Twitter is not the answer to every pedagogical problem.

13 09 2011

ProfHacker really is a wonderful blog…most of the time. I’ve picked up tons of useful stuff there: DropBox, TripIt, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first place I read about HathiTrust. Nevertheless, they occasionally post stuff that is too complicated for me to bother with or just too clever by half. This would be an example of the second category:

I’m more interested in what Twitter can tell me about the thinkers in my classroom than in the books we read. It’s partly because I teach historical texts–so tweeting Shakespeare just isn’t an option. But this term, I’m using Twitter in my intro-to-Shakespeare course to listen to my students’ questions…

My assignment asks students to use Twitter sparingly (six times a term), a day or two before we convene for class discussion. It will make my teaching more responsive and lead us down investigative paths, gathering evidence for arguments as we go. It will tell me about ‘trending topics,’ about interests and uncertainties, in the intellectual climate of the room, and about what we can start to resolve together.

What if their questions require more than 140 characters? What if they don’t actually have questions? The same morning I read this, Leslie M-B dropped this comment on my last post about Twitter:

I know a faculty member who was concerned about lack of participation in his large-enrollment, lower-division American Studies class. Usually he didn’t have any trouble eliciting student participation–until he met this particular class. So he decided he’d keep his smartphone on the podium and invite students to Tweet him if they had questions they were too shy to ask in front of the 150 or so other students in the class. Only one student tweeted him, and the prof thinks that’s because the student felt sorry for him. Further investigation revealed the students weren’t shy–just apathetic.

I’ve grown to really, really like Twitter. Conveniently, my reasons are the exact same ones that Mark Cheatham offers here, but Twitter is not the solution to every pedagogical problem. Students who have questions can always raise their hand. If they’re shy, there’s always e-mail or office hours. [Raise your hand if you remember office hours!]

That said, I actually have some sympathy with this Shakespearean discussion method, but I’ve been working on doing it with a class blog where the discussion can proceed unhindered by character limits. Why make everybody sign up for a Twitter account when they can just use e-mail (or, Heaven forbid, their mouths)?

I’m beginning to think that most educational technology is the new patent medicine. We expect it to cure all our ills, when there are often far, far simpler answers to our problems right in front of our faces.


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