Photo: Beth Hundey, Uinta Mountains

Photo: Beth Hundey, Uinta Mountains

There are many great examples of assessments and activities on the web that involve using twitter to interact with students… but what about those instructors who would like to use twitter on a bit more of a casual basis?  If you’re not assessing students, and just communicating, are there rules? Is it a free-for-all? Go wild?

Here are tips for the casually tweeting instructor by the casually tweeting instructor .

Setting up

  1. Create a hashtag unique to your class.  Using this hashtag, students can see what you have said, but also follow the discussion of their classmates (provided they also use the hashtag, when relevent. Basically, a hashtag serves as a common discussion topic.
    1. Think up a hashtag. E.g. #litwestern #ENG2500
    2. Search for the hashtag in twitter.  If nothing (or very little) is returned, this is a unique hashtag
    3. Tell students to include the hashtag in the posts intended to be shared with the class.
    4. You have now completed the most important task. #hashtag
  2. Ask students to follow you.
  3. Don’t follow students back (and tell them you’re not going to!).  You can still see what they post about the class because they will either include your handle or the hashtag.  You don’t need to know what else they are tweeting about, and it could cause problems if you do know what else they are tweeting about.

Time to tweet

  1. Keep tweets professional.  If you use twitter in a non-professional capacity, be sure to make a separate professional account.
  2. Include the class hashtag in class related tweets. If you also use twitter for, say, corresponding about research unrelated to your class, your students can filter for just class-related banter by searching for the hashtag.
  3. Tweet regularly, otherwise students will stop checking.  Consider setting a reminder in your phone to tweet about something, or if you get all your ideas at once, consider using a buffer app
  4. Make a mention! If your class is riled up from class or still curious about something you haven’t found the answer to quite yet, consider mentioning someone important in your tweet. You never know, perhaps @Cmdr_Hadfield or @FiveThirtyEight will chime in on your class discussion!

But what if …

  1. Students are wary about following a professor on twitter for whatever reason (often related to privacy)? Suggest that students should feel free to create a separate twitter account for the purposes of the class, and that they can unfollow you when the course is over. Students can also search the hashtag without even joining twitter, but they won’t be able to contribute to the conversation.
  2. Students don’t have twitter? You have two options. You could specify in the course syllabus that students must get a free twitter account, or you could make it optional. If you opt for the latter, then you should provide the links, pictures, and other resources that you post on twitter in another way. This could mean that you storify your tweets every month, update a list of links on OWL every week, etc.  Remind your students that even if they don’t have a twitter account, they can keep up with the conversation by searching for your twitter handle and for the class hashtag.

Suffering from tweeter’s block?

1. Share relevant news. Follow the right people and this becomes really easy!

2. Promote student work to their classmates. Why do students work so hard to produce work that is for your eyes only? You could use twitter to share their work, with their permission. This works especially well in tandem with a blog assignment where students can click a link to access each other’s work.

3. Retweet great student discussion points.

4. Revisit in-class exercises. If you let them know ahead of time that you will do this, they can focus more on the task at hand rather than madly writing down notes.

5. Help students take pride in their work by reminding them what they’ve accomplished.

6. Make announcements about events and deadlines. Just make sure twitter’s not the only place you mention important details.

Get students to tweet…

  1. To get participation grades.  I used a point system whereby one tweet with a relevant link or discussion point was worth a participation point, as was answering/ asking questions during class, contributing to group work, etc.  This works well in a class with 20 students but with many more you might consider using twitter as the sole way to track participation to avoid total marking chaos.  Upon reflection, it is not generally best practice to “count” participation in a tally system because it encourages students to participate often with low effort instead of making meaningful contributions.  In the future, I plan to include self-assessment of participation and ask students to create participation goals.
  2. To share relevant news. 
  3. To relate class discussion to their own lives.
  4. Discuss class topics – this is great for students who were unable to share in class or are quiet.
  5. Ask questions (and answer!). Twitter can be a great study tool!
  6. Get quick feedback from either you or their peers.  For example, consider having students post their thesis statement for comment and clarifying questions.