Comments on the Twitter Experiment

As I was reading the Twitter Experiment by Dr. Monica Rankin, I was impressed with the results of using Twitter as a backchannel to enhance learning.
I was familiar with Twitter but unfamiliar with TweetDeck, so I began reading and looking at TweetDeck.
IMPRESSIVE! I say this because I just read an article about backchanneling with Twitter that led to a bad experience. So, finding Dr. Monica Rankin’s Twitter Experiment was encouraging. Her backchannel was used to enhance learning by structuring what the students would be doing.
For example, according to her article, she stated the following:

Our “best practices:”

“We experimented with a variety of different strategies for encouraging the most constructive discussions through twitter in the classroom.  After some trial and error, I found that putting students into small groups (of 3 to 5) and allowing the group to discuss the material together stimulated more ideas.  I also found that it was best to give them discussion topics so that most of the comments were based on a common them or at least related to the same reading.  Depending on the topic, they would tweet for ten minutes or so and then I would suggest a change of topic.  Students would have mini-discussions in their small groups and each student could tweet the most relevant comments being circulated in the group.  They could respond to comments being posted by other students or suggest an interesting perspective on one of the readings.  Many students also tweeted comments on how they might use the readings on the exams. ”

I eventually concluded that the “discussions” were more constructive if I circulated around the room and made myself available for comments, questions, and other direct feedback.  By circulating around the room, I could respond directly to students and I could get suggestions from them of other topics they wanted to address.  The TA sat at her computer and monitored the discussion unfolding on the screen.  She would post comments and respond to questions.  She was also responsible for notifying me if  there were any comments that needed to be addressed by me right away or if we needed to change topics.  This was an important aspect of our twitter experiment.  With 90 students in one room, I needed the TA’s participation to make this format work.  She was completely on board and energetic about trying new things and figuring out how to make twitter an effective classroom tool.”

An example of a bad experience:

Here is what happened to Danah Boyd. Her experience was devastating. Read her article “Spectacle at Web 2.0 Expo…from my perspective”.
November 24, 2009 by Danah Boyd…she stated the following:
“Last week, I gave a talk at Web2.0 Expo. From my perspective, I did a dreadful job at delivering my message. Yet, the context around my talk sparked a broad conversation about the implications of turning the backchannel into part of the frontchannel.”

What did I as a reader learn from these two brilliant ladies?????
Be prepared, structured, and have a backup plan.

  • Danah was completely taken by surprise by not knowing that Twitter was going to be used during her presentation. Her adult audience was not actively engaged in learning from Danah. They were taking over the presentation just like in a classroom where teachers loose control. Here the administration/presentation hosts were at fault, not Danah.
  • If you are going to use Twitter as a backchannel in your classroom, follow Dr. Rankin’s experiment and provide plenty of structure. Read her notes carefully and see all the planning that is involved.
  • There are also tips on the internet of things to do when working with a backchannel while presenting.

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