Outside of the classroom, Twitter is huge, with 284 million users logging in each month from around the globe. Each one of those users follows and tweets 140-character messages on a regular basis. But can—and should—this real-time social media be used during a classroom presentation? More teachers are beginning to incorporate Twitter into their lesson plans. Educators who use Twitter say it increases classroom interaction and keeps students tuned in.
Despite our best efforts, presentations can sometimes turn into one-way communication– us talking and students passively listening. You may be stationed at the front of the classroom, perhaps using PowerPoint slides or showing a video on a screen, while the class follows along silently in their seats. Or, any discussion that is generated might be dominated by the verbal few, with quieter students too intimidated to jump in.
Also, when you look at the multiple studies that indicate the brevity of a student’s attention span, ranging from two to ten minutes, a lengthy presentation can lose the audience it was designed to teach.
What if, instead, the presentation initiated a lively conversation, incorporating the thoughts of many students sharing their ideas both online and aloud in the classroom?? Using Twitter during your presentation is a great tool to encourage student participation.
It’s no surprise that students are already extremely familiar with social media. Pew Research Center reports that 95% of teens aged 12 – 17 are online, and that 78% of teens have a cell phone. Nearly half of those are smartphones, and 74% of teens have access to the Internet through a phone or tablet. A whopping 81% of online teens use social media and 24% of them have Twitter accounts.
Students’ familiarity with technology and social media outside of the class can make it easy to introduce Twitter as a tool to use in the classroom. If students do not already have Twitter accounts, they can sign up for a free. = As a teacher, you may want to determine if you need a separate Twitter account for the classroom, versus the one you may use for your personal tweets. Also, check with your school district to see if parental permission is needed for kids to get an account, or if any privacy waivers need to be signed. Consider using Twitter specific applications that allow you to establish group tweets, and set the privacy level needed to keep your students safe online.
Create a hashtag, which is a word or phrase preceded by the pound sign (#) that describes your group, i.e. #pdeloatchAPhistory. By including that hashtag in every classroom tweet, it’s easy for your students to follow the conversation.
Create a general class Twitter account for those who don’t have access to Twitter. They can then participate, typing their first name or initials at the end of the tweet so you know who they are. Check out this guide we put together for more basics on getting started on Twitter.
Give students some questions to think about at least a day or two before the presentation. Let them know that you expect them to participate during the discussion. This allows the reflective learners additional time to plan their comments.
Is everyone following your presentation? And if not, would anyone speak up and tell you they were confused? With Twitter, a student could send you a direct message asking for clarification on a concept. In addition, you can pause the presentation and ask the students to tweet questions, which you can show on a screen and answer. Or, set up a simple yes or no Twitter poll and to ask students if they understand the material.
Ongoing tweets between students during the presentation are called a backchannel, and rather than being distracting, they can be very useful. These tweets allow students to collaborate with their thoughts and questions. The University of Colorado noted that peer discussion helps students understand concepts, even when no student started out with the right answer. In the same way, sharing information in a backchannel can help your students explore and reach conclusions on class material.
Break up the presentation by having students respond to your questions with tweets that you post on the screen to discuss. Look for ways to make this provocative and fun, i.e., who had the bigger fail, Romeo or Juliet and why? or Name one pro or con of capital punishment.
Have students tweet salient points of the presentation, either to the closed group or the whole Twittersphere. This teaches students to be concise, using 140 characters or less, so they learn to focus on the most important concepts. Those tweets also establish a study guide, which can be used after the class, or even by students who missed the presentation.
While Twitter is certainly not the only way to increase interaction between you and your students, it’s a way to employ a technology most students already enjoy, it gives them a chance to be active in the presentation, and it encourages them to share individual thoughts. That’s certainly something to tweet about.