Using Twitter as an Education Tool

Are you using Twitter yet? If not, you may want to read how other educators are using Twitter as an education tool.

For those who are coming up to speed, Twitter lets you broadcast or microblog your messages (140 characters max) to a group of friends or other subscribers, who can receive them as text messages, called a “tweet,” to your subscribers and their mobile phones. Since almost everyone has a mobile phone now this makes Twitter more effective as a communication tool.

Twitter in Academia

David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, was a little apprehensive at first to use social media in the classroom, but after reading an article by Clive Thompson at Wired, he decided to give it a shot.

After giving his students a Twitter assignment one semester, Parry was curious to see how his students would react. He was surprised to see how it helped communicate with his students. After using it more and more he found “that it was one of the better things he did with the class.” He then posted these tips for using Twitter in academia.

Some of the highlights were an increase of “class chatter” as the class started using Twitter to have conversations inside and outside of the class. It seemed to develop a sense of “classroom community” as students began to develop a sense of each other outside the classroom space. Other tips are:

  • Instant feedback.
  • Track a conference or seminar.
  • Follow a professional or famous person.
  • Public notepad.
  • Writing assignments.
  • Grammar.
  • Maximizing the teachable moment.

Doug Belshaw writes about using Twitter with your students on his blog. Doug says: “I think Twitter could be ideal for reminding students about homework, trips and such things, especially as they can enter their mobile phone number to be alerted when one of their ‘friends’ updates their account. The advantage is that you don’t need to know the phone numbers of students to get messages onto their device: they are the ones who authorize their mobile phone from the website and they subscribe to your Twitter feed.”

Facilitate Active Learning

Educause produced a PDF article that talks about using Twitter to help engage students to facilitate active learning. It points out that “Metacognition, which is the practice of thinking about and reflecting on your learning — has been shown to benefit comprehension and retention. As a tool for students or professional colleagues to compare thoughts about a topic, Twitter can be a viable platform for metacognition, forcing users to be brief and to the point — an important skill in thinking clearly and communicating effectively. In addition, Twitter can provide a simple way for attendees at a conference to share thoughts about particular sessions and activities with others at the event and those unable to attend.”


George Mayo, an eighth grade English teacher at Silver Spring International Middle School in Montgomery County, Maryland, recently used Twitter as a tool to collaboratively write a story by his students. Mayo invited his students and students around the world via his Many Voices Twitter account to add to an ongoing story with individual “tweets.” After six weeks and the help of more than 100 students and six different countries, the story was finished.

“It was incredibly simple and really amazing,” Mayo said. “My students and I would come in, and suddenly kids in China had written a chapter for the book.” Afterward he made the book available for his students to download for free.

Paul R. Allison, a teacher at the East Bronx Academy in NY, built a site called Youth Twitter. This site allows teachers to edit students’ tweets by granting them “administrator” status. This came out of a concern with the lack of control teachers had with Twitter.

These and other innovations are popping up everywhere as educators find more uses for Twitter and other social media tools to cater to 21st century students. Please feel free to send me any examples you have on how you have used Twitter to educate. I’d love to hear from you.

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