Using Twitter in Your Course: Having the education come to the students and not the other way around

By Derrick Millard

A while ago in one of my online courses something unique happened. We started to get outside community involvement directly into the course. This is something I had always thought about but had never known how to facilitate effectively. One of the big issues with technology is that it changes so rapidly; too rapidly for most students to keep up, let alone us! I needed a way to engage students through technology, about technology.

Image: Creative Commons

Image: Creative Commons

The course, SOCI13454G: Cybernation, is about the impact of technology on society, past, present and future. I needed a way of integrating breaking tech news into the course as a whole, and into the 5 or more specific sections that often run simultaneously. I decided to start by embedding a Twitter feed in a custom widget on the course homepage. That way when I, or anyone else, found any news story that was relevant to the course, it could just be tweeted with the course hashtag, #CybernationInTheNews; the link would automatically post to all the sections of the course using the Twitter feed. The only catch with this approach is that all of the stories had to be ‘public access information’ so nothing private or exclusive was being put into the feed.

At the outset, I had hoped that students would tweet into the feed as well. It didn’t work that way. I ended up doing all the tweeting and could never gauge (or even see) student interaction. It wasn’t until I started assigning bonus marks for tweeting throughout the semester that things actually started to happen. Students began to actively seek relevant stories from the web and submit them to the feed. In addition to becoming an excellent source of class discussion, the stories and current news items captured by the feed ended up being a perfect resource to be mined for final class projects. This is what I had hoped would happen.

But then things started to get interesting and go off in directions I never would have expected. Students who were finishing the course started asking for permission to keep following the course feed because they were learning so much about the subject and were still very engaged. I thought this was great. As the course matured and more current and former students started tweeting our course hashtag, others in the Internet tech community started picking up on our discussions. The next thing I knew, some really good relevant tweets were appearing from people who were not related to the course or to Sheridan, and who weren’t even in Canada. There were people tweeting enviously into the feed about how interesting the course sounded just based on what they were reading from our hashtag!

I brought this up to colleagues and was asked to write a submission for Alchemy. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it but, in fact, a student tweet convinced me to make the effort. The student’s comment was basically that he loved the course Twitter feed because for once, education was coming to him instead of forcing him to come to it. This to me is an example of the power of using Twitter effectively in a course. If we can get students excited about education coming to them, we have won half the battle.

Please check out our Twitter feed and join the conversation!:

Using the hashtag #CybernationInTheNews, feel free to tweet about any exciting topics you come across that seem relevant and interesting. The topics for the second half of the semester are Virtual and Augmented Reality, Cyberbullying, Cyber Terrorism, Security, Technology and Ethics, the Pace of Change and the Future of Technology. See you online!