Using Twitter in your course to apply knowledge to current issues


Twitter – the (in)famous microblogging platform – has gotten a bad rap as being a dumping ground for tweeting about what they ate for lunch, or for hating on the New York Yankees whenever they visit Boston (or anywhere else for that matter).

Actually, Twitter has its place as one of the most powerful tools for use in education – but only if you are aware of how it can be used.

In a nutshell, Twitter is like emailing to the whole world, with users able to filter out only the messages they wish to listen to. This is done using a hashtag, which looks like this: #donuts. Note the pound sign in front of the word? That enables users to “listen” to specific tweets with that hashtag and to filter out others.

How can a hashtag enhance teaching and learning? For one, many industries have hashtags associated with them, such as #HR and #diversity within the Human Resources industry. People around the world publish tweets about current events on all topics, all the time. The real power of Twitter is in its ability to provide students with a sampling of information from a current, realtime stream of relevant content. Put these two together and you can create an activity like this:

Utilize Twitter to curate articles as a focus for analysis using instructional material as reference.

    • Students use Twitter Search (no account required!!) or (no account required either!!) to surf the stream of current discussion, articles, and media using popular HR hashtags used in the area of study. A simple Google search can locate lists of industry hashtags. Searches can even be made without a hashtag – just a word or two, just like Google!
    • Tweets often include a URL to an article or document. Curated articles may be used as a basis for identifying areas where course subject matter may apply. Certain articles may also include visitor comments, which can be utilized in an assignment for analysis and evaluation, such as “Which comments did you find most insightful?”.
    • All curated links can be contributed to a course resource knowledgebase, which could be built throughout the term.

The Twitter Search URL is as follows (use this in your course instruction to students):

Potential benefits of this strategy:

Twitter is an authentic tool for practitioners to become immersed in an area of interest. Students can benefit from learning how to use Twitter to advance knowledge, build follower networks, and gauge contemporary discourse in their area of interest. Hashtags offer opportunities for students to monitor specific sub-topics or industry segments where their future interests lie.

Utilizing contemporary issues as a basis for analysis and application of new knowledge accelerates proximity to authentic practice.

Developing a course-wide knowledgebase supports personal learning network development and supports the principles of Social Constructivist learning.

Issuing an assessment of student work that is based on immersion in real world situations may be a more valid predictor of students’ future professional peer interactions, as it more closely resembles the actual tasks they will be expected to perform in the field.

The Bottom Line: Students may find activities more meaningful if they can apply their new learning to what is happening right now in authentic practice. This is preferable to simply asking students to comment on what is written in a textbook.

One more thing you should know: Twitter has a rather odd policy at the moment (as of February 2013) where if you are a new Twitter user and you publish a URL in a tweet, it will not appear in a hashtag search. Millions of people are upset about this, but it is what it is. So if you are a regular user with a few followers, you will likely have no problem publishing tweets with a URL. But if your students create their own account and expect to tweet URLs right from the beginning, it might not work.

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