Friday, February 15, 2013

The Twitter Teaching Assistant

The last tech talk got me thinking about how I could and do use social media in the classroom, so I thought I'd share.

First, I don't think I would mess with Facebook. There's no questioning there's some amazing functionality there, and the near universal reach among students adds to the appeal. But for me, Facebook is a very personal public space -- if that makes any sense.

I can't recall who brought this up in class, but being among the first to have access to Facebook when it was only accessible by college students definitely colored our perception of what the site is. I'm guarded about who sees what I post because I speak more candidly and personally on Facebook than I do anywhere else. I don't want to breach that divide with students.

Now Twitter, on the other hand, is a different story. It's an inherently public forum and always has been. The ability to search for a topic based on hashtags is a great way to enter a conversation and it cuts through the clutter on the rest of its site, which I think is extremely beneficial as it relates to teaching. This feature enables students and teachers who don't "know" one another within the social network to engage in meaningful conversations.

I'm living amidst a great example. I currently TA for a communication law course. The professor discovered that students are floating around on Twitter talking about the course under "#commlaw." He's shared some examples of some of the more interesting tweets to begin class, which is good icebreaker for an early morning class and it's typically good for a laugh too.

Recently, I decided to jump into the conversation following our first exam:

We've been studying political speech and laws regarding campaign contributions, so I made a joke about 501(c) groups. Hilarious, I know. You'd have to understand the concept to get the joke.

But that's what makes it good. I think little things like that bring students into the larger conversation, particularly in these giant lecture courses. It also makes me seem a bit more personable and offers me some forum with which to engage students. I don't lecture. I only provide limited counsel and grade exams. I'll be the most hated figure in the room before the semester is over.

And the communication flows both ways. Twitter provides a channel for students to talk with me. Several of them administer an account for the class, @commlawprobs:

So I follow them and I see concerns about the grades. My reply:
Now we're all on the same page. And the account is a good way for the students to blow off some steam, share concerns, or even make a simple joke:
I haven't decided how beneficial I think this whole project is or could be, but it's definitely interesting if for no other reason than it's some good-old-fashioned grass roots fun we can all be a part of.

1 comment:

  1. That was me that brought up the Facebook thing! : ) How convenient that I am reading your blog. I feel like our age group always feeling slightly betrayed by Facebook because it was never meant to be so public. I never would have thought I would have my grandparents looking at my facebook page. I kind of agree about keeping it separate from my students.