Archive for the ‘Twitteracy Project’ Category

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.

TTP 4: Against All Odds

After my initial attempt to set up a Twitter-based personal learning network for my students was foiled by Captcha-blind laptops, I set up 26 student accounts from home. The following Wednesday, I came to class armed with usernames and passwords. I even had a Powerpoint of usernames to cycle through on our projection screen so all the kids would have to do is type “follow (username)” 26 times and be done with it. We’d all protect our updates and be Twittering away.

Yeah, right.

I don’t know if it was the multiple versions-old IE, or just slow laptops, but Twitter took forever to load. Some students managed to follow some others, but in the end, I told everybody to go home and follow the usernames I posted on my website.

Once we’re all in and following each other (I seem to be underestimating how difficult this is for them), we’ll protect our updates to create the “walled garden” effect – I have mixed feelings about this, but I prefer to err on the side of caution with something this new.

Initial response has been cautiously positive. In the last day or two, students have been Twittering basic “hey who’s there” messages. In days and weeks to come, I plan to extend the conversation beyond the classroom walls by tweeting them questions and links to discuss. I want to engage with these students on a more personal level than I have time to do in class while getting them thinking about their own learning and education, and I’m hoping this is one way to accomplish that goal.

TTP 3: Anti-Climax!

So I had it all planned out.

My school’s filtering scheme doesn’t block Twitter, and I’ve tried Tweeting from school via both Twitterfox and the website. Good to go.

Dramatis personae: Sophomores, 15 and 16 years old. Familiar with IM and chat rooms, intrigued, if slightly confused, by the screenshot of a Twitter timeline I broadcast from our LCD projector. I explain my rationale to them: Personal learning network (sorta, but close enough for their purposes). Community engagement. Learning beyond the classroom walls. Relevant links and possible extra credit opportunities. A permanent log of communication (so keep it professional & civil). The kids were interested, but still a little apprehensive as to what this funny-sounding website was all about. Then I dropped the hammer.

Behold Twittervision.

“Whoa!” “That’s awesome!” “Can we do that!” (Yes, yes, and no – I’m making them protect their updates)

We must have watched Twittervision for a good 5 minutes, commenting on the nature and purpose of various Tweets. We sent a class Tweet out from my personal account, and Konrad G was good enough to send back a shout-out all the way from Canadia. The kids were now ready to go. I gave them guidelines for creating their usernames, and they got started at All was going well until I was asked, “Mr. B – it’s telling me to type in two words, but I don’t see the two words it’s talking about.”


The browser on the school laptops would not display the Captcha image on any of the 26 laptops the kids were using (and what kind of fanboy would I be if I didn’t mention I had no problem seeing it with Firefox on my tablet?).

And so the excitement that had built around using Twitter for educational purposes ground to an unceremonious halt with ten minutes left in the period. My solution? I’m going to create 26 student accounts on my home computer over the weekend and have them log in and start Tweeting on Monday.

Not what I had planned, but not an utter disaster, either. At least I’ve got them curious, and I got the impression that some kids were going to set up personal accounts over the weekend to play with. Maybe they’ll engage in their own self-directed learning and discovery this weekend.

Their homework over the weekend will include logging into our class wiki and developing some general guidelines for safe online practice.

TTP 2: Why Twitter?

In an earlier comment, Bud says the same thing I’d likely say, were I reading this on someone else’s blog:

Interested to see what you do. Convince me that there’s a need that Twitter fills in the classroom. I love Twitter – but I’m concerned – I see people forcing its use for no particular reason other than that it’s Twitter. As I said – convince me.

After rolling this around in my mind a bit, I got to thinking that maybe they key here isn’t to use Twitter in the classroom, but rather outside the classroom in order to extend learning. Can Twitter act as a web-based learning network for high school students in the same way as it does for, say, edubloggers? Assuming that it can, how will high school students respond to it? This is the direction in which I plan to move with this project.

At this point, I can’t see myself using Twitter for anything in class, except to set up accounts and maybe give a demo and let the kids get their hands dirty. Anything I can Tweet to kids in class, I can just tell them face to face, and vice-versa. Outside of class, however, I see the following possibilities:

  • Network of students for sharing class resources that goes beyond social cliques
  • Built-in peer support system for immediate questions about/help with work
  • Easy way for me (or students) to send an “APB” or links to interesting/related sites
  • Convenient multi-user communication – especially useful for group project collaboration

The fourth point may not be as important to teachers in smaller districts, but I teach in a regional district that draws from several surrounding communities. It is not always convenient or possible for my students to physically get together, especially those who don’t yet drive.

So why Twitter?

  • Ease of setup and use
  • Minimal time investment in instruction of use
  • Likelihood of student engagement
  • Ease of teacher monitoring
  • Allows for community connections outside the classroom
  • Later on, possible entree to blogging/social networking for educational purposes

The same could be done with Jaiku or Pownce (but for the private beta); again, the specific tool doesn’t matter, as long as it can serve the desired purpose.

To get back to Bud’s original comment, I think I can already answer it – as far as I can tell, Twitter does not fill a need in the classroom. All I’d like to find out is if it can help to fill in some related gaps outside the classroom. As I’ve previously said, I’m not turning my class into Twitter 101, just trying to work a potentially helpful and minimally invasive tool into the mix.

I’m trying not to enter into this with any preconceived notions (other than, “there’s a possibility that this tool might be useful”), just a lot of questions. By the end of this, maybe neither one of us will be convinced.

The Twitteracy Project (TTP) 1: The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World

Wow – a single Tweet from Will with a link here brought something like 60 unique hits. Now I feel obligated to actually go through with this! (I kid, I kid)

I think the best way to start this off is with a clear statement of what this classroom implementation of Twitter is (or should be) in my mind, but also what it isn’t intended to be. Also, a clarification: in “The Twitteracy Project”, the project is my integration of the tool (Twitter) into the existing course. There is not an assessable Twitter project the kids will be working on. Just wanted to clear that up.

To borrow an old education axiom, I’m just trying out another tool in my toolbox. I’m not going to shoehorn all my class assignments into a Twitter-shaped hole, nor will I expect all writing assignments to be done in under 140 characters. This is just one part of the overall course entity, and one that I think my text-happy kids will enjoy. I cannot stress this strongly enough: this is an experiment. While I have objectives, methodologies, and hypotheses, I can’t say what the end result will be. The only guarantee I can give is that I am invested in this project for reasons I’ll outline below, and I will work my hardest to guide it toward success, because success for this project means benefit for my students. Here’s what I’m thinking as far as educational objectives:

SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To) create and contribute to a cohesive classroom community
SWBAT use the classroom community as an educational resource outside the classroom
SWBAT engage in a social learning environment outside of the classroom
SWBAT utilize an online communication tool to facilitate group communication when necessary
SWBAT exercise creativity in communicating information within specific restraints
SWBAT build upon existing technological proficiencies (e.g., cell phone texting) to learn new proficiencies (still struggling with the wording of this one; I hope the point is clear enough)
SWBAT explore related resources and draw parallels to core texts

Note that Twitter doesn’t play into things until the 4th objective. In my mind, this is less about tech and more about community. One of the best classes I’ve ever taught was an Honors British Lit class about a year and a half ago. At the risk of overusing the word, there was a strong sense of connectedness and community: the kids talked (and argued) with each other about the class after school, and they helped each other with the readings and the assignments (in a good way!). The kids and I connected outside of class as well as in class, and there was a sense that the relationships forged there were bigger than the class itself. In another class about four years ago, my students were faced with a project they created themselves (long story), and it’s fair to say they bit off way more than they could chew in the amount of class time we had left in the year. To their credit, most kids, including those who normally weren’t highly motivated students, came in before school, after school, and on weekends to work on this, under my or my co-teacher’s supervision. By the end, they had not only completed their project, but done such an exemplary job that the components of it have been on public display at the school ever since.

These classes came together from across social cliques and socioeconomic groups, committed to a/the cause. I’m not proposing that signing kids up for Twitter accounts will bring the magic automatically, but I’m wondering to what degree that out-of-class engagement helps kids become self-motivated and self-directed learners, and to what degree Twitter can help that along.

Becoming proficient at Twitter is not the point; developing the community is. Twitter is just one tool of many I plan to use to get us there. Other classroom activities and assessments (not all of them computer-based, believe it or not), as well as the tone I help to set as the instructional guide/co-learner (because yes, I’ll be learning along with them throughout all this; that’s the whole point) will also help get us to that goal.

This is too long already. Next time, I’ll address Bud’s and Paul’s quite valid concerns about Twitter for the sake of Twitter (which I hope I’ve done to some extent already) and some specific applications I’ve been thinking of, as well as my game plan for getting kids all Twittered up while staying safe. My plan for measuring this project’s success will also come a little later down the line.

As always, your feedback is appreciated as this all continues to gel in my mind.