These are my musings and personal response to a conference on ‘Twitter in Education’ held at the University of Nottingham on December 16, 2013. ‘Twitter in Education’, or #TWEED13. The conference was organised by Dr Roger Kerry (@rogerkerry1) and @natasa_wonders and reported on the findings of a project on the use of twitter in Education, part-funded by the University of Nottingham and the Higher Education Academy (GENTDG169) . Given the popularity of Twitter amongst academics, the use of micro blogging as a teaching tool is certainly both topical ( see this article in The Guardian, 22 November 2013, Universities should use Twitter to engage with students ) about engaging students through the use of Twitter, as well as quite ‘on trend’, as shown by the proliferation of sites such as this one, dedicated to the Educational Uses for Twitter: Twitter for Education.
My own interest in the use of Twitter for Education maps on to my general (teaching and resarch) interests in social media platforms to engage students, but particularly in providing a focus for extra- curricular activities. The framework of a module, with it’s accompanying VLE ( in Nottingham’s case, that VLE is Moodle) is one I am comfortable with, and for timetabled modules, I’ll happily experiment within that given framework. Extra-curricular activities, such as the arthistorybuddyscheme, a student – led peer mentoring scheme, or ‘Art History in Schools’ , or outreach work at Thoresby Courtyard or Crop Up Gallery are activities supported through non- credit bearing modules, and here the teaching context is different. The students have volunteered to undertake these modules, and there are practical elements of getting stuck in, and applying skills. Twitter comes into it’s own in that context as it is a way of bringing students together who don’t share the formal context of a module, and scheduled classroom time and instead can interact with each other via Twitter. And yes, on those sort of modules, I will offer social media training to students, and share with them my admittedly amateurish knowledge of making social media work for me.
The #TWEED13 conference reported on the use of Twitter in addition to traditional forms of teaching for a ‘normal’ module, so students’ reasons for selecting the module was initially due to its content, and was not focused on delivery. The team behind the project presented their statistical findings, and a few really stood out, for example, the fact that students would use a Facebook daily, but Twitter rarely, if at all. The most interesting findings though looked at students who had Twitter accounts, and were quite happy to ‘lurk’ and watch and read conversations, but did not engage and participate. What is so fascinating here is that this clearly replicates the dynamic in a traditional class room, with students choosing their roles often very carefully, and with participation in a classroom not necessarily as the only indicator of performance. Some students are happy to watch and observe, as that is where they are most comfortable, yet they have placed themselves in a position where they could speak and contribute should they choose to do so. Pretty much like the situation in a real classroom, actually, and certainly, the analogy of Twitter to an arena, or a theatre, was made by the presenters. The term used to describe this process at #TWEED13 was ‘social learning’, a process of students learning through watching peers and professionals, and learning by imitation initially, then by adopting and adapting Twitter to their own use and in a way they were comfortable with. The panacea of an online community of shared practice didnt quite happen, but the project seemed to suggest that the seed for future practice had been planted.
And it was here that opinion became divided at #TWEED13. There was one school of thought that proposed that it is essential to make the students engage, and to set up tasks and discussions particularly aimed at this purpose. Another group, meanwhile suggested that good teaching WILL engage students simply by making them aware of the benefits of another platform, another mode of communication, and that the engagement with that particular platform may well happen on the students’ own term, but outside the formal context of the module. I confess, I am in the latter camp, and this would certainly be borne out by my own experiences. I have noticed that a large number of my own followers on Twitter are my own students, and the majority of them are silent, and never contribute to a conversation, but they are certainly reading the tweets and often click through the links. Many of these students then follow me through on to other forms of social media, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Storify, again, usually as watchers, rarely as contributors.
I enjoyed the conference very much, and found the discussions very stimulating, but for the moment, Twitter in Education will, for me, remain an additional option and not yet something I will foreground in my own teaching efforts. Please find below a couple of links that may be of interest, most notably a link to the project itself and a link to the storify for the conference.
Social Media: A Guide for Researchers
Paper.li: Creating a current awareness letetr using social media
Enhancing Undergraduate Teaching and Feedback Using Social Media: An Engineering Case Study
LSE Guide to using Twitter in University research, teaching and impact activities