Stephanie Hedge is a graduate student in the Department of English at Ball State University. You can follow her on twitter at @slhedge .
The last several semesters, I have been incorporating Twitter  into my teaching style and lessons, and it has quickly become an inextricable part of my teaching tool box. Twitter allows me to stay in touch with my students quickly and easily, it fosters discussion in the classroom, and it helps to create a community among my students. I am able to engage students 140 characters at a time, and it makes sharing cat pictures way easier. This post walks through some of my reasons for using Twitter in the classroom, before providing some strategies for incorporating it in your own courses!
Why Teach With Twitter?
There are several reasons that Twitter has become important in my classroom. Not all of these reasons hold true for every student, or for every classroom, but these reasons underpin why I started using Twitter in the first place, and why I will continue using it into the future!
Twitter is free, easy to sign up for, and exists on multiple devices. Students are invited to Tweet from their phones or tablets during class, as well as their laptops, and it is easy for all students to participate. Moreover, inviting students to Tweet from their phones turns ongoing distractions into classroom-focused activities.
The Twitter platform is uniquely suited to fostering discussion. The short, 140 character limit forces students to think about what they are going to say, and creates a low stakes environment for contribution. Unlike blogging (which I also use), Twitter encourages quick thoughts and back-and-forth conversation, which is perfect for discussion in class and keeping students engaged after class has ended.
Using Twitter validates the digital writing students are doing. Our students are writing more than any generation in the history of humanity, and most of their writing takes place on digital platforms like Twitter. By including Twitter in the classroom, I can help students see that the writing they do outside of class still has value, and can help them apply rhetorical strategies to and think critically about the digital writing they are always already doing.
Twitter helps shy or untalkative students contribute to the discussion, and provides a means for discussion in large classes. Keeping the class hashtag visible at the front of the room means that I can take questions from students who are uncomfortable speaking in front of the class, or give students who take a little longer to process an outlet to ask questions when they think of them.
Twitter allows for students to get in touch with me quickly, in a low stakes environment. Students can send me public questions, hashtagging their questions so the entire class can see the answer, and everyone benefits. Students can also send me Direct Messages, which are only visible between me and the student. These exchanges are quick, easy to respond to, and allow me to keep in touch with my students in a way that is unobtrusive and not time consuming.
Twitter gives students a platform to chat with each other. As important as I think it is that students have access to me, the most valuable part of Twitter is the way it helps to facilitate a community for my students. They can ask each other questions quickly, they can find group members or chat about upcoming assignments, and it gives them a space to complain and engage in backchannel communication. Like passing notes, but digital. I have found that my students are a more cohesive community during semesters that I use Twitter, providing a platform for discussion, engagement, and friendship.
How to Teach with Twitter
Now that you’re excited about the possibilities for teaching with Twitter in your classroom, there are a few ways to encourage students to use Twitter. It make take some scaffolding to really integrate Twitter into your classroom, but these short assignments and tips should help!
Create a class hashtag. For those unfamiliar with Titter, hashtags are searchable keywords you can add to your Tweet. By using the “#” symbol before the word, you can tag your Tweets and make them searchable. This way, students can follow the tag and see everything that your class is saying. I put the hashtag on the syllabus, along with my other contact information.
Use Twitter in class often. I use Twitter to promote conversation. While watching videos, I have students Tweet questions about the video as they come up. After the video, we have a running catalog of the questions, comments, and ideas that students have come up with that we can go through as a class. Create a Storify  of the comments, and you’ve got a comprehensive set of notes about the movie!
Another strategy is to have students Tweet their group discussion commentary, instead of writing it on the board. I have students Tweet definitions, discussion questions, and potential paper topics, and invite other students to respond. Give over 10 minutes of every class period to answering questions posed on Twitter. Provide valid reasons for students to use Twitter in class, and it will start to become habit. Soon students will be Tweeting questions and comments without prompting!
Keep your Twitter feed, or the class hashtag, visible somewhere in the room. Project it behind you while you talk. This allows students to see what everyone is saying, while still staying connected to the room.
Use Twitter outside of class as well. Post links to interesting articles relating to the readings. Create a “scavenger hunt”, where students have to follow links to answer questions. Encourage students to ask you questions. Ask students to tweet questions about readings before class. Tweet links to GoogleDocs, schedules, or class assignments. Don’t spam your students, but letting them see you sending a tweet or two a day about class will help them keep the course on their minds, and encourage them to use Twitter outside of class as well!
Create assignments that focus on Twitter. Have students explore Twitter to find people that are relevant to the class for everyone to follow. Have students write a short narrative using only tweets. Use tweets as freewriting prompts. Have students create a mini auto-ethnography where they spend a weekend documenting their Twitter habits.
Although setting up your semester for Twitter integration may require a little extra work at the start, I have found that the benefits far outweigh the potential challenges. On Twitter, students are engaged, talkative, and given a platform where they can practice their writing skills. Have questions? Hit me up on Twitter @slhedge !
Do you use Twitter in the classroom? What are some strategies you incorporate? Let us know in the comments below!