Michael Altman, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, explains how he incorporated Twitter in his large, 150-student Introduction to Religious Studies course, and he offers advice for those considering using Twitter in their own courses.
What were you goals for using Twitter?
I was trying to find a way to shrink the feel of the class. I thought that if I could find a lot of ways for students to interact or engage with the class, then maybe it wouldn’t feel like such a large, impersonal lecture course.
How did you incorporate it in your course?
I often tweeted links related to class from my account, I used a course hashtag, and a I projected a twitterfall of the hashtag on a screen during class. I also had a TA tweet during class, offering summaries of what I was lecturing or even posting links or images that were relevant to the lecture/class.
What were the pros and cons of using Twitter in this course?
I think the TA’s tweets in class were an effective way to sum up the lecture and functioned as another kind of note taking in the class. But overall, not a lot of students engaged over Twitter. Some students were interested in it, but by and large, I learned that student’s don’t want to mix their personal social media accounts with school work.
I think Twitter is really effective when working in upper-level classes with majors for whom the class is more a part of their personal identity. Someone who identifies as a religious studies major is more likely to tweet about religious studies from a personal account.
What were the outcomes?
It didn’t really work the way I hoped. A few students used Twitter and the hashtag, but most of them only tweeted once or twice. Some sent me tweets with questions the week before the tests. But I think because of its personal side, students just don’t want a bunch of tweets about school gumming up their timelines. They’d rather keep the two separate.
I’ve had more success with Twitter in smaller upper-level courses with religious studies majors. Also, our majors interact with faculty and our departmental Twitter account (@StudyReligion) pretty regularly. So, it has worked well to build up a community within our majors.
What advice do you have for those considering using Twitter in class?
Don’t feel like you have to use Twitter. If you’re not already on Twitter or you don’t feel comfortable with it or it’s just not a part of your workflow and lifestyle, then you shouldn’t use it in class. Spend some time getting used to the “feel” and “culture” of Twitter before you try and use it in a class.
If you are familiar and comfortable with Twitter, then I recommend using it in upper-level courses where students have more interest and connection to the material. That said, I also recommend having a hashtag for every class you teach (put it on the syllabus) and letting your students know that you’ll be keeping an eye on it and that you might even be posting to it. If students use it or if you post something with the hashtag be sure to mention it in class — don’t let it sit out there on an island, but fold it into your in-class experience.
Don’t be surprised if students don’t use Twitter in your class but be prepared if they do. Also, I would strongly advise against Twitter “assignments” or anything that makes it a required part of the course. It should be a helpful extra not a requirement, in my opinion.
Altman is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies.