Intentionality of Technology: More on the Twitter Experiment

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:

Why Twitter?

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.

Rhetorical Analysis

One of the changes I’m doing to enrich the Twitter Experiment is have students reflect on the rhetorical situation of this medium as I have them do with all of the texts we read.triangle

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!

Works Cited

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.

8 thoughts on “Intentionality of Technology: More on the Twitter Experiment

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  3. Jodi A. Campbell

    I’ve also struggled with how to use Twitter in my class, so these are some really helpful ideas. The “I agree” problem is one I’ve faced before with online discussion posts, but it is difficult to combat. It can be challenging enough to get students involved in an in-class discussion, but online, even Twitter, can be worse!

  4. essiepett

    Interesting – I’ve never used twitter in class, but have experienced similar problems with using the blog tool on my university’s virtual learning environment. This term I’m teaching American Literature and Culture, 1910 to present, and asked my students to collaborate on a blog timeline – 2 students post per week, and the rest of the class comment. So far not much joy – the posts went up, but only 24 hours before class and none of my students realised that when I said “comment” I meant digitally. Aargh. Like you, I hadn’t realised how carefully I’d need to spell the details out. I am planning to persevere though, and will watch your project develop too for some much needed inspiration! Thanks for a great post.

  5. Serene Criticism

    It is intereting to see your experiences on using twitter in the context of your first year English class. I began using twitter in my multimedia writing class in the fall semester and it was a really positive experience. I agree with you that the key to success is to have a very clear purpose for twitter and to use it in a way that is specific to the class you teach and your goals for the course. In my case, I obviously wanted students to learn to adapt their writing to various media forms, so practicing twitter might seem like a no-brainer (we also blogged, live-blogged, wrote scripts, etc., during the course). But, I also used twitter as a sort of writing tool for teaching them to write complete, concise, informative sentences. By confining them to 140 characters and requiring complete words and correct grammar, they were able to practice writing headlines, ledes, etc., in a way that was more fun and engaging for them than just practicing typical textbook journalism techniques. I will definitely continue using twitter in this counterintuitive way – to help students improve the quality of their writing, 140 characters at a time!

  6. Amy

    Full disclosure: I could be considered an “early” millennial by some demographers. (I myself, though, identify more with Generation X).

    I reject the notion that, as a millennial, I’m a digital native. I equally reject this assumption when it’s made about the (much younger) traditional college-aged students I teach.

    Here’s why: Many millennials are well-versed in all things digital, but this doesn’t mean they seamlessly use platforms like twitter for scholarly, professional, or vocational use.

    I’ve seen this strange disconnect manifest in business writing courses I teach. I assign a 3-4 week twitter exercise at the end of the semester. The goal is to help students (begin) to adapt their business communication skills for use in digital environments while also developing a professional, online presence to aid the job search. (I teach primarily juniors and seniors in the course.)

    The majority of the business writing students already use twitter on a regular basis; however, they use the site exclusively for entertainment and social purposes. So, I have to be clear — intentional, in other words — about how twitter offers (1) space to develop portable business communication skills, and (2) opportunities to network with and learn from other professionals.

    Some say that social media can’t be taught. This is true, I think, but only to an extent. Students, even millennials, need at least a measure of direction when using familiar digital tools for non-social/entertainment purposes.

    All this is to say: Josh, what are your thoughts on the digital native? Is your movement towards more intentionality connected to this belief?

    1. joshherron Post author

      What a fitting question–I have my ENG 102 class reading selections from Digital Divide (collection of for/against argumentative essays combined by Bauerlein) and we’ve just read Marc Prensky’s essay “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” (It’s wild that he wrote it almost twelve years ago.)

      I’d have to admit that part of my intentionality in using Twitter or technology is connected to this idea of the digital native on some level, albeit there are many issues with such a binary of digital native/immigrant. I suppose my goal is to take their digital nature, and co-opt it for a use outside their typical entertainment/social use. However, I’d say that it’s much like getting students to watch PBS when they’re more interested in the 200 other channels their provider offers.

      Providing them with more direction and context for the project this semester has worked better so far, but we’ll see how this semester unfolds and whether this experiment will continue.

  7. azumah (@azumahcarol)

    Interesting post.

    I have tried with varying degrees of success to use twitter as part of my teaching on a PGCE (#PCETchat). It hasn’t been a great priority and so after a fitful start – only those who liked twitter as a medium are still online and occasionally we communicate. It is not well integrated into the course. I can think of several important ways it enhances learning and think the discipline of getting an idea across in 140 characters is of genuine value. Foe example, I am impressed with how one of my recent students summed up her professionalism via twitter.

    Mainly though I think it important that any on-line engagement has a sound pedagogy behind it. If social media changes what we mean and understand by ‘the social’ (synchronous, physical, close proximity, unfiltered), it’s use in teaching if its to be meaningful has to be part of an overall philosophy. It might be that its a tool. like any other teaching tool. I think social media changes how students interact (and therefore learn) with each other and with their teacher. While I am not sure it is inherently anything, I do think it lends itself comfortably to forms of engagement I’d want to encourage.

    I’m always keen to try out different approaches and hope to get back to this with a new course and new cohort of students next year.



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