Tweeting, mediation, and worrying about doing it wrong

Just because we can have an entire class via Twitter doesn’t mean we should. Scrolling through my morning news the other day, I cam across this Chronicle blogpost: “In Classroom Experiment, All Discussion Happened via Twitter.”

Based on the article, the experiment took place for one class. It’s not clear if the class will sustain its Twitter use beyond the single lecture. Some students “had created Twitter accounts just for the class” so I suspect this was a bit of a one time thing.

Just to be clear, I am a fan of Twitter and I am a fan of using Twitter for learning and classroom engagement. I’m also a fan of experimental classes where things go kinda bananas once in a while (see my recent post about arming students with chalk or dig for student tweets about geocaching). My Composition 301d course began with a chaotic run through of “Do Move Say”.

So a class that uses Twitter to explore cellphone culture makes a lot of sense to me. I think it would be really strange not to have Twitter integrated into that class. And I’m reading into this, but it doesn’t seem like it is. Integrated, I mean. As a one-off activity, I wonder how effectively Twitter is used as learning tool as much as simply an Oulipian constraint for the class to hurdle over. In my own practice and in the way I see others integrating Twitter in ELA classrooms, it is the persistence and amplification of voices over the course of a semester that makes Twitter a valuable resource.

I think what troubles me most about an article like this is its implications for non-tweeting readers: it sounds like maybe this is the way to use Twitter. I am slightly terrified of this article encouraging others to gather a bunch of people in a room and ask them to silently tap on phones together. Why even show up? The powerful hashtag spaces I tend to lurk like #engchat and #literacies help connect me to other educators that are discussing similar topics that interest me. But the whole point is we don’t have to be anywhere near each other for this to take place.

In my own research, I’ve been drawn to the ways that mobile devices and apps/resources like Twitter can help mediate communication and experiences. By cutting off other kinds of communication practices, Twitter is being forced into a kind of tool that isn’t so useful for developing conversation. It is inauthentic. Having a class sit in a class and tweet in order to “get” Twitter isn’t what Twitter seems designed for. A backchannel? Great! Asynchronous communication? Awesome! Prolonged communication across spaces. Rock! Lecture and discussion in a silent room? Not so much.

To Professor Groening’s credit, this is an experiment and a temporary one. I just question the premise of the experiment to begin with: “The Twitter discussion was just one of the course’s many experiments in “experiential learning.” Others have included asking students to create photo essays with their cellphone cameras, and a final project in which students use their phones to organize flash mobs.”

And I’m sure the class was fun. The syllabus looks neat (and most students on the hashtag seemed to enjoy themselves). However, I think about the lessons this sends others about using Twitter in learning spaces. For one class in one space: go hog-wild. When the Chronicle reports this as awesome (and why is this even report-worthy to begin with?) I get a little worried about what kinds of pedagogical directions this sends.


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