Twitter, a microblogging service, has captured the attention of the nation– and is now piquing the interest of the Academy. While Twitter has been used as everything from a means of casual conversation and information gathering to image sharing and advertising, there has emerged a compelling application of Twitter in the classroom: Twitter as a “back channel,” or highly dynamic, engaging conduit for carrying on another layer of conversation during a class or event.
The back channel method has been enthusiastically embraced for use during conferences. (See Duke U’s Instructional Showcase for an example.) Participants can “follow” each other, watching their friends’ updates roll in through their stream of “tweets,” or they can simply search for the sanctioned conference hash tag to find the relevant tweets from all of those using the tag. Using Twitter during these events allows rich resource/link sharing, crowdsourced clarifications, interesting rebuttals, and pithy testimonies– all within the 140-character limit constraint.
We needn’t be satisfied with just imagining what this could mean in a classroom setting– others have been trailblazers, and to good effect. Cole Camplese, part-time instructor at Pennsylvania State University, has experimented with Twitter in the classroom. He shares his experience with Wired Campus, noting that the extra layer of communication has enriched class discussions. And by giving quieter students an in-class voice and all students the ability to share resource links in real-time, an energetic classroom pace is realized and sustained.
But for some students, the scholarly applications of Twitter– not to mention Twitter itself– may be a foreign concept. Why shouldn’t we model innovative practice for our students rather than ask them to delve in without an effective example to follow? Some professors and administrators have done just that, establishing an vocal professional/academic presence on Twitter. If you are curious about Twitter and would like to peruse some rigorous, intelligent uses of the service, take a look at this Chronicle article or contact us for a consultation.