Twitter: the micro-blogging platform that limits user posts to 140 characters or less. But it is more than just a micro-blog or a Web 2.0 platform. Twitter has evolved into a community—one that consists of countless subcultures—that connects users both locally and globally. These sub-cultures and sub-communities are often contextualized and differentiated using hashtags, which are denoted by using a preceding # sign. As a micro-blog, Twitter differs from other blogging platforms in that it is more fast-paced and conversational—one might even say that it combines blogging with instant messaging. This set-up makes interacting feel more genuine and less contrived than posting to a discussion board, or even a class blog. Twitter-users are constantly engaged in sharing, filtering, sorting, cataloging and archiving information.
How are adolescents using Twitter and how can Twitter be used in a class-setting? Not only are adolescents using Twitter to express and share their own ideas, but they also comment on local and global events and issues. They are building and shaping their identities through tweeting original content, retweeting (sharing something someone previously tweeted), and selecting tweets as favorites. In a class-setting, Twitter is ideal for encouraging participation and extension of learning. For example, using Twitter, a student who is generally quiet in class has the ability to transfer his or her internal thoughts and externalize them. Twitter encourages participation beyond just providing an alternative to raising one’s hand or offering verbal responses in class; it opens up opportunities for students to connect with other students, academics and professionals. They experience exposure to and participation in learning communities, in which the very things they are learning in class are tangible and relevant to real-life.
Teachers can create Twitter accounts specifically for certain classes they teach and use the account to post announcements or questions for students to think about and answer, expand upon class conversations, share relevant resources and other media—including websites, videos, pictures—that relates to the class. Students can also pose questions, share information and resources, and engage in collaborative learning. They are just as involved in exploring as the teacher. To guide and mediate class discussions online, teachers can implement hashtags for students to use when posting for class. Another useful feature is creating lists—these can be used to keep track of students participating in the Twitter conversations and can also serve as a resource of other Twitter users students can follow and interact with. All of these features contribute to teaching students the value and benefits of being part of a community, as well as how to be responsible digital citizens.
Some potential cons to using Twitter in class are that it might end up being more of a distraction. Twitter can be, and is, fun—students will be challenged to balance this sentiment with their academic work. There is the risk of students using Twitter for other purposes—including cyberbullying. Also, there is an issue of accessibility—some students may not have access to a computer or the Internet at home and might feel left out of this extension and exploration beyond the classroom. Because Twitter is a global social network, it is difficult for teachers to keep tabs on all of the personal connections students make beyond the class-use of Twitter. The Internet continues to be a hunting ground for things like identity theft and other scams. This provides a teaching opportunity to teach about discretion and the consequence of over-divulging on a public forum. When using Twitter for class purposes, teachers should model good digital citizenship practices and teach that as part of their lessons.