“Fed-up professors say texting is the new doodling” is the national newspaper headline of a trend story that grew some serious legs online—passed prof-to-prof on Twitter and Facebook with amazing speed!
That’s because profs are also into sharing news in realtime via micro-messaging of course. And though we might not care to admit it, that means we’re often seen texting and tweeting during conference presentations and staff meetings, not unlike our students.
But students are texting and tweeting while WE’RE teaching! Therein lies the rub. Profs may be “fed-up” due to injured pride at our possible lack of interestingness, but we know that time-starved students’ attention is a casualty of the velocity of digital culture and deeply ingrained multitasking habits. At the same time, and just as likely, profs might be “fed-up” with all that Gen Y phone-tapping because we’re deeply concerned about student outcomes. Unfocused students fiddling with their phones in class can’t be good.
Or can it?
A study published last month in The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning showed tweeting students get higher grades. That research enjoyed enormous peer-to-peer promotion from edTech-minded faculty, students, and administrators (my Principal even tweeted it!). Turns out (to the surprise of how many?) that by live tweeting the lecture, actively engaged students are doing some serious thinking and learning.
To sum up the study’s implications: by encouraging students to livetweet the class, they practice valuable skills in distilling and reporting highlights and key points from the lecture or discussion. In the process, the classroom becomes both more transparent and increasingly connected to the culture at large, opening up possibilities for students’ friends, parents and other publics to actively participate or observe. This one simple mobile learning technology enables most key aspects of constructivist learning. And whereas texting may involve SMS fees, tweeting is free.
Livetweet P2P teaching
When classrooms are connected to the web through livetweeting, “students can become teachers,” to quote Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, speaking on a panel about technological innovations at schools at NBC’s Education Nation summit earlier this fall. With digital tools like phones and laptops, plus online access to the web (including Twitter) students “can teach their teachers; they can teach each other,” Hastings observed, basing the comment on his experience as an educational philanthropist and e-learning technology developer.
For teachers wanting to encourage this in their classes, step one is to figure out how live tweeting fits with learning objectives. For a journalism class at Carleton University in Ottawa, that wasn’t difficult—-the next generation of digital reporters knows that news doesn’t break, it tweets. In a recent lecture presentation where livetweeting was encouraged, one student remarked: “People in the class were all doing it; it really got everyone to actively participate. And even if they weren’t tweeting, we had the stream up on the screen for everyone to follow along.”
Once a prof settles on a course #hashtag and ensures it’s well publicized among students, it’s easy (and free) to aggregate the tweetstream using a live tool like TwitterFall. However, be on alert for hashtag hijacking—set up a moderator for sure. Tech-forward teaching is hands-on teaching.
Need more ideas for how to support student livetweeting? Check out this excellent presentation by Tiffany Gallicano, Assistant Professor of Media & PR at University of Oregon.