Twitter in the Online Classroom

Communicating with your online students can be challenging. While most course management systems (CMSs or LMSs) have discussion boards and email capability, the reality is that somehow as an instructor you need to drive them onto the site to get the course information -for as we all know, students will not “surf” course pages.

One solution is Twitter. In my Human Genetics class, which has been taught as both a hybrid and online course for the past five years, I use a Twitter site to inform the students of upcoming events such as assignments, quizzes, and tests.

Twitter

Some best practices for using Twitter for this audience:

Provide specific instructions on how to set up a Twitter account

While the 18-25 age group may be the social network generation -the reality is that most of them do not have a Twitter account, nor even understand why they might want one. At the start of each semester I post a pre-course checklist that contains instructions on how to set up a Twitter account and subscribe to the course Twitter site. It is important that this checklist contain screenshots of exactly how to setup their accounts. Increasingly, I am abandoning the checklist aspect of the course in favor of video tutorials on how to set up and use an account.

One thing that you want to inform your students of is the fact that they do not need to have your course tweets sent to their cell phones – especially of they do not have unlimited text messaging on their cell phones. Instead, I inform the students that they can set up programs such as Tweetdeck that allow them to subscribe, and filter, a variety of Twitter sources.

One additional note on Tweetdeck – it provides an easy way for an instructor to not only manage multiple Twitter accounts, but to also post information rapidly to their students. If you are going to use Twitter in your classes, I highly recommend the Tweetdeck program (and a iPad app as well).

Limit the number of tweets and tell your students how to follow them

The last thing that your students want to know is what you are up to this weekend, or your political views on a certain candidate. Therefore, you need to limit the number of tweets that you send each day – and make them specific for the course.

For my course, I send out one tweet per day (usually Monday-Friday) informing the students on what is coming up over the next few days, due dates for assignments, etc. Occasionally I include tweets about current event topics that are related to the current course content – but it is important that you make it relevant to the current material, otherwise you are simply bombarding them with tweets – and that is not the goal of the course Twitter site.

Set up a second Twitter site for your other posts

On the course checklist I inform my students of a second Twitter site, RicochetScience, that they can subscribe to for information on a variety of sources. Most students actually pursue this option, but since it is not required, they do not feel obligated to read every link or tweet.

While there are many ways of communicating with your students using social media – the use of a Twitter account is by far one of the easiest for both the instructor and the student.

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This article was originally published on Ricochet Science in April 2012

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