Last semester, Twitter wasn’t a distraction for Julie Mazziotta. She didn’t mindlessly scroll through her feed in an attempt to avoid her homework. Why? Because Twitter was her homework.
Mazziotta, a senior at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., was enrolled in “Education Technology and Society: Altering Environments,” an education class that examined how gaming techniques and technology could be used in the classroom. To spark conversation, Mazziotta’s professor required students to create a Twitter account and tweet technology-related stories using the hashtag #netloged255.
“My professor would use [the hashtag] a lot; she was very conscious of that,” said Mazziotta, who followed her professor on Twitter. “It gave a little bit of an insight into her thinking and how the class runs and where she wants to go with the class.
Perhaps social media has gotten a bad rap. In fact, there might just be a place for those websites in classrooms. If used carefully and strategically, Twitter could be an aid to students rather than just one more distraction.
Knowing how to use Twitter to your benefit is an emerging skill, said Benjamin Gleason, a second-year doctoral student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. Gleason, who co-authored the literary review “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy Practice,” said that the art of tweeting combines two very important styles: old literacy skills, such as basic reading and writing, and new literacy skills, which is the art of recognizing and comprehending the evolving media. Those two components comprise what he calls “Twitteracy.”
“[My co-author and I] think that it’s a very valuable literary skill that could be incorporated into the classroom, especially higher education,” Gleason said.
Last spring, Piotr Bobkowski, a journalism professor who teaches ethics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., decided to embrace his students’ obsessions with Twitter. He wanted to encourage his students to engage in conversations about ethics outside of class, but he found that the forum on Blackboard wasn’t effective.
“I decided to try Twitter because I thought that it would integrate better with their lives, and most of them are on Twitter already,” Bobkowski said.
Not only did he spark conversations, but by searching the hashtag #j608ku, he could see what his students were talking about and use their tweets to shape in-class discussions.
So what do students gain from the integration of digital and academic worlds? As Mazziotta discovered, interacting with professors on Twitter creates a sort of blended learning, defined in a recent USA TODAY column as students accessing their in-class work online.
Additionally, the skills you gain from tweeting can be beneficial to your career. Gleason noted that the ability to write clearly in 140 characters requires a strategic mind. Have thousands of followers? Attracting attention suggests creativity and recognizing what people want. Also, conducting yourself in a responsible manner builds credibility and your own brand, Bobkowski said.
But the heart of integrating Twitter into the classroom lies in the ability to sift through the many perspectives floating in the Twittersphere, Gleason said. Reading conflicting perspectives on any given event encourages students to think outside the box and join the conversation.
“It becomes very interesting when the users themselves are generating and are sharing and telling the story in their own words,” Gleason said. “If we’re talking about education, that is the goal. You want to have an activity that is meaningful to students, and you want to use the technology that enables them to share in their own voice and to distribute information that is meaningful to them.”
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