Three Things Teachers Can Do With Twitter – Right Now!

Banner: ETC, Twitter & Me - Jessica Knott

“What’s the point?” I hear that a lot when it comes to the use of Twitter in education. And, in some cases, I completely agree. But if the beginning of the semester snuck up on you like it did me and you’re looking for quick student engagement wins, Twitter might be able to help. Here are three ideas to get you started:

Number 1 – Current events

As Hurricane Irene barreled toward the East Coast, citizens battened their hatches and concerned relatives rushed to the Web for the latest information. My husband, two friends and I had planned a trip to the Jersey Shore to watch our good friend play in her first roller derby bout with the Jersey Shore Roller Girls. Their bouting venue? On the boardwalk. Obviously, not the ideal place to be with a hurricane charging toward the Jersey shore.

While and provided frequent updates, the information on Twitter was instant. People reporting wind speeds, flooding conditions and general storm progress updates filled my Twitter stream, and I had some interesting conversations with people who knew exactly what was going on. The trip was ultimately canceled but imagine harnessing this in your classroom. Libya, Somalia, the world economy — we’re living in a time of rapid change, and Twitter can help your students interact with that history.

As an added bonus, you provide them with an opportunity to experience the challenges that come with finding and using information from the Internet. How can they verify their sources? Who can they trust? This is a lesson that will be important beyond college as the world becomes more and more connected and access to information becomes practically limitless.

Number 2 – Classroom TweetUp

You might be surprised how many of your students are already on Twitter. Creating a Twitter directory for your class might give them another avenue to connect!  In my summer course I connected with six of my students on Twitter, a number that took me off-guard. It was interesting to see them engage in the things I talked about, whether or not I was speaking about class work.

Here, the standard caveats regarding the separation of school and personal life apply, and I wouldn’t recommend forced interaction, but simply helping students connect with each other (and with you) could be more fun than you think.

Number 3 – Data Mining

What are you covering in your first week of class? Send students to and see what they can find on that topic. They don’t need to sign up to search what’s happening in the Twittersphere, and having them bring in the tweet they found most thought-provoking or relevant to your topic could provide good fodder for classroom discussion, on or offline.

The beginning of the semester is a hectic but exciting time. Why not let Twitter help you hook your students right away to keep the classroom momentum going? In the words of Claude Bernard, “Experimentation is an active science,” and with millions of users worldwide, so is Twitter. Experiment with me!

14 Responses

  1. hello very nice your work. Unfortunately here in Brazil have no one who still works with this methodology in the classroom in basic education (elementary and middle school) there is a certain resistance and lack of preparation of educators in this regard. In business, or corporate education in the practice already is more evolved. I liked the text and will use for future references.
    Merlin Helez

    • Hi, Merlin,

      Maybe elementary and middle school teachers, baffled by Twitter itself, could be introduced to it via some of its mediated by-products:

      The twitter4teachers wiki, which lists teachers’ twitter accounts, started as a short one-page affair (see its October 13, 2008 version), but soon had to be subdivided into numerous pages (by teaching subject). Maybe following colleagues’ twitter feeds listed there might reassure some reluctant teachers.

      And then, there are aggregators where you can create a page on a given topic and add info to it, choosing from tweets (and other sources) on the same topic. If you look at the “Recent Comments” on this blog (1), you will find several “pingback” comments from such pages, mostly made by educators, several of whom are from South American countries. I follow 13 such pages, and I can view all their updates in handy, isn’t it?

      (1) The “Recent Comments” list is presently top-but-one of the right column, but our chief editor Jim Shimabukuro sometimes moves it elsewhere, though always in the right column so far ;-)

  2. Both good comments! Should I do some sort of video tutorial on Twitter? Like a brief look at “what’s what?”

  3. I’m not sure a video tutorial would help, Jessica: some teachers seem to be wary of Twitter precisely because it is so user-friendly and streamlined – as if they thought that serious stuff should be difficult, as in Stephen Colbert’s review of the iPhone (January 11, 2007 Tip/Wag – Science and Technology Report – from 1:50 ca).

    Yet maybe you could convey how this no-brainer simplicity of Twitter fosters the use of critical and organizational skills. Something in the sense of Hari Sreenivasan’s interview of Andy Carvin on Tracking and Tweeting Revolutions (PBS. February 17, 2011)?

  4. […] Three Things Teachers Can Do With Twitter – Right Now! “What’s the point?” I hear that a lot when it comes to the use of Twitter in education. And, in some cases, I completely agree. But if the beginning of the semester snuck up on you like it di… Source: […]

  5. Your suggestion to experiment is spot on. Try a few small introductory activities with Twitter to get a feel for how it works and decide what makes sense for your students and your classroom (traditional or online).

    I recently compiled a list of Twitter activities for online instructors: Fortunately, a lot of people are writing about their experiences, documenting what worked and what didn’t, and sharing tools (like rubrics).

    The ProfHacker Blog also created this Twitter introduction for instructors new to Twitter: It’s a nice guide to setting up an account and getting started. Thanks for sharing your assignment ideas!

  6. Hi, Melissa!

    I’m a huge fan of ProfHacker. I just love the concept and articles. I’d not seen this one, however, nor had I seen the one from Thank you so much!

    I feel that iteration and experimentation is so important in the field of education. It’s our responsibility as educators to keep trying new things, lest we stagnate and the students suffer for it. Overcoming the fear of failure can be tricky, but it’s also an adventure. Edventure? :)

    Regardless, thank you so much for the comment and additional resources! Would you be interested in writing a guest post about Twitter and your thoughts?

    • Hi Jessica!

      Yes, an ad/edventure is appropriate I think. :) And perhaps a culture change/adjustment that makes it okay, even encouraged, to try things even though we’re not sure if they will work. We might just be successful, and if not, we learn a lot in the process.

      I am glad those resources were helpful and I would love to write a guest post! My contact info is here: for more info.

      Thank you!

      • I’m looking forward to reading your guest post, Melissa.

        This kind of adventure is more fun – and fruitful – when undertaken with others you know. Bonnie Bracey-Sutton has been my mentor in exploring online things since 1999, though we only first met in real life in 2002. But then Bonnie has an exceptional knack for making beginners at ease with her online coaching.

        Then in 2006, Luca Mascaro, Anna Veronese and I started the “Noi Media” project, which aimed at encouraging people – especially teachers – in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, to use Web 2.0 tools. Initially, Luca didn’t like “Noi Media” (translation of “We Media”) much, but then I had already started a podcast called that, and moreover the “noimedia” nick was conveniently available in all the Web 2.0 apps we tried and discussed. We often met in real life, baffling pub patrons by heatedly discussing things like “in the new Web, is it important to cite sources?” for hours (1). Sure, I’ve also participated in purely online explorations of Web 2.0, but when you are a beginner, it is nice to do so with people you can talk with like that.

        It also helps setting assessment criteria: not all people in an expedition have to have the same ones, on the contrary: disagreeing about them very fruitful. My main ones are:
        – Is the application accessible to all or are its providers at least striving to make it so?
        – Are the things produced with it downloadable by the author and possibly by the users of the product?
        – Are the terms of use and in particular the privacy declaration acceptable?

        (1) When the pub patrons got vocally fed up, we adjourned to Luca’s blog: Nel nuovo web è importante citare le fonti?

      • Hi Claude – Thanks for providing this information and perspective. There are so many variables and decisions involved with the implementation of new media, and I agree that they are best considered with multiple voices in the process. Looking forward to the continued conversation!

  7. Hi, Jessica,

    Did you see How Twitter will revolutionise academic research and teaching by Ernesto Priego (Guardian, Sept. 12, 2011)? His learned references to Walter J. Ong on orality and literacy and to St Augustine on St Ambrose reading without moving his lips might perhaps convince teachers who are wary of social media…

  8. Claude, I didn’t! But, I will now!

  9. […] Three Things Teachers Can Do With Twitter – Right Now! “What’s the point?” I hear that a lot when it comes to the use of Twitter in education. And, in some cases, I completely agree. But if the beginning of the semester snuck up on you like it di… Source: […]

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