Using Twitter in Class

I love, love, love experimenting with different social media tools as a part of my teaching. I love it for several reasons:

(a) it lets me learn a new tool and/or how a tool can be applied to instruction

(b) it teaches my students a new tool and/or gets them thinking about it in a new and different way

(c) it opens up the possibilities of what teaching and learning can look like.

Currently, I am having my master’s students engage in regular twitter chats (we’ll be doing six over the course of the semester). The chats are connected to whatever topic we are exploring in class that moment. This isn’t fancy. It can be things like using digital tools to promote literacy learning, what counts as good writing, helping students access difficult texts, and so on. Whatever the theme is, that’s what the topic is. Easy-peasy.

Before You Start

Most of my students already had a twitter account, but few seemed to be active. I am pretty sure no one had participated in a chat before.  They asked if we could do a mock chat in class, and I agreed. I’ll share with you how I did it.

1. At the very beginning of class, I asked students to put 3-5 questions into a spreadsheet that steamed from the week’s readings. We then voted and nominated a Question of the Day (QOD).  Question of the Day is intended to give us a way to focus on ourselves in regards to what we are studying. It’s my first time doing it. So far so good.


2. I had students do some work in relation to the QOD. First, they had a few minutes to gather their thoughts on their own. Then, I did a short lecture on the content for the day. Next, they did some structured group work. In their groups, they had to discuss the QOD, but they also had to watch a video (each group got to pick from a choice of two) and then come up with some defined thoughts/questions they had in relation to the QOD.

3. Rather than having a larger in-person class discussion, this is the point where we had our mock twitter chat. I set a # for us to use, explained how it worked, and simply told the students to try it. The only rule in place was not to talk to one another about the content (to simulate an actual virtual chat). Technical questions were fine.

4. We then did a 30 minute chat related to the QOD. Afterward, we debriefed on how it all went.

Things You Should Know

1. Two students got their accounts that day. I didn’t know this, but it’s important to get the account a few days in advance. They were unable to use twitter properly. The # symbol for our group wasn’t showing up. This corrects itself over time, and it’s a matter of having a brand new account. So tell your students to get the account at least 48 hours in advance.

2. Do not assume who can/cannot use twitter (or any social media tool). It doesn’t matter how old someone is. Hardly anyone in my class had ever used twitter. Most had a general understanding of what it was and could use it just fine. I really didn’t need to explain much beyond what a chat was. You might need to explain more. You’ll only know this once you meet your students and ask.practice

3. While the mock chat was great, it may/may not be great for you. My students asked for it, and I thought it was a great idea. It increased their excitement and level of comfort. If your students are old hands at twitter they may find a mock chat to be a waste of time. Go back to what makes sense for them.

4. Some students may need help letting go. I made sure my students knew what to focus their commentary on – and I recommend you do the same – but they may still struggle with what looks “right.” Honestly, I’m new to this too so I have no idea about what looks right. In many ways, I am figuring this out to the best of my ability. You may need to let go a bit too. It’s ok if things get a little wobbly. Embrace the wobbly.

Stay tuned to hear more about how it works when you take a chat fully live!


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