A recent post to the Wired Campus Blog titled “In Classroom Experiment, All Discussion Happened via Twitter,” Alisha Azvedo discusses Stephen Groening’s experience in his cellphone cultures class at George Mason University. Groening’s course was designed to encourage students to think about cultural issues associated with cellphones. For a Twitter discussion experiment, Groening set up three projectors to display the Twitter streams on the wall of the classroom, and the experiment was to tweet silently about the assigned reading.
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There are many ways to use Twitter as a tool for education aside from Groening’s experiment, and although this tool has benefits, it has downsides as well. Twitter can be used as a way for students to contact fellow classmates as well as their teacher. One could argue that email provides the same function, and that you can write more in an email, but for students who are fluent in the Twitterverse, Twitter is a quick an easy way to stay connected and updated. The contact outside of the classroom via Twitter could range from discussing class material to linking additional information and sources and a host of other affordances. Class hashtags can not only organize information into easily identified topics, but provide a focused thread that classmates can visit as well, looking to see what their peers are finding interesting or having trouble with. As far as the downsides to Twitter, there can be many. For those students who already have Twitter, they may wish to keep their school and private life separate, resenting the fact that there is an educational desire to combine the two, viewing it as an encroachment on their personal space. As mentioned before, Twitter only allows for 140 character posts, and the task of composing a substantial tweet with that restriction may prove to be difficult. Lastly, not all students are Twitter-savy, and neither are teachers.
Azvedo quotes Groening on his first experience with Twitter:
“I was super-nervous because to me, teaching means a lot of talking—giving a lecture or giving a discussion. I was more scared for this class than I’ve been in years because the kinds of tasks that I associate with teaching I wasn’t able to do. I was worried that it would get out of control and either be very much off-topic or nobody would have anything to say.”
You have to commend Groening, who is trying new approaches to learning as well as modeling the changing role of the teacher from master to life-long learner, learning right alongside his students. Twitter may not be a useful tool for all classrooms, but cannot be easily discounted when taking into consideration the learners of today.