first essay next week? How do I transfer these ideas, this tinkering, this community support back to essay writing?

I don’t think there is one answer for these questions, and I think the students and the institution (and even instructor reputation) will heavily influence ¬†how students understand and react and build community – I’m more interested in the hows and the whys of transfer. What are effective ways of helping students understand the larger practices involved, and how do I help them transfer this to interdisciplinary writing situations?

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More on Twitter and SNS

This also appears in my working annotated bibliography pages.

Tess, P.A. (2013). The role of social media in higher education classes (real and virtual) РA literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 29.

In this review article, Tess discusses articles published prior to 2012 that discuss social media in higher education classrooms. Tess found that most of the articles published about social networking sites in the classroom relied on surveys and questionnaires for evidence of outcomes.

While a bit dated in 2016 (year of my¬†posting), his concluding question¬†still stands up 4 years after data collection. Tess asks “Can the same affordances of social networking sites that support individual level use, commend the integration of SNSs into the higher education class?” (p. A66). This question continues to be researched. I continue to grapple with this question when I assign not just SNSs as required technology for the course, but with Web 2.0 technologies (such as Word Clouds and Infographics), and with the learning management system.

This is also a very complex question – do instructors use SNSs in similar ways that influence how a site is assigned? I’ve discussed Twitter with various colleagues, many implement the tool in their classrooms very differently than I do while our learning goals are similar. So in asking if individual level use can be integrated into the higher ed classroom, the researcher also needs to consider practices associated with the SNSs realizing practices are not uniform across users.

It’s this question that I want to focus on here. When I assign Twitter to students, I build the assignment as a “Live Tweeting Class Notes” and “Live Tweeting Reading Notes” assignment, that also requires engagement with peers in the course hashtag. Have I just recreated the discussion board differently? I drew on ideas of Writing about Writing in developing this assignment, where students write informally about their own writing and learning.

What I know so far:

  • students are writing about writing
  • students are practicing writing for a known audience
  • students are writing in a shorthand form that must convey an argument (elevator pitch)
  • students are more engaged
    • favorite created hashtag so far #drphelpmegetthatdegree

Next steps –

  • beyond surveys and questionnaires, how can I measure the effectiveness of Twitter in the classroom?
  • is there a measured difference based on major? Now that I’m teaching a junior level writing with next to no English majors – how does this space help students further along in their majors write about writing?

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Twitter in the Classroom

I’ve been using Twitter in my courses for over a year now, yay! And so far i’ve collected tons of great (anecdotal) evidence that Twitter helps. So now it’s time to actually test the response.

Similar to my last post, my foray into classroom tweeting began with the desire to help students (online graduate students specifically) engage with course material and each other. Twitter seemed like a more effective platform for that engagement because students could post ‘notes’ and then respond to other student notes. The reduction in characters from a fully developed, well articulated discussion board post would, in theory, help students engage with the material so they could then write the fully developed, well articulated, thoughtful discussion board posts I was looking for.

As I begin to put together my IRB paperwork, I need a more clear research question. I began using Twitter to help students write about reading, to help them process their own notes on a deeper level. So an obvious research question here is: do students engage on a deeper level with course material?

But, I need measurable outcomes, measurable data. Here the most obvious is the tweets, i need to collect student tweets to understand trends in twitter use.

Going back to my anecdotal evidence, different classes used Twitter very differently. So, if I gather data from 3 hashtags this term, could I encounter 3 very different uses of Twitter? So then should I start with a more basic research question, when assigned tweets as a writing assignment, what do students do? How do students use Twitter when a required part of the classroom?

No matter what way I lean, IRB will need to go through, and I’ll need to make some decisions about comparing course data since I’m teaching a freshman level composition course, and a junior level composition course. To add to the ‘how do students use Twitter’ I could also look to the data for trend differences in use between the Freshman and Junior level writing courses which would indicate some connection back to understanding writing.

I’ll keep working through these ideas, but the use of Twitter builds upon my eventual hope to incorporate OER into the classroom, can Twitter and required ‘note’ tweets help students engage with course material (the problem here is what does engagement mean? and if I look for traditional ideas of engagement according to comp theory, can I ensure students know what that means and care enough to actually do that, so then am I measuring what students understand to be required versus authentic engagement…….oh the pandora’s box here).

I’ll update further with where I end up with this question – I have some Uses of Facebook in the Composition Classroom articles to read to help solidify my ideas before I submit the concrete proposal.

In the mean time, how do you tweet?

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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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Backchannel and Notes

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.

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Twitter in online grad class

I attended too many conferences this past Spring. I attended/ presented at CCCC’s, hosted/ran/presented at the Undergraduate Videogame Symposium at NAU, and attended/presented/mentored undergrads at NCUR. My topics and research interests for each conference overlap, but were still very different. I worried about tracking my own notes, my own conference learning, my own new ideas. As¬†a seasoned notetaker (anyone who makes it through the PhD ha taken plenty of notes in their academic career!),¬†I wondered how I could also represent these ideas and notes, how could a conference capitalize on this creative energy as data visualization?

What I considered as we planned for the UVS was how to track notes and the brilliant ideas being discussed. Data visualization to show the non-believers the intellectual work taking place at the undergrad symposium. I saw CCCC attemptthis with a compter lab of sorts, while the idea and theory was there, it was missing participant buy-in, understanding and support, so it became a quiet room for faculty and grad students to work.

The UVS utilized post-it notes and¬†a board to track this. I assigned volunteers the task of taking notes, posting post-its, wandering around and asking participants questions. While this overcame the buy-in problem, the notes were not always helpful, they lacked uniformity, structure. Some simply wrote “fun” while others engaged with complex ideas related to cultural critique of videogames. I still feel this approach was successful, but the un-portability of the post-it note board makes this a stationary, difficult to share example of group notes, unless I transcribe everything.

NCUR was a jumbled mess of undergrads and faculty using the spaces they feel comfortable with in the ways they feel comfortable. While notes were taken, and hashtags used, there is significant sorting through peer to peer interactions to find notes.

At all the events I live tweeted.

From this was born the idea to use Twitter in my online classes for reading notes. I’ve read articles on using Twitter in class, for live tweeting during class, back channel conversation monitoring, and a more indirect method of raising questions in class, but so far not for reading notes. ¬†Between CCCCs and UVS I scoured the internet looking for easy to use hashtag sorters. At NCUR I found a few, and found them to be too expensive. In any case, I had a plan, with a slid pedagogical foundation, integration of technology to support pedagogical practices, not technology for the sake of technology. Timelines and deadlines to consider with pedagogy to support, and yet I struggled with the assignment. this is twitter after all, the space gamergaters feel no one should care about, the space Sarkeesian (of Feminist Frequency fame) regularly receives death threats and levies critiques against pop culture, the space everyone who is anyone in the tech world and ed tech world claims is dying (they said Facebook was dying too, so take all that with a grain of salt). Today, I read this article on Chronicle Vitae – my Twitter struggles discussed by another faculty member. Marshall’s conclusion was to introduce the assignment differently, at this point, with the course starting today so the syllabus and assignment already posted, I can only hope it makes sense to my students. So begins the grand experiment of group notes for an online course using twitter…….

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