Monday, July 06, 2009

Twitter with students?

Twitter with students?

I'm just not sure I see a fit for twitter in schools. Promoting it with teachers also, then, promotes the idea of sitting behind your desk glued to the twitter stream, and Heaven knows we don't need any more of that. Skype, at least, isn't a stream and therefore you don't have to be watching it in order to use it.

And I know I'm swimming against the current with this one, too, but I don't think it's a tool for students at all. I do hear folks talking about it but I just don't see it being used effectively. Sometimes I think that folks dream of the following as being the kinds of conversations that students would have using twitter:

S1: In Bio listening to a great lecture on cell division. She ROCKS!
S2: Reading "Chapter 7" for Mr Wilson. Not my favorite so far but I'll get through it
S3: Great quote from Mr B: "History is written by the winners." He said it's not his original quote, tho'
S4: @S1 Mrs D is awesome! Looking forward to 5th period when I'll hear it, too
S4: @S2 Tell me about it. I've got to read it tonight. But I'm a fast reader.
S2: Anyone know a good website to help me to understand Chapter 7?
S1: @S3 Yeah, I heard that quote before, too. Hold on and I'll look it up for you.

Now, THIS is what would PROBABLY happen if students used twitter:
S1: wht's 4 lunch? I'm staving!
S2: NFW I'm readg that @#$ Chapter 7. Hes got 2 B Sh*ttin' me!
S3: "History is writn by th winners?" DUH!
S4: I get out of her class 5th period, dude! S*cks 2 B U!
S4: @S1 its only 9:30 dude! U cnt B hungry alrdy U pig!
S2: Any1 know if any of ths @#$% in Ch 7 will B on the test?
S1: @S3 No duh! Who ELSE wld write it. Hes so lame!

We just CAN'T project our learning styles and our love of our PLN onto the students. Just doesn't work - IMHO.

Update: Juy 8, 2009
This post has drawn more comments than anything I've done in the past. Too bad, too, because it certainly wasn't my best work, and it may have hurt my readership base. I certainly don't want that. And, since the comments to this post aren't initially visible when you read the post, I want to add some additional comments here before you rush to comment.

First of all, I am a BIG advocate for backchanneling. I have heard from many teachers who have used it (either Chatsy or CoverItLive or another tool) and who have reported wonderful, thoughtful, responsible posts from students. So, I'm not opposed to twitter for that reason. I object to its use in schools for other reasons, and I'd like to explain. It's MUCH more than that cynical, sarcastic post.

In order to use twitter you must set up an account and that involves supplying an email address. Problem number 1 - student email accounts. Yes, I've heard of some districts giving kids email accounts, but the overwhelming majority do not. And yes, there are disposable email accounts that you can use, but they're not widely accepted by schools around these parts, either.

Then, in order to tweet in a safe envirnoment you need to protect your posts. We can certainly tell them to do that, but there's no easy way to find out if they are, or not. If they're not, then their posts are out on the twitter stream for all to see. Problem number 2.

If a teacher wanted to use it as a backchannel then there's no easy way to obtain the transcript of your session. Yes, it can be done, but not easily - at least not a way that I've found that's easy. So, the transcript cannot be used for notes for someone who was absent, nor as a reflection tool. Problem number 3. Sites like Chatsy and Backnoise, or Coveritlive, allow for privacy, AND you can get the transcript very easily. You can set up "rooms" with passwords ahead of time, and students would just know to go to that room.

I have been teaching since 1971, and my last several years at the high school were with some excellent young adults who would NEVER have abused a virtual room intended for a backchannel. Of course, back then there was no such thing as a backchannel. Bulletin board systems and AOL ruled. But, I do think that if twitter was just opened up for students, they'd be DM'ing each other more than they would be talking about the topic in class. I just don't happen to think that twitter is the right tool.

I wish I could retract my original post, as the more I read it the less funny it sounds and the uglier the tone that I'm hearing from it. But, I wouldn't do that, especially since it has sparked such comments from so many people.

Thanks to each of you who has taken the time to comment. If you still disagree with my reasons for using twitter in school - or if you agree with them - I'd love to hear from you.


Mr. Willhoit said...

I totally agree about not teaching twitter to our students. I have heard of a few teachers who are and I don't understand the educational value of it. It has been well documented that teenagers aren't even using twitter; they have Facebook updates for that. I know it has been said before, but we need to focus on the skills, not the tools. And I agree that twitter is very helpful for teachers.

Unknown said...

I know that one of my co-workers was planning on learning how to tweet this summer. I presume to use in the classroom (In their defense, the fact that it's mentioned all over the place and they don't know a lot about it probably prompted the thought). I thought it was a little odd and not really worthwhile. Which is probably related to the fact that I know what twitter is.

Kyle said...

Please check out the link below. The article is somewhat simple but the comments are great. Notice the way in which twitter was used in the course.

There is no doubt that K-12 teachers will read this and say, "They were a small class of highly-motivated grad. students. This would never work in MY classes." To those educators, I encourage you to give it a try. If you are worried about misuse, provided expectations. If you aren't a believer in your students' ability to provided conversation at the level you would like, model it.

TRY IT. This stuff isn't going away.

BTW Jim, the article is about Cole Camplese and Scott McDonald. I think you may have met Cole @ 1-to-1?

Unknown said...

That is just too funny and too accurate. I am one to find some way to use new tool in education but am not entirely convinced about twitter in the classroom. There are many other tools that could be used for collaboration and higher order thinking.

Jim Gates said...


Thanks for the link to the article. It interesting that it took the students a while before they began to use it, isn't it?

I should have been more specific in my post. I WOULD suggest using a back channel with students from time to time, just not Twitter. I know; the post doesn't sound like that, perhaps, but we've even been discussing it and using it in the grad course I teach at HBGU.

Getting Twitter set up with HS kids would be the first issue. They'd all have to protect their updates which means they'd need email addresses, something that folks in this state are reluctant to provide. Following each other would be another. Then, the 140 character limit is too.. limiting.

I'd much prefer using something like Chatsy or BackNoise. First, students don't need email accounts to be able to use it. Second, you can save the text and post it in your online LMS, providing even more incentive to use it constructively.

Sadly, Chatsy and BackNoise are blocked in most schools - at least the ones that I visited. I agree that it's not going to go away, and I agree that it does provide a way for all students to contribute during a class. I thought I had written about a local middle school teacher who used CoverItLive with his students with amazing success, but I can't seem to find it. Guess I only THOUGHT I had written about it.

Anyway, thanks for the comment and the link. And I DO agree that this isn't going away and I agree that teachers SHOULD just TRY a backchannel a couple of times with their students. I, too, think they'll be pleased with the results.

Durff said...

I used Edmodo (Twitter on training wheels) with middle schoolers for the purpose of getting to know another classroom and forming groups. So I wasn't glued anywhere, could monitor later (even delete when necessary), and guide during the next class. I found the asynchronous part to be the hardest for that age group to swallow.

Mike said...

Hallelujah! Couldn't agree more.

Dale Holt said...

Twitter like anything else is a tool and has the double edge of any technology. Our task as teachers is how to deconstruct and reconstruct uses for it that will add to the learning process. I know of a student teacher Chris Webb (webby37 on twitter) who used a form of it to teach reduced writing poetry which is a great twist. We need to just learn that we can figure out a way to use all our tools and be open to continuous change about the way we think about the tools, come at them from a holistic and 360 degree view.

teachinu2 said...

I don't think teaching Twitter in school is necessary. I do like back channeling though.

Anonymous said...

This post seems to be more disparaging of students and their intellectual capabilities than it is of Twitter as a tool. While perhaps it is unreasonable to expect students to have the same degree of enthusiasm for social networking tools that educators have developed, I do think that Twitter proves an incredibly valuable purpose in helping to establish the dynamic of a learning community--one that is not contiguous with the walls of the school.

As good teachers we should strive to model the behavior of a lead learner in the classroom and help students understand the ways in which collaboration, discussion, and critical reflection are the primary means of engaging in authentic learning. As a tool, Twitter can facilitate this in a meaningful and authentic way.

The criticisms about the level of student discourse via Twitter seems to be a straw-man argument at best. Why should we steer away from it simply because some students might potentially use it to discuss less-than-meaningful subject matter? I think students fundamentally will rise to the level of discourse and expectations that we set for them, but if as teachers we expect that the lowest common denominator will become the norm then we set ourselves up to be focused on the status quo, and as a result, very trepidatious in the classroom.

Jim Gates said...

Point taken. Thank you.

But, I still believe that there are better tools for providing a backchannel experience for students without the hassles and limitations that twitter involves.

As I said in the reply back to Kyle, above, getting it set up is the first hassle. Setting it up and having to follow each other. The second is that it's not at all easy to obtain a transcript of the discussions so that they can be posted somewhere for further reflection, etc. Third, it's not a very private environment.

I still do think that the backchannel is an excellent teaching tool. No question about it. I DO question Twitter as the tool of choice, however.

I also agree that my tone was harsh and sarcastic - the very characteristics that I fault another guy for when I hear him speak. I will pay attention to that in the future.

Thanks for reading and for taking the time to reply. I hope you read this response.

SenorG said...

I teach inner-city high school and have had great success employing Twitter as an instructional tool. As for concerns mentioned in the article, student updates were protected so that only people in the class (and parents and administrators who I invited to follow us) saw the posts and the messages were classroom-appropriate because students were clear on expectations. Rather than invent imagined classroom discussions, I would encourage the author and others to seek actual samples. Lastly, I agree that there are also other good tools for back channeling.

James said...

Most students already have email accounts, so I don't really see why that would be an issue.

I also see no need to make the twitter feeds private. Karl Fisch explains why here: fisch bowl blog.

Who says twitter has to be used like that, anyway? Does it have to teach anything? Can't it just be a communication tool between teacher and students?

But, yes, if all you think twitter is for is a backchannel, then there are at least 6 other - better - tools out there. Coveritlive, edmodo, todaysmeet, plus the several you already mentioned.

Jim Gates said...

In my part of the country we're still struggling with opening the filter for wikis and blogs. I can't think of a single district in my area that allow ANY form of "chat" service in. As for students with email accounts, that varies widely from district to district so we can't assume that kids have an account. I have been in meetings where parents are adamant about their child NOT having an email account.

I read Karl's post. While he may have a point, I don't think his vision is anywhere close to becoming a reality - at least not in the schools with which I am familiar in PA. Even tools like voicethread, Glogster, Animoto, slideshare, etc are blocked. Why? "You never know WHAT someone is going to put up there." As for communication between student and teacher, our districts have strict policies about that, as well. They're told not to friend students on My Space. Even PSEA, our state's teacher's union, warns against teachers having blogs. I can't imagine schools - more than a handfull, perhaps, allowing twitter to be used for communication. Not when DM's are invisible to everyone but the two parties.

I obviously touched a nerve with this and I can't begin to tell you how deeply I regret it. It's not that the conversation isn't a valid one. I think it IS. But, I didn't think that post through enough to have posted it, and I fear that I have abused the trust that my readers have in what I am passionate about.

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I value the opinions of everyone who reads my blog. I hope that our different viewpoints on this topic won't cause you to stop reading.

Anonymous said...


I did read your response and I appreciate your feedback. While I recognize the logistical hassles involved in getting Twitter set up with a class, I think that the tool does help facilitate communication with students in a more consistent and authentic way. For instance, I had my students create Twitter accounts for our final exam review, which they enjoyed and I think found productive.

However, what I didn't anticipate was the way in which they used Twitter to DM and message me throughout the weekend leading up to the final exam to ask question, seek clarification, and get feedback about their ideas. Moreover, the public nature of some of their questions enabled students to receive answers from their peers rather than exclusively from me. I think students found Twitter to be a more amenable, and immediate, medium for communication with me, as I responded faster than via email and was able to check and respond pretty quickly via my phone. Additionally, I found the 140 characters constraint to be a useful one, as it forced both me and my students to be direct and concise in our questions and responses. Of course larger, more complex issues could be dealt with via email, but for those concerns students typically DMed me that they sent me an email, which I could then check.

Perhaps for an exclusive backchannel a website like Chatzy or Today's Meet would be better than Twitter in terms of creating a centralized archive of the conversation. However, by using specially selected hastags, one can use Twitter search to then essentially recreate that day's specific backchannel and its contents.

As for your point about privacy and the public nature of the communication, I actually found that element of Twitter to have an interesting effect on the student's behavior. One student in particular noted to me that since he began communicating with some of his teachers and older relatives via various forms of social media (including Twitter), he found himself being more thoughtful about how he wrote, punctuated, and structured his messages. Direct engagement and experience with this particular form of media (e.g. that which is necessarily public) helped this student make important realizations about how we present ourselves in various venues and the lasting effects those presentations of self could have. In this case, I think the student's personal experience with Twitter proved far more useful in educating him about the powers and perils of social media than any pedantic speaker could have.

Thanks again for your post. These types of exchanges are really valuable and important ones to have, and are ones, I hope, that help people clarify and refine their thinking about these tools in the classroom.



Derek said...

I thought I would chip in and mention that there's been some great discussion about challenges and opportunities of using Twitter in the classroom at the college level. Gardner Campbell summarizes much of it and provides links to several great blog posts and resources.

Anonymous said...

My view is that if you can't use Twitter in school it is because you can't manage your classroom. Kids won't post inappropriately if you have the respect and control of your classroom.

Bill Ferriter said...

Hey Jim,

First, NEVER apologize for sparking a great conversation! If your readers are offended by your comments in a blog, then they don't understand that blogging is a conversation----and comments in conversations are never completely polished or scripted.

We've all said something that gets misinterpreted because we haven't carefully thought it through before commenting. The beauty of a blog is that people CAN push back, and that push back either forces you to rethink your initial position or to refine your language to get your original intention across more clearly.

If anything, this post is a great example of that cycle of learning in action. You made a post, your readers pushed back, you recognized that your original post didn't clearly express your views, you rearticulated your thinking more clearly, your readers pushed back a bit more.

It's really quite cool to look at, actually----you're modeling the important role that transparency plays in learning, and for that you should be proud. It's a lesson that students need to learn, too, by the way. I hope you've shared this entry---and the reaction it generated----with them.

Regarding Twitter in the classroom, I think it has remarkable potential to be a tool for differentiation because users can self-select information streams that they want to be a part of and instantly gain access to ideas connected to topics of individual passion with little effort.

Those are lessons kids need to learn---that tools like Twitter make learning efficient to those who know how to use them.

That being said, there's basically no chance that I could convince parents and district level leaders that the rewards of Twittering are worth the "risks" (their word. not mine).

While the idea that learners can tap into differentiated streams of content is an important skill to present, Twitter isn't a tool I'll be able to use until decision makers are willing to take more risks than they currently are.

Enjoyed reading through this,
Bill Ferriter