Saturday, October 18, 2014

Using Twitter in the Classroom: 5 Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Twitter Experience

I assign Twitter in my classes, and I struggle with how to get students to use it.   I wrote the following to help the new user turn a basic social media interface into a robust tool for Purpose Centered Education. 

How to Get the Most out of Your Twitter Account and Assignment
So you’ve created an account, followed your professor and perhaps a few classmates, and maybe even uploaded an image of yourself or one that represents you to your Twitter account. You read and respond to the “Tweets for this Week.” 
“Now what?” you ask.  “Twitter isn’t so great.  I don’t get what the big deal is.”  Like many things in life, you will get out of this assignment what you put into it.  Furthermore, the more you use Twitter, the more robust it becomes.  Here are some ways to help make that happen.
  1. Follow Interesting People, Important Organizations, & Reputable News Sources

Think of who you follow as a giant dinner party; the conversation at the dinner party will be as interesting as the people you invite.  If you don’t know where to start, follow some of the people your professor follows, or an agency you would love to work for, or a local (or national or international) politician or activist.  

Follow reputable news organizations that post content.  That way when you check your Twitter, you will be exposed to what is going on in the world.  You will start to discover that many use Twitter to post links.  In this way, you can catch up on the news while accomplishing an assignment for class.  This also helps you become more involved in the world around you, which will inevitably help you in your future career and lives as change agents.

  1. Retweet & Favorite

When reading your newly robust Twitter feed (thanks to completing #1 above), you will come across Tweets that you think are interesting or funny or important or….  You get the idea.  You can Retweet or Favorite those Tweets.  A “Retweet” puts the Tweet on your feed so that your followers will see it.  A “Favorite” gets a star; I think of that as akin to the “Thumbs Up” on Facebook.  I will often favorite a student Tweet, but I only Retweet those I want my followers to see.  

Remember that your Twitter Feed is a representation of you, and so what you chose to Retweet will, in turn, show the world the issues that are important to you. Because I will look at your content and learn from you, I often Retweet things you have Tweeted.  In this way, we share sharing information, and that can become infectious.  In a good way. How you decide to use the two is up to you, but remember Retweeting adds content to your Twitter Feed.  

  1. # versus @

Getting down the differences between # and @ will help you Tweet like a pro.  You may have seen some Tweets that look like Newspeak from George Orwell’s 1984.  Usually those writers are using lots of # and @ signs.
The # is known as a Trending Topic.   The @ is a Twitter account.  So when you Tweet to #CritThinkWrite, you are connecting your Tweet to other people interested in that topic, and also Tweeting to that # or Trending Topic.  When you Tweet to @CritThinkWrite, you are connecting your Tweet to my Feed, as that is the address of my Twitter account.  The @ is a great way to connect ideas to people, and people to ideas.

  1. Use Those Trending Topics (#)!

The Trending Topic connects you to other people interested in the same thing.   If you write a post ,for instance, about concepts from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave that you saw in The Matrix, you might add a hashtag #funassignment.  That way you are connecting your Tweet to any other people who also had a #funassignment.  

You can follow major issues or cutting edge news in this way, too, by searching for a hashtag. During Hurricane Sandy, I often used Twitter to find up-to-date information since the news usually lags behind at least a few hours.  New York Times Magazine or Atlantic articles can take months to write, but people are Tweeting their experiences all the time.  Of course we have to assess that information, as not everything we see on Twitter is true or comes from a reputable source, but Twitter provides us with of-the-moment connections to real people and real issues throughout the world.

  1. Use Twitter to Document Your Research & Development of Ideas

If you are doing a research project for a class, or you are trying to figure out, say, how to use Twitter, then document your research process through Twitter.  The links to articles and your ideas are there.  Your Twitter feed will serve as a log of your involvement with that project or idea.  You can also use Twitter as a partial log for fieldwork, or to document your progression in school over a long term period.  In this way, Twitter can serve as a mini journal.  

Your Twitter account also shows potential future employers the types of issues you are concerned with, and the ways that you are thinking critically about course material and the world.  This is Purpose Centered Education in action, as Twitter allows you to connect what you do in the classroom to the real world.  In this way, Twitter can be robust tool for you to complete your Constructive Actions.  Social Media is not always used productively, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help you accomplish your goals in school and in your life.