Last week, I wrote about connecting with colleagues using Twitter Chats. This week I want to talk about how to use Twitter Chats with students. Next week, I’ll share some assignment ideas, so be sure to check back.
Twitter Chats are real time, or synchronous, discussions that take place using Twitter and specific hashtags. Everyone can participate in the discussion at the same time. There’s no waiting for your turn. You can use a Twitter client or the Tweet Chat site to manage the discussion during a Twitter Chat, keeping all the updates that include the same hashtag in a single column or screen.
Why Use Twitter Chats
As a classroom tool, Twitter Chats can give you a simple way to carry out a real-time discussion that relies completely on writing. Rather than students explaining ideas out loud, a Twitter Chat requires clear and concise written messages. These synchronous discussions are similar to sessions that might take place using IRC, MOO, or even Second Life.
The distributed nature of the discussion, with everyone commenting as ideas come, leads to more student-centered conversations. The teacher may frame the class discussion, but once everyone begins adding to the conversation, it becomes a much less hierarchical exchange of ideas.
Further, students can compose their status updates without interruption. No one can talk over them or break their train of thought. For these reasons, those who are uncomfortable speaking in class often participate more in online discussions.
Finally, online discussions can support a writing process approach to composition. Students have time to review and revise their ideas before submitting their updates and sharing them with the class.
How to Set Up Twitter Chats
The key to successful Twitter Chats is planning. You need to have the technology issues taken care of, make sure students know how the system works and what to expect, and plan discussion starters and ideas to keep the conversation going.
For the purposes of today’s post, I am going to assume you are going to have a Twitter Chat during your class session. In terms of technology, you will need computers with Internet access, or students can use their smart phones. Each student will need a Twitter account. They can create an account specifically for the class, if desired, to avoid confusing their personal Twitter updates with those for the class.
In terms of software, I highly recommend the Tweet Chat site for those new to Twitter Chats. It isolates the chat so that other updates do not interrupt the flow of the discussion, and it automatically adds the related hashtag to updates for participants. Any Twitter client or the Twitter Web site itself will also work.
You must choose a hashtag for your discussion. It should be something short but meaningful. I might use something like #TenComp11 for my 11 o’clock first year writing class, for example. It’s a good idea to search Twitter for your potential hashtag to make sure it’s not already being used for another purpose.
Getting things going in the classroom is not complicated. After everyone understands the process and signs on, you can kick off the discussion by posting a discussion topic. Just as you would in oral or e-mail discussions, provide support, ask additional questions, and try to draw students out as the chat goes on.
For additional help getting your Twitter Chat set up, check out 5 Steps to Hosting Successful Twitter Chats: Your Ultimate Guide. While the piece focuses on business uses, it has some useful tips and ideas that you can adapt for the classroom. Their fourth step, on how to run your chat, is especially useful. 7 Tips for Twitter Late Adopters on How To Twitter Chat includes some instructions that can help with troubleshooting if students’ tweets aren’t showing up in the class discussion (e.g., make sure your Tweets are public).
Now that you have the basics for using Twitter Chats with students, what can you use them for? I’ll be back next week with some assignment ideas. In the meantime, if you have a suggestion for using Twitter Chats in the classroom, please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.