Blending Active Learning with Twitter

As some of you know, I have been using Twitter the past 2 years in my CP125 (and have had several instructor consultations. Twitter shows some promise for blended and active learning (constructive) to crowd-source (student-source?) content application and knowledge construction.

student accountsgraphWHO TWEETS?

Although not everyone has a Twitter account, all of my Fall 2013 Freshmen students had a Twitter account, and 18 of 24 of my Fall 2014 Freshmen students had one. Everyone had Facebook, but using it for classes opens a myriad of problems that I won’t get into here (if you’ve heard my “Socializing D2L” presentation at Ignite or elsewhere, you’ll recall the issues. If not, I’m happy to share).


I’ve been using Twitter for two assignments in my Wisconsin Experience course, and embed a Twitter stream following the  #WIexp hashtag on the course WordPress page. The first week, to set up for the following week’s discussion on “why are we here?” the I ask them to find a university commencement speech and link it with the (short) excerpt that is most significant to them. I write about that assignment in more detail here.

ommencement tweet
The other, ongoing assignment is to share every week at least one thing that they think is cool and/or helpful to a Madison first year student on campus in the nearby community, again with the #WIexp hashtag. The idea behind this is to build a community where they construct/share information that they feel is important to build a culture of peer learning, and to give the more introverted (less likely to talk in class) a forum to showcase their participation at their own pace and place.


Once students start tweeting, they seem to enjoy it. I have no data on how many of them have begun following each other, or on the student-to-student effect of the tweeting outside of our class discussion (in class check-ins, several do comment on each others’ tweets), but the biggest complicating factor is grading. As with quizzing, assigning a grade (each week’s tweet is worth a minuscule amount of points) starts and keeps them tweeting. It’s an easy way for them to accumulate points, but only if I see their tweets to give them points. While I step into the hashtag search from time to time, I don’t spend all my time on Twitter, and I don’t stalk my students’ individual feeds to see if they’ve tweeted for class, which is why I use the course #WIexp hashtag to collect them and embed them on the course site. But this has problems as well.

Twitter only indexes their hashtags for 7-10 days, and not all the tweets show up in Twitter’s hashtag searches. So, I’ve had several (slightly embarrassing) situations where I didn’t see a student’s tweet, and contacted them to remind them to tweet, and they got flustered because they had tweeted, but it was their first one, and it had a URL in it, so Twitter assumed(?) it was spam.

My search for a solution to the “How do I collect and track class Tweets” led me down several roads. IFTTT (If This Then That) has a recipe that does a pretty good job, but Chris Limburg in Geography shared a much more effective Google Spreadsheet script that does much better job (Martin Hawksey Tags script This returns a spreadsheet that looks like this (for me):



Although this was a simple experiment to see what, if any, uses and challenges Twitter might offer as a teaching tool, the results, for me, make it worthwhile.

  • All students participate. 
  • Students engage with each other in topics beyond the course.
  • They think about the course, and course content throughout the week.
  • They connect course content to other aspects of their life.
  • They seems to appreciate glimpses into their peers’ lives (outside of their close social circles).
  • We discuss and work on internet identity management.
  • They work on writing concisely (Twitter’s 144 character constraint).
  • They practice multimodal digital media literacy by often including images, videos, or sites that support their tweets.

Other benefits that I’m missing? Thoughts? Comment away, please!

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