Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

Advanced Twitter Chat Activities

posted: 12.18.12 by Traci Gardner

Last week, I shared Introductory Twitter Chat Activities, which focused on getting students accustomed to using Twitter chat in the classroom for typical discussion activities. This week I’m moving on to more sophisticated activities that take place outside the classroom.

Setting Up Your Out-of-Class Sessions

The activities I talked about last week took place in the classroom, with students using computers or smartphones to participate in the Twitter chats. There are benefits to beginning in the classroom: Students literally have you right there beside them if they have a question or run into trouble.

For the activities I’m suggesting this week, you need to provide options for extra help. The easiest solution is to monitor your e-mail closely during the chats. You can give students keywords to use in their subject lines if they need help during a Twitter chat (e.g., “Twitter Chat 911”). If any messages come in with that subject line, take a minute to multitask and try to help the student. You might also suggest instant messages, phone calls, or direct tweets. Choose whatever works for you and make sure students know how to get help when they need it.

You will also need to provide multiple options for students to participate. Logistics are less of a concern during in-class Twitter chats since you already have a time when everyone is available. Once you move Twitter chats outside your normal class meeting time, however, it is unfair to require all students to participate on any particular date or time. They may have other class sessions, athletic events, club meetings, or family obligations that can limit their participation.

As with the in-class Twitter chats, make sure everyone knows the hashtag you’re using. If you’ve been relying on classroom computers for your sessions, students need to know how to connect with their own technology or from a computer lab. You can suggest the Web-based tool TweetChat as an easy solution.

Out-of-Class Twitter Chat Activities

One of the nice benefits of out-of-class Twitter chats is the cross-section discussions that can take place. All your students can be invited—not just those from a particular time slot. In fact, you can mix course sections and even different courses if the topics are pertinent. You can also invite graduate students to join in or observe.

Here are some possible strategies for using Twitter chats outside the classroom. I’ll begin with some activities that are very similar to what students have already done in the classroom.

  • Event backchannel discussions: Are there campus events that you encourage students to attend? Perhaps a prominent speaker will be on campus or the student union has a film series on a topic related to class discussion. Encourage students at the event to use the class hashtag for a backchannel Twitter chat during the event. You do not necessarily have to be at the event yourself to log in and participate.
  • Television-viewing parties: Is there a television show that relates to issues that your class is exploring? There could be a documentary on the topic you have been discussing in class or a prime time show that the class can analyze (e.g., how is gender/race/class represented in reality TV shows? What are the stereotypes?). During the preelection frenzy, a Twitter chat viewing party for the debates would have been a good option.
  • Class review sessions: If you typically have review sessions to help prepare students for upcoming tests or help anyone with questions, consider supplementing those sessions with a Twitter chat. This strategy can work especially well if you like student-centered reviews. Have students tweet their questions, and you can respond. When you’re done, you will have essentially created a basic FAQ you can share with all your students.
  • Guest speaker sessions: Invite a speaker to a Twitter chat that students from all of your sections are invited to participate in. While this may seem like an unusual activity, many people in entertainment and education use this strategy. A check of TV or movie sites often finds details on one of the actors, directors, athletes, or musicians offering Twitter chats with fans. The practice is not limited to entertainment, either. NASA has offered students and the public the chance to participate in Twitter chats with astronauts and scientists. If you have a willing guest speaker, a Twitter chat could be a great option.
  • Office hours: While I would never suggest that Twitter chats could replace office hours, some regularly scheduled Twitter chats can add to the time you offer students. The setup is simple: Just tell students the time when you will be available and give them a hashtag to use. Remind them that their discussion will be public (so this is not the time to share highly personal issues and you will not discuss individual grades). You can participate from the comfort of your home—and in your pajamas if you like. I like this option particularly for the night before a paper is due.
  • Writing Center Q&A: Invite a tutor from the Writing Center to a Twitter chat session to help with questions that students might have. In fact, why not suggest that the Writing Center begin running their own regular Twitter chat sessions where anyone on campus can ask questions?
  • Ask me sessions: While I was researching this piece, I found the story of Michael Parent, a high school principal who set up a Twitter chat with Students before the school term started. Students asked Parent anything about the high school. He also asked them to share their expectations and hopes for the school year. It would be hard to gather college students before a course started, but this strategy still has potential. An “ask me” session about an upcoming research project, for instance, gives students the chance to air their concerns and gives you a working list of issues to address in class.

After Your Out-of-Class Twitter Chat Activities

At the end of a Twitter chat session and at the beginning of your next class session, thank everyone who participated in the TwittercChat. Students are voluntarily participating, so make sure that they know you appreciate their effort.

To ensure the success of your Twitter chats, follow up after they happen. During the next class session, refer to the Twitter chat to bring that conversation back into the classroom. Use student comments to frame explanations or to expand on the discussion students began during the chat.

When you bring a question, comment, or observation from the Twitter chat session into classroom discussion, credit the writers from the Twitter chat by Twitter ID. Bringing the Twitter chats back into the classroom in this way demonstrates that you found their participation in session valuable. Once other students see that these outside sessions matter, you may find more students participating.

Finally, share an archive of the Twitter chat with classes so that students who were not able to participate can see what happened and those who were there have a chance to review what was said. As soon as you have the archive ready, send a URL out to students. You can ask students to search for the hashtag on Twitter or check the last messages in TweetChat, but an archive will give them a more reliable resource.

There are a few ways to save these archives, but those details will have to wait until my next post, in January of 2013. Will you give Twitter chats with students a try next term? Do you have questions about how they work or an activity to suggest? Please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

Have a wonderful, restful holiday break. See you in 2013.

[Photo: Blue Jay_5485 by Bobolink, on Flickr]


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One Response to “Advanced Twitter Chat Activities”

  1. Melissa Hudler, Lamar University Says:

    These are excellent ideas, Traci. I especially like the idea of chats with writing center tutors. I just left my position as a writing center director to take a faculty development position, but I’ll certainly pass this idea on to the new director who is a regular twitter user.

    What about extending this via a storify project for your students? This will allow them to use their tweets as well as youtube videos, facebook posts, instagram photos, etc. to create multimedia narratives of the twitter chat topics and issues.

    Can’t wait to try some of these!

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