Check out the conversation on Twitter: @ACSLearning
On Sept. 26th, the ACS Blended Learning Collaboration kicked off its monthly webinar series with an in-depth look at how one ACS professor is using Twitter-based assignments to teach the all-important skill of close reading in his Religious Studies courses. “It may be a little counter-intuitive that a platform based on 140 characters can help you with making close reading a priority,” said Dr. Robert Williamson, Jr. of Hendrix College, “but it really does.” In fact, he explained, Twitter has helped him to accomplish a number of important course objectives and learning goals, including: teaching students how to make claims about a text or a topic (and to engage the claims of other students), increasing contact time with students, and creating a space in which the ideas of quieter students can come into class discussion.
Williamson, who teaches courses on a wide range of Biblical traditions, has used Twitter-based assignments in two classes so far, with good results. (To help his students learn to use Twitter, he has also created a series of short instructional videos). He favors assignments that take place outside of class, such as having students synthesize the view of God expressed by Qohelet (the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes) within the short, succinct space of a Tweet, using a common hashtag. He can then pull up the virtual discussion that results in the next class meeting, or even organize students’ Tweets into relevant categories by using Storify (a social network service that allows you to create stories or timelines out of material on Facebook, Twitter, etc). He also integrates Twitter with more traditional assignments, sending students to the library to research secondary sources on course texts, then boil the claims they find down into Tweet-sized summaries. These Tweets then become the basis for continuing discussion both in and out of class. He has used Twitter to create more public variations on common in-class activities, such as having students Tweet the most important point (or muddiest point) in a given day’s discussion, and he has also tried having students follow the Tweets of experts in the field–bridging into the important question of how social media is beginning to change the face of scholarly communication.
All told, these experiments have been very successful. In their evaluations, students enjoy the way the Twitter assignments broaden class discussion, giving quieter students a means to participate more fully in class discussion. Though some students feel limited by the brevity of Tweets as a means of communication, Williamson–and many of his students–feel that this constraint actually challenges them to use words more precisely and intelligently. Students also remark that having a publicly-accessible record of what they’ve contributed makes class discussion seem more relevant and more present in their everyday lives, building the connection between classroom and world. Bridging that gap–either by bringing social media into academic work, or by inspiring students to act on what they have learned–is an important part of Williamson’s personal pedagogy. He works to create a classroom in which “student, text, and world can interact, collide, and wrestle with one another in ways that illuminate new possibilities for both interpretation and action,” and Twitter has given him a powerful new platform for doing just that.
Our discussion also touched on issues such as how to manage academic vs. personal Twitter accounts (Williamson uses a separate profile, @skepscrip, for his classes), time management and Twitter assignments, accounting for students’ access to the web, and using Twitter-based applications such as #VINE (which allows you to show short, looping videos) and Tweetdeck (which allows you to create categories for navigating and viewing the Twitter stream). Williamson also shared some excellent resources, including:
Twitter How-To Videos (created by Williamson for his classes)
Teaching with Twitter: 5 Resources for Getting Started (five articles that have shaped Williamson’s approach to teaching with Twitter)
Please feel free to watch, share, and comment–we’re eager to hear about your experiences with social media in the classroom.