The Internet provides a wealth of resources for teachers to use to facilitate student engagement. One of the most versatile is using Twitter in schools. Contrary to popular belief, Twitter is a lot more than celebrities plugging their latest projects. Here are just some of the uses Twitter can have as an educational tool:
Do some research and find subject matter experts that your students would be interested in hearing from. In political science, that might be @WhiteHouse. In physics, that might be @neiltyson, the noted astrophysicist. When you start following these experts, don’t be afraid to reach out with direct messages. You would be surprised at who will respond, especially to school children. These people are happy to know you’re using Twitter in the classroom.
Some of the best journalism during the Arab Spring was coming from citizen journalists on the ground, using Twitter and other social networks to get their message out. They would organize their tweets using hashtags, those words or phrases that start with “#” that are now ubiquitous with any major event. Do a hashtag search on the topic you’re covering in class to see who else is talking about it and what they have to say.
A backchannel uses Twitter to post targeted messages to a group, like a class. These messages are then displayed for everyone to follow using an LCD projector. There are a lot of websites out there that can help you start a backchannel, but the easiest way is to simply establish your own hashtag. Your students have their cell phones readily available during your class, so having them participate in a “backchannel” conversation during another learning activity, like a presentation or film, is a great way for them to be productive with their devices. It’s also a fun way to encourage participation by learners who might be reluctant to speak up in class.
A lot of a student’s learning happens outside the classroom, whether you use the flipped classroom approach or simply assign outside reading to your students. A great way to gauge their understanding of the assigned task is to have them directly tweet you with their questions or an answer to a question you give them during class time. As we all know, students have a tendency to forget things between home and school, so this is a great way for them to interact with the information (and with you) without having to remember their thoughts. Just make sure to follow your district’s policies on interacting with students via social media.
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