TTP 5: The Twitteracy Project is Dead, Long Live the Twitteracy Project

The verdict is in: this past semester’s Twitteracy Project was a bust.

To put it succinctly, I think the two main roadblocks were 1) the technology at home and 2) student motivation. Many kids reported problems even being able to log in to Twitter from home, let alone send messages. I suggested they upgrade IE, I suggested they try Firefox if they were using IE (sorry, Bill), but all to no effect. Also, the students had to be motivated enough to log in and send messages, which very few of them were. In a class of 24, I think there were only 4 or 5 “regulars”, and when no one else was joining in, even they lost interest by about Thanksgiving or so.

Not one to learn lessons easily, I’m implementing the project again this semester, this time with my Honors Brit Lit juniors & seniors. While I can’t address their home technical issues, I hope that their intrinsic motivation will be a little higher than my sophomores’. Sure enough, just when I needed a little inspiration, The Chronicle of Higher Ed [via Twitter’s blog] runs a story about David Parry, a UT-Dallas professor who used Twitter with his students to great success. The big payoff, according to the prof?

The immediacy of the messages helped the students feel like more of a community, Mr. Parry said in an interview Monday. “It was the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching,” he said.

Now where have I heard that before?

Further reading: Twitter article on Dave Parry’s blog, academHack.

Edit: He’s @academicdave on Twitter, if you want to see what he’s doing with his students.


  • It is all about the student motivation, and the two examples illustrate the issue perfectly. If the students aren’t motivated, they won’t build the network. If they are, they will. As happened with the professor, they ate it up.

    At EduCon this past weekend, we talked a lot about using what the students were comfortable with to motivate them and network them. Perhaps the sophomores needed to use something they were more familiar with, like instant messenger or something else. Was the technology being forced upon them or did the technology come to the project?

    I don’t know. This is something I struggle with every day as I reflect on my plans and lessons.

  • I think there is a big divide between adolescent technology use and our own.

    This morning, while working with a French teacher and his class, students were able to, via proxy sites, access Facebook. One student asked to no one in particular, “Do any teachers have Facebook pages?”

    One student provided some names, but a few students said in varying degrees of disgust and passion, “Once you reach a certain age, you shouldn’t be allowed to use Facebook.”

    Maybe, once you started advocating Twitter, your students associated it with you, with education, with teacherly adult sites, and then they just summarily rejected it.

    I’m all for teacher enthusiasm and ‘connecting with kids, but I’ve found that teachers are walking buzzkills for kids.

    Twitter they resisted. Talk to them about Facebook and they’ll think you’re a stalker.

    On another note, my lacrosse team has a wiki page, one that I set up last year. Players populated it and contributed to it. At the start of this year, the seniors made a Facebook page for the team. Being polite, I asked if I should ‘join’.

    No – the polite response over and over.

    Today, a girl on the team said to, “No one uses the wiki anymore, Coach”.

    Now what?

  • Valid points all around, boys.

    @scott: Depends on what you mean by “forced.” I introduced the concept to them, played with TwitterVision with them, showed them my personal network, and tried to establish buy-in. I “forced” it on them in that I brought the concept to them and tried to get them interested. I did not, however, mandate Twitter-based assignments or require them to log in once a day (how could I when many of them couldn’t even get in when they tried?). You might be right about the familiarity aspect. It’s funny, though; they were all about it in the classroom, but the enthusiasm didn’t carry over to home. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised; they probably see it as an encroachment on their time. Shame to think of learning that way, but I was 15 once too, I guess.

    @ken: Yeah, that thought (teacher = buzzkill) crossed my mind several times. And as for your lax girls, well… I think your “sticky figures” post pretty much sums it up. I wouldn’t be as disappointed if my kids tried it, got involved, and then lost interest or decided it wasn’t for them. I’m disappointed because I think the project has potential that was never realized because it couldn’t get off the ground.

    Totally looking you up on Facebook now, Ken. A search for your last name turns up a 70-year-old man from Philly – tell THAT to your snotty whippersnapper students, and then tell them to get the hell off my lawn.

  • At first I was surprised that your students didn’t eat up Twitter, but then I read they were sophomores. I hope you have more luck with your honors level students!

    Did you help them design their network? I think giving them a starting point of people to follow (besides each other), would be a good place to start, then they can start branching off from there. That might get the ball rolling a bit more.

  • @pam: The approach I was taking – and this may be one of the project’s shortcomings – is that I was just going to set the kids up to follow each other, with the goal of raising the sense of community; I hadn’t planned on them following anybody else outside of us. There’s a part of me that would like for them to seek out people to follow, but I’m wary (perhaps unnecessarily so) of having them make contact with random strangers online. I could see parents getting very upset about that.

  • I definitely can’t comment on high school kids. But I know first hand, that even in a very geeky school (Carnegie Mellon) new technology like Twitter isn’t being used yet. In fact, I’m finding it extremely hard to convince friends to use it.

    I think Twitter is more popular among bloggers, because of how content is made on it. On social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, the content is practically generated for you once you fill a set of forms once. Twitter like blogs (and it being microblogging after all), require users to constantly generate new content. It means that not only do users need to have the motivation, but they need to come up with fresh, new content to write about.

  • Sorry this didn’t work this year. Mr Mayo ( introduced me to Youth Twitter ( , which he used to create collaborative stories with his class, and I am planning on using it next year – at least for one assignment.

    I think that when we introduce tools like these it does need to be highly structured for our students. Once they are comfortable with the medium they can begin to experiment, work in a looser format.

    Something else to think about – this came up in my Instructional Psychology class this year – your students may not have jumped onto it because they already had a tool for following each other’s statuses. Our prof was questioning why we weren’t using the class’ website with its forum and chat and collaborative areas. It wasn’t that we weren’t chatting and collaborating, it’s that we were already doing it via other systems (msn, google docs…).

    How did it end up working with your honours class?

    ok, now it’s really time for bed. But I’ll be back – blogrolled, you are 😉

  • @tracy: I ended up not implementing it with my Honors class after all. After I posted this, I got to thinking that another reason these kids weren’t that into it could be because they see each other for an hour and a half every. single. day. They need time away from each other. I think that might be why we hear of folks like Dave Parry and others who are using Twitter with some success in higher ed, where students only meet F2F once or twice a week, and may have need to contact each other between classes. Indeed, in grad school, we used email and Facebook for our intra-group communications.

    I didn’t want to become that teacher – the one who forces technology for its own sake, even where it doesn’t fit. For high schoolers who see each other every day of the week, this was probably superfluous. As you said, if they needed to touch base over the weekend, SMS, email, or Facebook/MySpace were probably more than enough in terms of options for communicating. My intentions were good, and I think I even structured the initial instruction well, but at the end of the day, the amount of time we spent face-to-face negated the need for an app like Twitter.

    I think the experiment was worthwhile, for even though it didn’t take off like I’d hoped, it was still a good learning experience for me. It didn’t seem to do the kids any irreversible damage, either, so no harm, no foul. I didn’t dedicate hours of instruction to the intricacies of Twitter, so I don’t feel I shortchanged them in terms of curriculum or content. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    That said, if I ever find my way into the college classroom as a teacher, I’ll definitely consider incorporating Twitter (or one of its many clones) as an alternative to a blog – a place for APBs, links, furthering of discussion, development of collegiality, and quick, easy group or individual contact.

    Got you on the blogroll, too – thanks!

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