As a Millennial now teaching Millennials, I initially found myself trying to incorporate technology into the classroom simply for the sake of relevance. Incorporating Twitter into my first-year English courses has been one of the biggest undertakings of new media of my teaching career so far. This began as a way to connect with the students on their terms–to show them that they can blend the “academic” & “social” worlds. And I admit, it had a “cool” factor to it.
In fact, I probably relied on the relevance and “cool factor” to carry the project, but they soon wore off for most students, and unfortunately, I’d not added much more depth to the use of this technology. In fact, the discussion questions that I assigned students could have been completed on pen and paper to be handed in each class. I’d essentially ignored cautions such as Jennifer Swartz’s that “We have to make sure our use of multimedia is not simply technology for technology’s sake.”
So, I’ve made some changes this semester that come from both theory and the practice of using Twitter last semester. In fact, I’ve inserted a “rationale” on the Twitter assignment guidelines this semester that reads:
We’re using Twitter to help us be intentional about our communication in new media. Twitter—and social media in general—is a unique rhetorical space that deserves more than just passive attention. We’ll make use of this new media form as a method of collaborative learning and sharing, and we’ll also do a bit of rhetorical analysis of the medium itself.
I’ve decided to flesh out this intentionality in two ways: rhetorical analysis & collaboration.
I expect that examining any of the elements above will be contentious and difficult to pinpoint for a medium such as Twitter. For example, if one’s Twitter is not set to private, the audience could be anyone with access to a computer. The question of who they are as writers in relation to the subject matter and audience get even trickier, especially considering the blending of in-class and online identity formation.
By making such analysis more intentional, I expect students to see writing as more than just something they do the night before a rough draft or final copy of an essay is due. Learning to write in this medium and think rhetorically about it could serve them well in similar forums.
As I mentioned in my recap post of the Twitter experiment, my idealistic notion of having students conversing via Twitter about academic content was misguided. Most would answer the response questions, but none would ever interact with someone else’s responses. It’s possible that this never happened because I never made this an intentional part of the assignment.
For the next semester, I’ve designed intentional collaboration as part of the Twitter Experiment. We do a lot of collaborating in class, but perhaps realizing the benefits of collaboration in this format will have an even more meaningful impact. So far, this requirement has been working well, as students are heeding my warning to avoid the trite “I agree” replies.
As promised in my previous post about Twitter in my courses, I’ll keep the blog updated on any breaking developments and especially of the semester-end recap & student survey on use. Here’s to hoping innovation works the way I’d like for it to!
Swartz, Jennifer. “MySpace, Facebook, and Multimodal Literacy in the Writing Classroom.” Kairos: Praxis Wiki. 10 December 2011. Web. 3 January 2013.
The full assignment guidelines are here.
The more I write, the more I find that writing is much like playing a sport (although I’ve played very few sports in my life). For example, before I started playing golf, it looked easy enough to make a ball go directly where you wanted. I didn’t give thought to the intricacies of measuring distance, the level of the ground, or my swings. Needless to say, when I started playing golf, I had more hooks, slices, and misses than I can count.
The same is true with writing. It seems easy enough for someone to put words on paper, but as any writer knows, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into getting it just right. And just as I still send balls in all directions in golf, my writing doesn’t always come across as effectively as I’d planned. But it would never get better if I didn’t keep at it.
In golf, I’ve watched others and have taken tips. I’ve done the same in writing. I’ve read books about writing and heeded tips from other writers. And while I’ve improved from the guidance, the most important reminder that I keep coming back to in golf and writing is to just swing. The results won’t always be pretty, but some of my best drives in golf are from my stepping up to the tee and swinging the club without a practice shot or fretting over stance. The skills become ingrained after playing a lot and learning the tips and tricks, but sometimes, it takes not focusing on the specifics and just driving the ball to let it happen.
I need to remind myself of this when I’m justifying my inability to write, and it’s one reason I’m trying to dedicate myself to my blog. And I need to remind my students that after all the rules and tips are taught to just swing. Great golfers consistently practice and can even mess up when it’s all on the line. I need this same mindset in writing; I need to just write.
This post is designed to be part of an academic-year-long experiment of using Twitter in my First-Year English courses. The Related Documents section at the bottom has links to the original assignment, student survey report, and updated assignment.
Where it started.
My original intentions for the assignment were to promote collaboration in each section and across sections, help students reflect on material, introduce them to a new medium for writing, and serve as a generally helpful tool for keeping up with the class. Typically, I would ask students 1-2 discussion questions a week and have them respond at least fourteen times throughout the semester. I made the project 5% of the final grade.
From the outset, I labeled the assignment as “The Twitter Project” so that students knew they were participating in this experiment with me. Because of its experimental nature, I was quite flexible with the students and had many foibles myself in the design and implementation of the project. Below, I will share what was learned and where it’s headed based on my assessment and students’ feedback to the project through a survey.
What was learned and where it’s headed.
On the first day of class, I discovered that my preconceptions about students’ knowledge of Twitter was incorrect. All of my students knew what Twitter was, and many of them already had accounts. And even though there was some critique of the project in the student survey, only one respondent selected “More help on understanding Twitter” as a way to improve the use of Twitter in the course. The same respondent commented that Twitter is a “loose concept” because “it is not the social media that I use.” Thus, even this student is familiar with the form of media, but perhaps more connections could be made to the generalities and particularities in communicating in various social media.
A surprising trend I noticed as the semester went along and confirmed in students’ response to a survey was that students who used Twitter often were least likely to complete all or almost all of the Twitter requirements. Of those who completed half or fewer of all of the Tweet requirements, 70% reported themselves as frequent Twitter users. Meanwhile, students who used Twitter infrequently or only for this course were most likely to meet or exceed the number of required Tweets. Of those who met all or almost all of the Tweet requirements, 70% were infrequent Twitter users or only used it for class.
Is it that students don’t like for their “worlds to collide,” as George Costanza would phrase it? Perhaps. One frequent Twitter user (who didn’t complete all of the requirements) commented that Twitter “isn’t really something that is useful when it comes to school work. There a social networking world, and then academics world.” Another frequent Twitter user (who didn’t complete all of the requirements) commented, “Seeing as how I’m an avid twitter user, I thought it would be more fun to use twitter. While it was helpful sometimes, I got bored with it.”
Ironically, about 50% of respondents asked that there be more interaction with other aspects of the course. One way that I tried to do this was to begin class discussions with Tweets they had sent it. (Admittedly, this aspect did wane as the semester got busier.) However, per students suggestions, I am looking for a way to integrate Twitter into the classroom as more than a stand-a-lone assignment. While I understand the concerns of students seeing Twitter and the classroom as two separate worlds, I hope more integration will help dispose of that false dichotomy for them, and I plan to make this aspect of the course more dynamic and integrated with more parts of the course.
There were a few logistical issues in the project as well. From my standpoint, a particularly frustrating aspect of the assignment was the tallying of Tweets. As well, students overwhelmingly suggested more frequent communication of the number of completed Tweets. For whatever reason, I didn’t anticipate this troublesome issue of counting Tweets and communicating the number of completed Tweets; I suppose I expected that 14 was a low number and students would complete them easily. A lack of clear communication led to many students hurriedly posting their tweets at the end of the semester. Thus, I plan to use a common document (such as Google Docs) to help students check their progress. As well, the number of required tweets has been split for a mid-semester and end of semester check.
Another idealistic expectation was that students would communicate to one another through Twitter–creating a collaborative experience. However, this never happened, and students recognized this: over half of the survey respondents were neutral or disagreed that “Twitter was useful in student collaboration.” Similar to using online discussion boards, the requirement that students respond to one another’s posts is purposeful–and it’s one that I have added to the spring version of the assignment. Students will be required to respond at least four times throughout the semester to a classmate’s post by adding to it or amending it.
Aside from all of the changes that need to be made, students seem to have had generally positive experience with the experiment. Students agreed that Twitter was helpful for reviewing material; as one student commented, “Twitter was most helpful when I was able to read what others had posted about a subject matter. It helped me to look at the topic from a different point of view[. . . .] It also helped me to retain the information longer when having to interact with it again. In a way it is like studying because I am having to review and talk about the information again.” Students also rated the experiment highly on communicating with instructor and exploring new/digital media.
Overall, while there are many kinks to be worked out, I enjoyed seeing my students participate in responding to questions and seeing their varying points of view, especially those who were quieter in class. For the spring, I’ll make the experiment more interactive and integrate it with all aspects the course; doing this and tweaking logistical issues should create a more learner-friendly pedagogical tool. I’ll update you at the end of next semester.
The blog will be updated quite infrequently. The site is used mostly for aggregating professional materials, but I may occasionally have a few thoughts to share here. So, check back sometime and see.