The Power of Twitter

by Enamic5 (Stefan Kraft)

There are times you do something in class and it falls short of your expectations.  You know the impact is there, just below the surface, but the connections aren’t quite made.  This has been Twitter for me and my students.  Until this past week.

Today.  A Forensic Anthropologist (or soon-to-be-official-one in a few years when he earns his PhD, works for 3yrs and passes his boards, who currently works as a death investigator in Maricopa county) gave a presentation to the Forensic and Anatomy classes.  It was amazing, not just because he’s a former student doing really well, but because part of my Anatomy class tweeted during the entire presentation (the folks with smart phones anyway).  For me, the power of what this medium can do was clearly on display.  The questions and comments demonstrated their active engagement; they were thinking and making connections in a visible way.

They were also reveling in the ability to do this; the ‘outlaw’ perception, as the other class in the room was specifically told ‘no phones.’

Afterwards, I made a point of sharing the backchannel with the presenter.  He was blown away.  He loved both the questions and the funny comments; even the one about the thoracic vertebrae being the ‘giraffe’ (he remembered that from when he was in my Anatomy class).  He even made a point of coming in after school to read it in its entirety.  This lead to a chat about the possibilities for next semester: setting it up so he can actively ‘watch’ the backchannel and incorporate their questions into what he says/shows/explains.  (This assumes he can get the time off again, of course.)  It was a wonderful experience because not only did my students officially get hooked, but I may have hooked him as well.

Last Week.  A few of the students in my Environmental Science class and I participated in the #scistuchat on insects.  It was like drinking from a fire hydrant.  The best part was the student comments: comments of appreciation to the scientists that gave up their time and comments on how much they learned.  Adam Taylor has created an amazing forum that leverages the power of twitter to bring the expertise from around the globe into each student’s living room (so to speak).  There were tangents and rabbit trails as impactful as the direct conversation occurring.  Organic is an overused buzz word, but, it was/is.  My hope, is that my students will do it again and that their experience will pull the rest of the class into participating next month.

Why now?  Part of why it’s impacting my students now, I think, has to do with me not pushing Twitter from day one.  Let me back up.  They know they are to create a Twitter account and bring me their Twitter and Blogger contract within the first couple of weeks.  They know they will tweet, but not for a while; so, they forget about it amidst the blogging, flipping, using Dropbox and doing online homework.  In fact, I did not even bring it back up until last week.  I put it back on their radar because next week is the second nine weeks.  It now becomes a weekly assignment that I will check by visiting their blogs.  They have to install a widget there to share their tweets, allowing me to do one-stop-shopping.  Additionally, when I brought it up, I brought it up with a purpose:  Anatomy used it to finish a case study that was not finished in class (i.e., a backchannel); Environmental was to participate in the #scistuchat.  (Chemistry was to use it to share some images from a lab, but I’m still waiting on their Twitter earthquake having failed to instigate it as successfully as with the other classes; these folks are still in limbo.)

This has made a difference, created momentum to build upon.  One way is obviously as a backchannel for all classes.  I’d like to see our final 5-10 minutes of class be a student defined discussion based on questions, comments, or tangents they thought of during class.  Make it like the exit cards or exit tasks others use to check student understanding as they leave.  To do this, effectively though, I have to consciously stop and do it.  They have to know it’s not just a hoop; they have to see it make a difference.  For that matter, I have to see it make a difference.  It is in this form, though, that I think I can pull Chemistry out of limbo; let them have their class light bulb moment.

Of course, when the novelty wears off, I want the world to remain flattened for each of my students; I want them to take advantage of the connected learning possible through digital dialogue; I want them to know the power of Twitter.

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