Background: Twitter launched in 2006 as an microblogging platform and now has over 300 million active users. It’s concise nature (max of 140 characters) allows for everything from instant news updates to social activism, business marketing, and, wait for it… educational innovation. Through Twitter, teachers have a way of sharing resources with each other and with their students instantly. The world is at an educator’s fingertips, but there are obstacles to fully utilizing Twitter in the classroom. Is it a horn or a halo?
Halo – Twitter allows educators to enrich their classrooms with real-time, real-world feedback.
Twitter quickly became a platform for by-the-minute accounts of breaking news throughout the world. Twitter is the tool citizen-journalists, not just media outlets, used to report on developments during the Arab Spring, the miracle landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, and the discovery of water ice on Mars. Rather than teach in a current events in a vacuum, educators can link real time examples of political conflict, resourcefulness, and scientific discovery to the content in their lessons, and maybe, just maybe, students will no longer ask the age-old question, “But when are we going to use this in real life?”.
In addition to the obvious benefit of real-time resources, teachers can demonstrate to students how to handle and interpret the constant, overwhelming flow of information that is the hallmark of our Digital Age.There’s potentially no better tool to demonstrate how students need to think critically about headlines, sources, and the information they consume. Through Twitter, students can learn to navigate limitless feeds, curate their own roster of feeds based on their interests and start exercising their own critical thinking skills.
Horn – Some educators are universally opposed to social media in any classroom.
Educators who are against social media in the classroom cite factors such as the distractibility of their students and the high potential for online hostility and harassment. While teachers who refuse to embrace technology generally are becoming fewer and fewer, many still draw the line at bringing social media into the classroom, making this is a clear Horn.
Halo – Teachers can interact directly and instantly with other teachers, sharing resources and building relationships, contributing to their professional development.
Great things happen when passionate, dedicated teachers get together. Through Twitter, teachers of all districts and experience levels can assemble and discuss their favorite literature to teach, the best method for teaching double-digit multiplication, and can participate in weekly hashtag conversations focused on nearly any topic in education. Twitter empowers people to participate in a kind of digital public forum that allows for open and instant dialogue which cannot be achieved through a website, blog, or e-mail. Catch up with some of our favorite teachers on Twitter @TheJLV, @coolcatteacher, and @E_Sheninger.
Horn – Student-Teacher interactions on Twitter can be problematic.
Students and teachers can stay connected outside the classroom via Twitter, but is it appropriate for students to be able to view their teacher’s private profile? While professional adults understand the ins and outs of social media etiquette, some may occasionally reveal too many personal details to their student followers, and vice versa. Inappropriate digital conduct is commonplace on social media, but it becomes a legal matter when the interaction is between a teacher and student. If teachers intend to accept their students as their Twitter followers, school’s will need to put forth concrete guidelines that delineate the boundaries of student-teacher interactions on social media.
The Verdict – Utilizing Twitter in the classroom offers far more possibilities than pitfalls.
Despite the potential drawbacks of introducing Twitter in the classroom, we’re going to call this a Halo. It would be a huge disservice to today’s students if they graduated from K-12 without a bit of formal instruction on how to use Twitter or other social media platforms intelligently, critically, and thoughtfully. Digital education has become an essential and it isn’t something that school districts can ignore for much longer.
When keyboarding was determined to be a life skill, it was implemented into the curriculum, the same for family and consumer science. Likely, the same fluency will soon be expected of tomorrow’s engaged citizens in relation to social media. Schools should allot professional development time for select teachers to learn how to demonstrate to students how to use social media responsibly. Twitter can find a home in part of a class in the same way that typing found its way into the curriculum as part of computer-skills classes. Just as typing skills are expected to be utilized in various school subject areas, so too should students’ twitter and online collaboration skills be expected.