“I’ve been researching wrong this whole time” – instructional insight via Twitter

October 2, 2013, 5:26 pm

I enjoy seeing social media used in classrooms. We’re definitely in the next wave now with many faculty members expressing excitement about these tools. Several years ago the conversations I had were: “that’s interesting but it just doesn’t work for my needs” and today it is: “I want to foster more interaction and I think this app might work, what do you think?”


I recently stumbled upon a Twitter instance here at Virginia Tech via the College of Natural Resources and Environment. They integrated Twitter into their First-Year Experience program. Here is some documentation.


Obviously using hashtags in class isn’t a new practice. But beyond a course-wide tag they also use separate tags for individual topics or speakers. This enables the instructors to engage with the course during and after presentations. It also provides a direct channel for the presenters to communicate with students afterwards.


I think this is especially powerful in a first-year experience context because it establishes connections among peers, enabling them to break the ice, so to speak. It also connects with them with researchers and services around campus. Additionally it helps address students who are reluctant to raise their hand to ask questions or participate in discussion. This method allows them to build confidence so they can transition.


One of our librarians recently visited this course and I grabbed a few screen shots:

twitter3 twitter2 twitter1 twitter4







I love the student’s tweet about seeing the power of parentheses. There seems to be genuine enthusiasm about research tools and general positivity toward the material covered. You can see the library is empowering them. And it’s nearly impossible to obtain this type of reaction while you are in the act of teaching—so Twitter opens the window into student thinking.


I’m increasing becoming interested in online learning environments– and I’m not talking about Sakai — but rather, the multitude of interaction layers offered via the social web. This instance of Twitter showcases the librarian’s subject expertise and builds value around that role. It provides a form of real-time assessment about what worked (what connected) and what didn’t. And it also keeps the door open for follow-up conversations that conventional lecture-style sessions don’t allow.


Here is what the librarian, Kyrille Goldbeck DeBose, had to say about the experience:

“I’m liking this aspect of technology in the classroom – it provides a real feel and vibe to what they understood and took away, questions they are still unsure about, and what areas I need to offer further assistance with after class, particularly for students that are too shy to ask for help in person.”


While this is a great way to embed librarians the big picture conversation is about the value of bringing first-year students in contact with various experts. I really like this style of social media being less about media (broadcasting) and more about being social. These students are walking away with a good foundation and contacts for future needs; their librarian is just a tweet away.


I think it’s also a great implementation of FYE because it gets the students interacting with each other in different ways. Beyond building academic skills and encountering discipline specific content, it also builds their comfort and confidence and prepares them to participate more fully in future courses.


We’re increasingly going to see faculty experimenting with social web platforms. While we (as librarians) use these tools to promote services and for professional communications, there is an emerging opportunity to help faculty design, implement, assess, and iterate these virtual learning spaces. Tools like Twitter are becoming essential components for scholarly exchange.


I imagine that the next wave of conversations will evolve around creating learning experiences and becoming pedagogical partners. It’s easy to get caught up in the functionality of Twitter or WordPress but it’s not the tool that matters, it’s the objective of shaping the appropriate environment to nurture the intended outcome. Interaction with content is equally as important as access to it. In the near future I see how students learn becoming just as important as what they learn.

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