Teaching with Twitter: #vivesnewmedia reflections

 

I have started the new year with my visit to Vives in Belgium, ampoule delivering again the New Media course to a new group of Erasmus exchange students. Using the feedback from every group, ampoule the course has become over time more focused on social media marketing and communications. This also includes more extensive discussions about privacy and big data as well as their implications for users and organisations.

This year students have been also asking questions about Twitter and its usefulness as a network, price a question that emerges by the end of the first day of teaching every semester and that comes especially from those accustomed to using Facebook and to thinking that a social networking platform is enough.

I have been teaching about Twitter and with Twitter since the first delivery of the New Media course at Katho (now Vives) in 2008. At the time is was mostly about showcasing how the platform works and using #kathonewmedia to showcase the uses of hashtags by sharing course relevant materials. As questions about Twitter’s privacy policy would emerge, I would then ask students to read it and report to the class. A critical discussion focused on the implications of sharing data and on the definitions and boundaries of privacy would then follow.

I have continued to teach with Twitter at Bournemouth University where the Digital Communication Strategies course had, among others, its own Twitter account to share class relevant materials and links but also answer immediate questions such as where the lecture was held or where particular pieces of information could be accessed. I have then suggested to students to use the course #DCSBU associated hashtag to share with everyone more news, thoughts, comments and materials related to the class. I also used to monitor the class account and hashtag on my mobile phone while lecturing keeping up with what was going on in the full lecture hall (I taught around 230 students). This helped to reach out to those who didn’t want to voice their questions but also keep the students engaged all on their devices. Pele (2012) for instance also used class hashtags to promote debate among his politics, law and journalism students. While something certainly “not for the faint of heart” as Young (2010), teaching with Twitter can enhance the classroom experience by providing students with a different form of interactivity. However, beyond the technical knowledge teaching with any kind of social media requires the lecturer to operate assuming a degree of risk – that of the class getting disorderly online or even highjacking the class hashtag for other topics. Kassens-Noor (2012) supports some of these findings.

While in previous years I would just tell students to tweet, this year I have taken this further. For an hour, we have shifted the learning from the traditional concept presentation and application to problem-based learning. The aim of the exercise was to get students accustomed to the platform by using it highlighting indirectly the value of communicating with purpose. The discussion that I expected to emerge from the exercise was a multi-faceted one: recognising how intuitive the use of Twitter was while also acknowledging the speed with which data was shared and updated. Questions about the use of the data shared (by whom, what for, with what effect), its relevance to others,  and its implications both for the users and their intended audiences were also expected.

Using the information that student have provided me with during our introductions about their field of study and interests, I have given each a different task – an article to read, a concept to clarify, some statistics to find and report on – all of them having to share their findings with the class hashtag. The time flew by and the students found themselves immersed in the exercise and the highly-personalised experience of their learning.

By undertaking the exercise we have:

  1. moved the physical boundaries of the classroom and dispersed them throughout campus (and perhaps beyond) indicating that learning can take place anywhere
  2. delivered a highly personalised learning experience to every student
  3. enabled students to discover the use of Twitter through a mixture of self-discovery and interactivity
  4. questioned the etiquette of the platform by analysing the hashtag stream resulted
  5. questioned the impact of the messages shared by analysing the live and unprompted reactions received during the exercises
  6. provided students with a live example that enabled them to question concepts of space and privacy as well as digital media literacy

Providing a personalised learning experience and direct and immediate reaction is not easy, requiring multitasking, a quick response and a method of monitoring class chatter. Although received with skepticism and perhaps apprehension by the students at the beginning I believe the exercise met its pedagogic objectives. However, the exercise has achieved more than that. Through its disruptive approach, it has brought fun and novelty into the classroom providing us with an experience that both the students enjoyed and I want to replicate in future deliveries.

 

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