276 students… 13 hashtags… 10 professors… The Twitter Experiment has begun!

276 students…
13 hashtags…
10 professors…

The Twitter Experiment has begun! This experiment began innocently enough – if you read my last blog post, you will know that it was basically a simple transition from me doing the work for my students, to my students finding their own interests and resources. My thought was that students would be more engaged in making connections to the outside world and would enjoy contributing to their own learning. The class I teach is a freshman class that covers the institution’s core academic competencies, plus our value competency of environmental stewardship.

In our focus on environmental stewardship, I asked students to first start with a simple hashtag search on a topic of their choice that they will be examining for their e-book article (the final piece of their four-part project). I gave them a few search tags to start – for example #recycle, #sustainability, and #noimpactproject (related to the book we are reading) – and told them to branch out from there. I wanted them to get the feel for what was happening out in the Twittersphere. As I suspected, some students really began to take off and began following topics of interest, and began to build their “follow” list. Others needed some urging – not because they didn’t want to, but because they were unsure of using this new (to them) social media tool. We then moved on to actually following people that we had decided were the “experts” in environmental stewardship (we developed a rubric in class to determine who qualified as an expert). The next step was to begin tweeting and retweeting – using the special course hashtag so that everyone in the class could easily find the tweets that related to the class.

So then the question became: How do I easily capture and share those class tweets in one convenient place for students to find, share, and read? Naturally, the answer was our Blackboard learning space. It is really easy to enter the code to add a simple widget as a Blackboard item (thanks to Jason Rhode for guidance on this, and to a little website called Blastcasta*). Doing this allows all of our course content to be maintained in one website so students won’t have to access a lot of tools to find what their peers are saying. Of course everyone can use whatever mobile device they choose to get the Twitter feed, but this kept the feed with the course content together. (*2016 Note: Blastcasta and Bb no longer play well together.You may want to find another streaming tool, or use something like HootFeed from Hootsuite.)

The students found the assignment to be engaging and a useful way to gather current information. This also generated a lot of discussions about credibility and the level of personal bias out on the web. I believe it helped the students begin critically thinking about the influx of information that they are inundated with every day. And what a coincidence, critical reading and thinking is one of our core competencies! Win!

After talking about this assignment and my experiences with it, other instructors started to be more interested. My response was to apply for a small social learning grant – and I actually was awarded the grant! So, this spring term 10 brave instructors trusted me enough to implement a similar assignment into their course. I was able to subscribe to a Twitter analytics tool to help me and my co-researcher gather and organize tweets in a variety of ways. We are now developing a rubric to determine different types of tweets, and perhaps even the quality of those tweets. One discussion that we continue to have is whether we should be “grading” this type of assignment, or if we should be looking at the engagement level. It is our hypothesis that using Twitter will increase the level of engagement, so we are going to look at that along with some other questions surrounding social media in general.

I am excited to see what we discover.

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