There has been no shortage of debate around the water cooler in schools across the country about the role of social media in the classroom. Teachers are wondering if social media is just another fad, or if it is a tool that will enable teachers to better connect and communicate with their students?
When considering whether social media and, in this case, Twitter, is useful in the classroom, I think it helps to understand that social media is really no different from any other technology. There will always be early adopters who are quick to embrace new technology and test its usefulness in the educational context.
Next, there are those who take the wait-and-see approach. They wait to see what other teachers are routinely using before deciding to jump in. Then, lastly, there are those who resist any technological change. They are happy with their trusty overhead projector that never lets them down.
Twitter has been around long enough to have been tested in various educational contexts, and proven to be useful in increasing student engagement and participation in some contexts. If you have adopted the wait-and-see approach, this article will help you decide where to embrace Twitter, or leave it on the shelf. We will look at its usefulness and limitations to both students and teachers.
Depending on what statistics you look at, on average, less than 30% of those under 25 use Twitter. Of those, only about 7% would post more than one tweet per week. This would suggest that Twitter has more of an application in university and adult education scenarios, but it can also have some value to the high school setting.
There Are Two Main Uses For Twitter.
1. Communicating with your students
From a teaching and learning scenario, Twitter allows you to be able to communicate easily and effectively with your students and those in the community who are in some way connected with your class or wider school community.
The challenge of using Twitter as a communication tool is that the potential for your message to be lost in the noise is quite high. It is unreasonable to expect that your students or interested community members will read every tweet on their time line.
To overcome this, the teacher can make use of hash (#) tags. If you want to communicate with your class in a way that filters out all the noise, then you simply add a hash tag to your tweets.
For example, you might have a hash tag with the initials of your school or your name and then the class number. Your school might be called Total Drama High, and you are teaching year 9, so the hash tag would be #tdh09. You don’t have to use the actual name of your school. You can make something up and have a bit of fun with it.
An example of a tweet with a hash tag would be:
Once you have started to use your hash tag, you need to get your students to search for it and then save it as one of their streams. Once saved, they can log into Twitter and just look at the tweets that have been categorised for them under that particular hash tag.
Just be aware that you will need to remind your students to go to Twitter to find your communication, as the statistics suggest that they will not be engaging with this tool on a daily basis.
2. Building your professional learning network (PLN)
While Twitter has some value as a communication tool, I believe that Twitter’s real value lies in the fact that there are tens of thousands of teachers on Twitter all sharing resources. Twitter is one of the best places to find teachers who are in similar educational contexts, whether this be geographical or subject-related.
Once again, the hash tag is the key to finding targeted and relevant content. You can use Google to find some of the hash tags that would relate to your teaching area, but some of the more popular ones you might like to look at include:
General Teaching And Learning
#Edtech – Anything to do with technology in the classroom
#education – Anything to do with education
#elearning – Mostly about computer-based learning, although it also covers anything to do with the e role in learning
#teachers – Focuses on the teacher
#edchat – A weekly and lively discussion about all things education
#ntchat – Resources for new teachers
#teachmeet – Connecting teachers
#ukedchat – UK teacher chat
#ozteachers – Australian teacher chat
#ednews – News feed
#ceoelearn – Catholic education chat (very active resource feed)
Subject Or Role-Specific
#elemchat – Elementary teacher chat
#mathchat – Math teacher chat
#scichat – Science teacher chat
#collegechat – For teachers of college students
#kinderchat – Kindergarten chat
#cpchat – Connected principals chat
#bio – Biology chat (can get mixed results)
#tlchat – Teacher librarians chat
#spedchat – Teachers working in special education
#kedu – Another kindergarten hash tag
(For subject-specific hash tags, you can just put a hash tag and then your subject. For example, #health, #art, etc.)
How To Set Up Your Twitter Account Safely
One of the questions I am often asked is, “Is it safe for teachers to be connecting with students on Twitter?”
The answer is ‘yes’, provided you set up your Twitter account in the right way.
The first consideration that any teacher should have when it comes to technology is one of privacy, and their professional relationship with their students. As a teacher, it is sobering to know that even if a student makes an unfounded allegation of inappropriate conduct against me, it can ruin my reputation as a teacher and take a long time to resolve.
In the teaching world, perception is reality. This being the case, I cannot urge teachers strongly enough to put in place use-of-technology policies that protect their professional reputation. We need to do everything we can to build the perception that there is no room for misconduct. In other words, not only should teachers be above board, but they should be seen to be above board.
With that in mind, each teacher should consider how they set up their Twitter account and interact with their students.
The following should serve as a guide:
1. Consider setting up your account so that others need to request your permission to follow you
When you follow someone, they are able to send you a direct message. A direct message is similar to a short (140-character) email. The communication is not made public in any way.
This could be a problem if your students follow you, as this allows you to communicate with your students in a way that is not publicly available (remembering that perception is reality). Obviously, the student could take any inappropriate, direct messages to a trusted adult, but I would rather remove the option for this to occur.
There Are Two Ways To Manage This Potential Problem.
Firstly, you can set up your account so that each time someone follows you, an email will be sent asking if you want to accept their request. You can then simply accept or reject their request, based on their relationship to you.
The second way you can manage your reputation is by blocking your students. Some teachers feel that the hassle of having to accept every invite would be too much. To overcome this, you can just have an open account, but if one of your students follows you, you can click on their name and then block their communication.
2. Don’t follow your students
There is no need for any teachers to follow their students on Twitter. You simply use the hash tag to communicate to your students without the need to follow each other.
Numerous people argue that this policy is too strict. After all, we have our students’ email addresses. I understand their point, but I would just rather be safe than sorry.
If you are looking for a tool to help you communicate better with your students, Twitter might not be your best tool. I would much rather use Facebook as my communication tool, as the students are already using Facebook multiple times a day. This means, as a teacher, I do not have to remind my students to check their account, as they are already doing this.
That said, Twitter is a fantastic tool for building your professional learning network and finding resources and teaching ideas.
Mike Reading is a Google-certified teacher who has taught in a range of school environments including K-12, high school and a senior college. Mike regularly speaks at seminars and staff-development days on ways to better motivate and engage students with and without the use of technology. His practical workshops on how to use technology to increase student motivation have been well received by thousands of teachers around the country.