If you’re one of the 500 million people who use Twitter on a regular basis, then you know that this rapidly growing blogging service is now used not only for social networking, but for business and academic uses as well. Before you write-off Twitter as just another fad that hit the internet, take a look at how some teachers are using it to better their classrooms and change the way students learn.
The constant obsession with sharing your feelings, thoughts and updates in 140 characters or less has become a trend of
exponential proportion. Twitter is a social networking tool that can now satisfy and keep up with the rapid information that society demands. What began as a slightly laughable hobby has turned into a tool that is now used by organizations, schools and professional networks. With the ability to have subscribers, users can see how many people their tweets have reached; oftentimes hundreds—or if you’re Rainn Wilson, 3.5 million.
Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies Sean Cobb stresses the importance of being up-to-speed with today’s technology and social networking, especially in his own classroom.
“Students that are on Twitter and that follow me tend to be the better students; it adds a level of engagement outside the class,” Cobb said. “Every teacher always talks about wanting to break the barrier between outside and inside the classroom. Twitter and Facebook do that—it keeps them thinking about class.”
Students in Cobb’s class are required to do activities such as: tweet 140 character movie reviews, watch links to movies posted on the class’ Twitter or Facebook page, give responses to homework questions through tweets and give feedback about the class.
“The main thing is that it is another level of contact with the students. The older traditional models of learning don’t work or meet the pace of today’s society,” Cobb said.
Cobb is also a member of the group Teachers Talking Technology, which is comprised of multiple faculty members that meet to form new ideas about how technology can improve their classroom environments. Assistant Professor in Classics and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Yurie Hong is a member of the group as well and values the importance of technology in education.
“I think technology can help reach students and offer additional ways of researching and collaborating that they couldn’t before. That said, because technology has become such an integral part of everyday life, I strongly believe that students need to be aware of both its powers and its limitations,” Hong said.
“I believe it can increase our productivity and effectiveness. Success in today’s marketplace is to some extent dictated by one’s ability to maintain a competitive edge, and technology is an important factor in maintaining this edge,” fellow member and Assistant Professor in Chemistry Dwight Stoll said.
“I’ve heard of some really great uses of Twitter that allow students to stay engaged with course content even when they’re outside of the classroom or not working on assignments. It can be great for fostering a sense of community, which can lead to greater academic engagement. I also think there’s a lot to be said about having to be concise with one’s thoughts in the way that Twitter can force one to be,” Hong said.
The Twitter feed “ProfHacker,” summarized as “Tips, tutorials, and commentary on pedagogy, productivity and technology in higher education,” is used by Cobb and many other professors to better their classroom environment and to learn more about how to incorporate technology into their teaching techniques.
Although Twitter is now being used for academics, that’s not to say its social purpose has faded. “#Gustienation,” one of the hash tags commonly used on Twitter by Gustavus students, is only one of the many examples of how Gusties connect with each other through this fascinating social network. Feeds such as “GACompliments,” “GustieProblems” and “GustieFridays” are all followed by students as a way to be completely involved and up-to-date on the fads, jokes and conversation going on around campus.
Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas ’00 controls and writes the tweets for Gustavus’ recognized Twitter page (@Gustavus). Thomas knows the twitter world and is required to tweet about almost everything Gustavus.
“It’s a way to reach a younger demographic and keep prospective students updated about what’s going on with the College. This is the wave of the future—younger people are going there to get news, and Gustavus needs to have a presence,” Thomas said.
This rapidly growing network makes us think twice about how technology affects our lives socially, academically and professionally—and how we could, and do, write out our daily lives in 140 characters or less.