4/10/2012

Twitter, teaching and what is learned

Twitter is a funny animal. Many school districts block its use due to the serious risks that it poses. However, if your district is willing to give it a try, Twitter is really worth using. There are important skills students can learn from using Twitter in the classroom. I got most of these ideas from Matt Levinson's excellent post on ways in which parents can teach kids about the internet.   

  1. Digital media is social. Students really need to understand that they are interacting with others every time they get online. It’s also vital for them to deeply believe the phrase “If you don’t want it on the internet, don’t put it on the internet”. That is, everything that goes online, even for an hour or two, will likely stay online for years to come.
  2. Appropriate language and sharing apply to the online world. Most students know when and how to speak in public. They don’t reveal personal information and they try not to look foolish by using incorrect english.  The same must apply online.
  3. The internet is a PUBLIC space. When you are using Twitter with your students, there are no private notes. The whole world can see what they write including principals, other teachers and yes, perfect strangers. But this is true of the internet as a whole. The sooner students internalize this fact the better.
  4. Mistakes are great learning opportunities. Everyone will see when a student makes a mistake. They’ll also see when YOU make a mistake. This is a great opportunity to explain how mistakes lead to better learning.  

Some teachers won’t want to use class time to teach digital citizenship and that’s fine. Even if you really just want the students to learn the course content, there are good reasons to start using Twitter. For one, you’ll increase engagement. Twitter is easy to use and students get almost instant recognition for what they have to say. You’ll also have a chance to use social learning in the classroom. For a great list of ideas on how to use Twitter to teach a variety of topics check out this post.

Once you’ve decided that this platform works well for you and your class, you can start getting a bit more sophisticated with the technology. First, you could add a custom background to your page, personalizing it for your class. You can regularly update it based on the unit you’re studying. If you’d like you can even add unit goals and objectives which often look great to administrators. Don’t forget about your profile, either. With 160 characters, you can provide a solid course description or list some simple classroom rules. Finally, try to get parents involved. Let them know what students are saying (or failing to say) online. Remember that this is a public space and you’re letting students use their public voice. The more you can involve parents in this process, the more your students will get out of it.

Now, those of you out there already using Twitter on a regular basis may want to correct me on some of my claims or ideas. Some of you still think that Twitter (and other social media) is so inherently dangerous that it should be kept out of students hands all together. Please leave a comment.