Thursday, November 22, 2012

Using Twitter for teaching, part 1

Personally, I‛m a big fan of microblogging – as a quick look at the number of tweets I‛ve written so far will prove. I love to 'think aloud' on Twitter, share resources, keep in contact with all kinds of interesting folks worldwide, learn about interesting new papers or ongoing events. Yet, I find it difficult to integrate it into my teaching. Microblogging has never been a major part of my teaching, but attempts to add a little bit of twittability to my (already technology-rich) classes were not met with much enthusiasm. I assume that there‛s a magic line people cross once they reach the age of 25, when Facebook loses much of its appeal and Twitter suddenly gets really sexy. Since most of my students are on the Facebook-half of the age-distribution, Twitter just doesn‛t create much cheer.

Here‛s one little experiment that worked out, though: As part of our outreach project Schülerkolleg Pädagogik, groups of highschool students visited our campus in Duisburg. During their visit, we also gave them a tour around our learning lab, a classroom with plenty of fancy technology, both up-to-date and long-time classics. One group had excellent equipment at their own school, though, so that our standard tour would not have been quite as impressive as we were hoping for :-) Enters Twitter: Participants were very young, 7th grade, so I did not ask them to create their own accounts, instead tweeting in their name (of course I asked for permission to use their first names in my tweets). I collected their questions about university, the Duisburg campus and about studying, and sent them out into the twitterverse. In total, we did this activity with two groups of around 15 students each, and both groups visibly enjoyed it, waiting impatiently for responses. It was quite interesting to see the questions they came up with! During their tour they had had plenty of opportunities to ask questions already, but they still came up with extra ones when they realized that these would be published online. Seeing their posts displayed live on a smartboard certainly helped as well.

I have to admit I asked a couple of colleagues to have an eye on my tweets that day, just to improve the chances for responses. While you usually get plenty of responses on questions like ours, we couldn‛t wait for an hour or two for reactions here. So, a tiny bit of cheating on my side :-)

Quite some time ago I tried something similar with a group of university students, during a regular seminar session, with much less success. I assume it was the mix between fairly young students who considered Twitter to be a kind of "Facebook for adults" and the event-like nature of the visit that made this work.

Some examples of student questions and answers provided by the twittersphere (in German, of course):

JudithBK: Alend fragt: Was kann man an der Universität Duisburg-Essen studieren?

an_dt: @JudithBK um die 100 Studiengänge:…

sj2915: @JudithBK Englisch :-)

darktiger666: @JudithBK Ziemlich viel. z.Bsp. Medizin, Lehramt, Ingenieurwissenschaften, Mathematik, Physik, Englisch, Deutsch, Geschichte, Pädagogik, ...

mschiefner: @JudithBK schaut mal hier:

JudithBK: Ali fragt: Wozu ist ein Universität eigentlich gut?

mwefelnberg: @JudithBK @Ali: Und an der Uni wird gelernt, damit man seinen Beruf später gut ausüben oder sogar selber forschen kann.

JudithBK: Danil fragt: Warum ist diese Uni so groß?

an_dt: @JudithBK weil es hier sehr viele Menschen gibt, die etwas lernen wollen und die Unis Essen und Duisburg 2003 fusionierten..

darktiger666: @JudithBK Weil wir so viele Fächer und Studis haben :-)

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Ghoti.