Structured Twitter Assignments

Last month on ProfHacker, Mark (@samplereality) Sample described his use of Storify to collect and organize student tweets in his science fiction course. I’ve blogged in the past about using Twitter as a classroom backchannel, but what I like about Mark’s post is that it focuses on structured, time-limited Twitter assignments for his students. He mentions three such assignments:

  • Live-tweeting asynchronous viewings of Blade Runner over a five-day period
  • Live-tweeting roughly synchronous experiences playing Portal
  • Answering the question “What counts as alien?” in single, 140-character tweets

These assignments remind me of my Vanderbilt colleague Corbette Doyle’s use of Twitter to have students submit questions on pre-class reading assignments, questions that serve as the basis for subsequent in-class discussions. Whether the assignments are one-off ones (like Mark’s) or recurring ones (like Corbette’s), I think it’s important to have clear deliverables for students when you ask them to use Twitter. Asking students to say what they like on the backchannel during class might work for some students, but I think more structured Twitter assignments are likely to work for more students.

Mark and Corbette’s Twitter assignments have something else in common: The student tweets are aggregated and analyzed. In Mark’s case, he used Storify to collect and categorize his students’ tweets. See, for instance, his collection of Blade Runner tweets. In Corbette’s case, she used Poll Everywhere to collect her students’ tweets and have the class vote on the questions to be used for in-class discussion. Her students conduct the analysis when they prioritize their peers questions via polling.

These kinds of Twitter assignments are likely to be more productive if you do more than just aggregate the student tweets and say, “What do you all think of these?” Thinking of these Twitter assignments as small-scale examples of crowdsourcing makes this point even clearer, since effective crowdsourcing relies on aggregation and analysis.

Have you tried Twitter for structured in-class or out-of-class assignments? Please share!

Image: “Less than Meets the Eye,” Derek Bruff, Flickr (CC)

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