On using twitter in teaching

April 25, 2011 - Geekiness / teaching

One of the modules I’ve been teaching this year is called “Interactive Web Programming”, so I’ve been fairly internet-heavy in my teaching and my activities. It’s a small group (30 in the class) and I’m teaching in a computer lab, so I thought it’d be kinda fun to experiment with twitter in teaching. My slides are all written in HTML (well, specifically, HTML5/JavaScript/JQuery, as that’s what I’m teaching). This makes it trivial to include live twitter stuff (or “twitterfalls”) in a lecture for instant open-ended quiz-like goodness, or for any other kind of feedback

The way I did this was to choose a hashtag (#aber_iwp) for the class and to introduce everyone to the idea of twitter and the idea of a hashtag in lecture one. Surprisingly, for a bunch of students studying a degree called “internet computing”, they hadn’t all already got twitter accounts, and didn’t all know what a hashtag was.

The first in-class twitterfall was in lecture one, and it was a bit anarchic. The question they were supposed to be answering was “What client side programming languages, libraries, or systems have you heard of?“. The first 20 or so tweets were “Hi there!” “whoo”, and various other stuff unrelated to the course, but related to testing out the system, so I was kind of laid back about that. After it seemed everyone had got it I reminded them to answer the question. Next 3 tweets?

  • Boooooobs
  • angen sobri (which means “needs sobering” in Welsh, according to Google translate)
  • JQuery

So they got there in the end. I used these twitterfalls at various points in the course, and certain types of question seem to work better than others. Open-ended questions with a lot of correct answers are by far the best (this is no surprise). “Name a technology that does X”… “What types bugs can a debugger help you with?” … “What types of online games are there?”

Questions that can lead to discussion are also good – if you can get students to say something in the semi-anonymous twitter sphere, that is often enough of a start for students to get more interested in discussing it in class. As anyone who’s taught in a lecture style class will know, it’s often really hard to get the students to speak; and if you do get them to speak up, it’s often the usual suspects. I think the twitter thing did help with that problem.

Informal uses outside of the in-class twitterfalls also emerged – each class had a “reading of the week” which was a blog post or magazine article, and a couple of students suggested articles to me via twitter; some students tweeted screenshots of their work using twitpic; some students asked me questions between lectures via twitter. Perhaps most bizarrely one student sent me a tweet asking what my uni email was. Eh?

Did they like it? Well, it wasn’t universally popular, but some people thought it was one of the best bits of the course. Enough people liked it for me to persist in lab-based classes (you can see the CEQ data below). I’ll be trying again next year, but with a bigger class, and with more of an idea what to expect. Watch this space.

“Regarding the twitter elements of the class, were they…”

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