So You Want to Microblog (Twitter) With Your Students?

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

So over the past couple of months I have been writing here about my use of Twitter in the classroom. The first post garnered some much interest that I ended up writing a follow-up one. In both cases though I wrote primarily around the specific ways I used Twitter, or my reasons for doing so, without actually covering the how-to aspect. To be sure there are several tutorials (these two videos for instance), and an introduction from the Common Craft show, so what I thought I would cover here are the logistics of setting it up in an educational space.

There are several ways to do this, I am just going to outline the one that I think is most effective. The key step in all of this is getting your students following each other, and making sure you are following your students. If you do not have a twitter account already this is easy, as when you sign up you can just follow your students and each of your students can then follow everyone you are following. The difficulty becomes what do you do once you have a large network that extends past your classroom. For example I follow over a 100 people right now, if I were to try and get my students to twitter how would they know who is in the class and who is not? The solution (again not the only one just the best way I have thought of):

Step One: Create a new Twitter account. “Huh?” you say, “I can barely keep up with one why would I want more than one?” Don’t worry this account is just going to make it easy to follow your students, and get your students following each other, it does not need to become your “main account.” Register a Twitter account with a name that is descriptive of the class, say for example “Eng205z.” Login into this account and follow your “main account.” When you are done it should look something like this:twittersample2.jpg

Notice how “Eng205z” is following only one person, me the professor of the class.

Step Two: Tell students ahead of time that they should bring their cell-phones to class. Have them log onto the computers and register for a twitter account. Walk them thru registering and attaching the service to their phone (more on the problem of excessive text messaging charges later). You want them to at least see how the phone integration works, as the “microblogging anywhere” feature is key to understanding the technology. Students will simply not get the full effect if they only use it at their computers. It is also probably worth showing them how to turn off twitter’s pushing to your phone during specified hours so the phone doesn’t go off at 3AM the night before a test.

Note: If your classroom doesn’t have computers, you will have to have them do this apart from class time, but setting up an account is easy. It might work to do this in two steps, first have them set up an account and follow your class account, and your personal account. Then, on the second day show them how to add in all of their classmates.

Step Three: Once the students have an account get them to follow your class account, and your main account. Now as long as you have the class twitter account, in this example “Eng205z” set to email you when someone follows you, all you have to do is log into your email and add the 20-30 students (this is really easy to do, and should only take you minutes). Once the class account is following all of your students it is easy for your students to find their classmates and start following. For, now when they look at the class twitter page under people it should show all of the students, making them easy to find. This avoids the hassle of sharing twitter names, or having them hunt through all those you are following just to find their fellow students etc. Plus this way you have one twitter account which will display all of the class tweets, making it easy for you to find later. I don’t think you want to isolate the class tweets and substitute this account for your main one. Instead continue twittering from your main account so the class discussion participates in the larger twitter-verse, but this does give you one place to go to see all of the tweets.

Additional Thoughts: If students do not have unlimited texting this can really drive up their number of text messages. To address this concern you can have them only follow all of their classmates, but have only 5-10 of them pushed to their phone. (This is an important distinction to communicate to students, just because you are following someone doesn’t mean you will get their updates on your phone.) While I think one of the aspects of twitter to understand is the mobile aspect (network of friends in your pocket) you can also have them use one of the various twitter apps for the computer (there are actually more than those which twitter lists—a comparison is here), so that anytime that they are at their respective computer they can use twitter. Also have them “track” their own username (you do this buy sending a tweet from you phone, “track @username,” where username is whatever your account name is), this way when anyone responds to them they will get the response on their phone.

Extend the Network: As I said above having them follow each other is useful and opens up a range of pedagogical opportunities, but you might also want to get them following others, to see how the larger network operates. Depending on your course material these suggestions would probably vary, as key names in respective fields will vary, but here are some I recommend.

  • Dave Winer (Blogging and RSS pioneer . . among other things)
  • newmediajim (Camera man for NBC)
  • Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs)
  • Barack Obama (or any politician for that matter, but who ever writes for Barack gets the medium more than some of the others)

Questions, comments, discussion . . .