Recent work has demonstrated that Twitter is an effective media for engaging students: http://edudemic.com/2012/10/its-official-using-twitter-makes-students-more-engaged/ .
It is also an incredibly useful way to continue to reach students long after they leave the classroom. I teach general education science courses to non-science majors.
My goal is not only to answer the “why do I have to take this course?” question when they enter the class but to spark and encourage a life-long interest in science. Twitter is an excellent tool to reach and teach my students about science both during the class and long after those final grades have been submitted by posting content that engages and interests students.
To that end, I plan on sharing my twitter account (@DrCatalano) with my students in my next course.
In order to both entice students to follow an educator on Twitter and then to retain those students as followers I propose the following guidelines:
- Don’t require that students follow your account. Suggest it to students as an option, or use it as extra credit if that works for your course. Remember that not all students use or want to use social media. Additionally, if students feel obligated to follow you and see it as an assignment they won’t persist after the course ends and any interest they show in your account will be perfunctory.
- Commit to posting at regular intervals. For maximum value, post a reasonable number of times each week. Don’t post six times in one day and then wait a week before posting again; students are more likely to read all the tweets if they aren’t bombarded with several at once.
- Vary the time of day of the posts. Don’t always post at the same time of day. Remember that students may keep different hours than you do, and twitter works by showing the most recent posts relative to the time of access. Additionally, if students are in different time zones than you are it makes sense to change the time of day in which you tweet to maximize the likelihood that they read your post.
- Post links to content that is user friendly. Avoid linking to sites that are geared toward professionals or people with advanced degrees; remember your audience. Examples in science include popular magazines like Discover or teaching centric sites like NASA.
- Know your audience’s interests. The secret is to connect the content to the everyday lives of students; avoid content that is too dry or inaccessible. Tie the content to topics your student demographic follows: current events, sports, and pop culture are instant wins.
- Don’t just retweet, generate original links. Retweets are good but your students want to hear what you have to say, too. This goes double for tweets while class in is session.
- Suggest people, organizations or magazines to follow. .. but explain why you think they are meaningful for your students. The idea is to encourage critical thinking, and by explaining your choices you help to build a library of reliable sources for your students to mine for future courses.
- Be personal. Give your students glimpses of your personality and interests. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and pursuits in your field!
- … yet avoid the overly personal comments. Focus your account only on your discipline and leave other opinions to a personal account. If you teach two different disciplines or sub-disciplines consider creating two different feeds.