Thoughts on using Twitter to shrink the size of large classrooms, foster discussion and make class more enjoyable.

One of the first things out of any teachers mouth before class begins is “Put away your cell phones.” However, when Jamie Turner took the stage at this years Coke Mobility Summit the the first thing he did was ask everyone to take out their cellphones. He encouraged the audience to tweet their thoughts and questions during his talk. Why would he want us to be on our phones when he is speaking?

It wasn’t just Jamie either. Most of the speakers showed their Twitter handle on their first slide. Anything related to the summit was to be tagged #CokeMobileSummit. 

All noises were washed out of the auditorium except for the speakers voice; however, in another dimension conversation was happening – using Twitter. This giant room full of thousands of people teeming with thoughts, questions, concerns – without opening their mouth they all had an audience.

People were busy on their phones. People retweeted questions they wanted answered, made comments on others thoughts, cracked jokes and posted quotes when the speaker said something that resonated with them.

At one point someone on twitter asked if the speakers slides would be made available, a Coke representative quickly confirmed – and made an announcement over the PA after the talk was over. 

WHY ISN’T THIS BEING USED IN CLASSROOMS?

Most educators fear that when students use a phone or a laptop in a classroom that they will be more interested in the phone than the lecture. So, what? A student is not distracting anybody if he is on his phone – there are a million other things that could be more distracting to the class. He is going to use his phone under the desk anyways, he might as well be given the opportunity to interact with the class in digital space. Dr. Rankin a History professor at University of Texas Dallas has already made Twitter a staple of classroom discussion. It is also being used as part of a broader digital media education strategy at this Minnesota high school. Both of these experiments have had favorable reviews.

IMPLEMENTING TWITTER FOR THE CLASSROOM

If I were asked to set up Twitter for one of my classes next fall the first thing I would do is test to see how knowledgeable my peers were. Try and figure out who has a Twitter account? How do they use it? Who is familiarly with the language of Twitter. Then I would designate a hashtag for the class. For example a public relations class might use #PRCM3050. Whenever a student has a comment or question they simply post it to Twitter with the class hashtag.

The program Dr. Rankin at University of Texas Dallas had on the projector is called Tweetdeck, which was recently acquired by Twitter. I do not think that the use of Tweetdeck is entirely necessary; however, its multiple columns feature would allow the professor to separate questions, comments and any other category of discussion they would like to create into separate hashtags. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I see Twitter as a fantastic tool to help foster discussion in large classes. It gives students the opportunity to have a voice, while at the same time allowing the professor to continue lecturing.

I would love to continue this conversation. Feel free to post your ideas, comments, or criticisms below. 

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