Monday, September 05, 2011

Twitter in the classroom?

The big 'Fundamentals of Genetics' course starts on Wednesday, and I'm going to try letting students ask questions in class with Twitter.  Of course they'll still also be able to ask their questions the old-fashioned way, by raising their hands, but Twitter has some nice features.

I'll tell students that, if they have a question about what I'm saying, they can post it to Twitter with the hashtag #biol234.  When it's time to pause for questions, I'll display the #biol234 Twitter feed on the screen for everyone to see.  Maybe I'll give us all a minute to read the top questions, and then I'll answer them, integrating answers to different questions where this makes sense.  And then I'll ask for verbal questions.

Students in the class can follow the #biol234 feed on their smartphones and laptops, and can 'retweet' questions that they think important.   Questions that are retweeted will rise to the top of the feed list.  The lecture room has two screens, so I plan to use one for the powerpoint slides from my laptop and a second for internet content from the built-in podium computer.  (This screen will be blanked when I'm don't want students to attend to it.)  One web tab will be the Twitter feed, ideally set so only the top 5 or so questions are visible. 

Other features and concerns?
Students can also use Twitter to answer simple questions posed by other students.

Students who want to contribute will need to have Twitter accounts as well as smartphones or laptops.  This is good - I don't want questions to be posted anonymously, as this can lead to silliness and unpleasantness.

Students won't be disadvantaged by not participating.  If they don't bring laptops or smartphones to class, or just don't want to use them for this, they'll still see the Twitter feed and and my responses.

Won't students who follow the #biol234 feed on their smartphones/laptops be distracted?  Well, they'll be distracted from watching me, but at least they'll be thinking about the material.

One thing I really like about this is that it will help shift the focus from answers to questions.

If this works well I'll need to shorten the presentation parts of my classes, to allow more time for the questions, but this is something I'd want to do anyway.
I don't know anything about Twitter apps, but I suspect that the Twitter web site isn't the best interface for what I want to do.   I'll probably ask the students for suggestions, but I'd appreciate any suggestions from readers.

7 comments:

Kevin said...

Sounds like a cool experiment. I can think of a lot of ways it could go really poorly, but also a lot of ways that it could be awesome. I'll be interested to see how it goes.

jyby said...

Minor typo: "when I'm don't want students to attend to it.".

I like the idea. If you make the "lecture" part of your session shorter, you might consider asking students to read the material in advance and vote on which you should focus on during the class.

Tyler said...

You could try http://twitterfall.com/ or http://www.visibletweets.com/ since they live update.

Yuen-ying said...

I'm really curious to see whether this will be helpful in engaging students in thinking about the course content and being active participants in the classroom. Hope that it will!

Good luck with getting the technical details down as well. Have you decided how will you be assessing the "Top questions"? After participating in a live webinar today where one of the presenters was reading the questions and grouping them into popular categories as they came in, I would think that assessing popular student questions might be challenging to do without a chance to read through all of the questions (do you have a TA, perhaps?)

Anyway, cheers for trying this out, and hope you can keep us posted on the challenges, successes and feedback.

Rosie Redfield said...

Technical problems have intervened but are now solved. I just tried Twitterfall; its 'presentation' mode is just what I wanted. Thanks!

make facebook applications said...

is twitter also the name of a person ??
can any one help in this ??

thesensitivescientist said...

Hello Rosie,

Great to read about the ways you plan to integrate Twitter into the classroom! I look forward to hearing how effective it is for you. I too plan to integrate Twitter into my Advanced Mol Cell Bio course next semester, so I've been looking around for others doing the same. I've writhed a post here (http://thesensitivescientist.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/science-networking-project-twitter-revisited/) describing some of the ways I've imagined implementing it.