Twitter: Ephemeral Learning Tool

7/04/2007 01:19:00 pm

I'm a little behind on my reading but I've read Chris' and David's thoughts about using twitter in the classroom.

Since I first started tweeting I've been thinking about pedagogical applications of twitter. For me, the pedagogical virtue of twitter (or anything like it: jaiku, pownce, IM, etc.) is how it can be used to make students' thinking transparent; to the teacher and each other.

Here are some of my nascent thoughts. In each case I would be using twittercamp to display tweets on the smartboard although the same could be done using a computer & projector setup:

(a) Kids, in groups, are working on a complicated problem (I teach math so, it's a math problem). They tweet their progress and difficulties as they work through it. They learn from each other and the teacher gets some powerful insight into their thought processes. This allows for very focused and concrete feedback to students to refine their thinking and improve their skills.

(b) While I give a lecture students tweet their thoughts about it to each other. Comments that clarify or question what I am saying. They can also tweet any confusions they have as they arise. This makes the lecture much more dynamic as it takes on the character of a conversation. The teacher isn't "interrupted" so they can develop new concepts fully but they can also respond instantaneously to student's learning needs. This also provides a live, in class venue where quieter students can be heard and get their questions answered immediately. The open nature of this discourse also allows the teacher to modify their presentation on the fly to address the needs of the learners in the room.

(c) This one isn't so much for the classroom as it is for teacher professional development; twitter as an integral part of any presentation.

I'm planning my workshops for the upcoming Building Learning Communities conference. I plan to have an interactive whiteboard set up running twittercamp. As I give each presentation I am hoping that people in the audience will both tweet and chatcast while I speak. Again, changing the character of the presentation from "show and tell" to a conversation. This last idea arises out of the blogger's cafe from NECC and my vicarious participation via my twitter network.

I would have students use their cell phones to tweet. They would set up nicknamed accounts and I would have a classroom account. Only members of the class would be added to this particular twitter network. In this way:

 • Student's identities are protected.
 • Students are more motivated by being able to use their cell phones in class.
 &bull The process models good pedagogy responsive to student's learning needs.
 • Students learn to use a cell phone as a learning tool.
 • [your suggesstion goes here ;-)]

Tweets are ephemeral. In my view, tweeting homework, assignments, due dates, classroom updates or anything like that is more appropriately posted to a classroom blog.

The power of twitter in the classroom lies in harnessing the instantaneous and ephemeral nature of the tool. These ideas are my first draft thinking re: twitter and pedagogy. I'm interested in seeing how others develop different educational uses of it.

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  1. Anonymous4/7/07 14:51


    Using TwitterCamp is something that I've been contemplating as well. I like how it allows the participants to see the conversations and interactions taking place. Using Twitter in this fashion also allows the students to be part of the lecture so that the "chalk and talk" approach gets reconfigured to include their thoughts and ideas.

    I've also been thinking about having my students use Twitter as a tool that supports reflection. Tweets show quite clearly what the user has been involved in and can help students reflect on how they use their time - they are a visual trail of engagement (assuming one updates regularly).

    Which brings me to another point that I've been thinking about: how many tools can my students possibly handle? How many tools do they really need? Having blogs and discussion forums should be enough. In fact, they allow for a more in-depth discussion and reflection. Don't they? Every time I think about using Twitter, I accuse myself of succumbing to a Web 2.0 tool fetish.

    This is not to say that I don't think Twitter has pedagogical potential. As I mentioned, I've been thinking of using it with my students. I do, however, worry that the substance/content might get overlooked in my attempts to try new things and distract the students from focusing on ideas that we explore in class. Then again, one could also argue that some tools can enhance one's participation in discussions and one's grasp of the content. I guess we won't know until we try?

    I would love to see TwitterCamp used in a presentation - please capture it if you can. I will also give it try come September.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. Darren - I just blogged about a possible use of Twitter in my elementary school classroom.

  3. Anonymous4/7/07 15:49

    You raise a really important question here Konrad: How many tools are too many?

    I felt this very strongly during this last semester. I have made it a practice to have students use to create a student generated "bibliography" of the "textbook" they write vis a vis their scribe posts. This last semester I didn't do that because I was concerned I had given them too many tools to learn and adapt to.

    Here's what I'm thinking right now:
    There is no single presentation style I use in every single class I give. I change it up a lot; to retain interest, attention and engagement with my students. Twitter & twittercamp would be just another one of those "types" of classes that we have.

    This year, having a smartboard led to our having classes I called workshops (problems are displayed on the smartboard & students solve them interactively as a class; I comment only at the end when everyone is done making contributions to the solution). We didn't do that every day. Some days were lectures, some days were quizzes, some were group work and so on. Now I would simply add to that list twitterpated discussions. ;-)

    Tell you what. You use it with your kids, I'll use it with mine and Brian with his; then we'll get together and compare notes and see if we can't evolve the practice together. ;-)

  4. Anonymous4/7/07 16:59

    OK, at the risk of having to endure a barrage of shrieks about how I don't get it, why is your idea of having the students tweeting any better than my incredibly radical idea, which I have used successfully for over 30 years, of allowing them to talk to each other?

    I don't mean to sound as facetious as I do, but being a devil's advocate, isn't this a solution seeking a problem?

  5. Anonymous4/7/07 17:22

    Quite right. Talking to each other is an excellent idea. Still works. Always will. Except when it doesn't.

    Have you ever asked your class a question only to be confronted with the unscalable "Wall Of Silence?" Have you ever tried to have everyone in your class participate n a class discussion only to be faced with the kids on the fringes that refuse to speak up? Have you ever had a kid in your class so painfully shy that talking to them, even in a one-to-one context, leads only to alienating them as opposed to helping them learn?

    The advantage here would be to give the quieter students a voice that is equally as aloud as any of their classmates. Also, in math class, kids are frighteningly shy of making a mistake. The anonymity afforded here may give them the courage to express their confusions and correct their misunderstandings.

    Making students thinking transparent helps all of them learn for at least two reasons:

    (1) It levels the playing field. The outgoing and verbally expressive student is heard at the same volume as the more reserved classmate without being stifled themselves.

    (2) Experts think differently than novices. By making students thoughts transparent to each other the novices see how the better students conceptualize their learning. Moreover, the teacher gains a very sharp picture of the novice's misunderstandings and can help them make corrections.

    We don't do away with group work and having students talk to each other; we give them another modality to express themselves so that they can take an equal stance as a member of the classroom learning community.

  6. Anonymous4/7/07 17:28

    OK, I can go along with all that. It's just that I think we "seasoned" educators owe it to younger ones to explain why we might want to do stuff, otherwise we give the impression that we just wanna use the technology for it's own sake.

    What you're saying, in effect, is that used in a particular way, Twitter can be employed to address what we in the UK refer to as the "inclusion" agenda. Possibly even the personalisation agenda.

  7. Anonymous4/7/07 17:41

    Re: paragraph 1 ... I quite agree.

    Re: paragraph 2 ... yes.

  8. My comment is more of a question... how does this Twitter tool work with special ed/behavior disorder students? I teach music and I have special needs students mainstreamed into my classroom. Thanks! kc

  9. Anonymous12/7/07 16:49

    That's a very good questions. I imagine you would need to have some supports in place to use twitter with your students. They would all need either computers, laptops, PDAs, Blackberries or cell phones.

    They might also need assistance entering the text with their cell phones ... then again, maybe that's a use you could make of twitter with your students:

    Might it be a good way to motivate their leaning writing and expressing themselves succinctly; in 140 characters or less?

  10. Twitter in a lecture... that reminds me of Elluminate sessions. We hear the lecture and we chat as well. I have a lot of fun in those lectures, but I've seen that you need someone facilitating there, too, or the lecturer will get distracted.

  11. Anonymous4/9/07 22:31

    Hi Darren - I'm the blogger to whom you linked in your comment of Aug. 9 regarding using Twitter in the classroom. If you're interested, I've elaborated some more on how I plan to use Twitter in my 10th grade English classroom here and here. (long story short, I plan on using Twitter out of class more than in class). I plan on posting thoughts on the experiment periodically.

    Would love to compare notes with you, either on blog or Twitter (I'm garageflowers).


  12. Thanks for the great post and comments, which I have posted in a blog devoted to electronic learning for my Local Education Authority. I don't think they've set it to be publicly accessible so I'm afraid there's no point publishing the link. But thanks for some great thoughts, and keep up the good work!