Teaching with Twitter
In 2009, right when I began blogging here at Running Chicken, I also embarked on a teaching experiment: in my contemporary political theory course, I made use of Twitter to get students more invested in the material, to stimulate conversation outside the classroom, to make myself more accessible to students, and to demonstrate that the ideas we discussed would also generate interest amongst people who weren’t sitting in our classroom at the University of Nebraska.
Here’s what I wrote back then:
I’ve never been one of those professors who uses a lot of technology in the classroom. I stayed away from PowerPoint and I only used BlackBoard to post things for students to read. As a political theorist, it never really made sense to me to do anything else. The best professors, in my experience, were those who came to class with a few pages of notes and discussed ideas with their students for an hour or so. Nothing flashy, except their wit.
This semester, I decided to try something very different for a couple of reasons:
- My class is focused on contemporary political theory and using contemporary technologies seemed fitting;
- I became convinced that Twitter, in particular, could engage students in a manner that’s very different from other contemporary technologies.
So I created a class account on Twitter, and I required my students to set up accounts of their own and to “follow” the class account. I post questions there a few times a week, generally before and after each class. And students can then choose to answer the questions, ask one another questions, and generally discuss the readings with one another. No one is required to participate; in fact, after setting up their accounts in the first week, students need not ever use Twitter again. That said, I encourage them to participate because my sense is that there are some very real benefits to doing so.
Twitter can break down barriers between people who are generally perceived to be far away from us in some way, like professors might seem to students, by allowing students some access to the thoughts, ideas, or even day-to-day activities of professors. In this way, I hope to become even more accessible to my students. Additionally, I believe that using Twitter allows quieter students to participate in ways that might seem less daunting to them. It also might encourage them to speak up in class by allowing them to start the discussion before class even begins and by giving them additional insight into the opinions of their classmates.
If you’re interested, follow our class on Twitter and create an on-going search for the #pols386 hashtag so you don’t miss anything we’ve written (without having to follow all of the students in the class). Or send me a note here or on Twitter with questions or to let me know what you think.
One important change this time around: If you want to follow our conversation — and, of course, participate too — I’ll be happy to send a copy of the class syllabus so you can read along with the class. Just drop me a line here and provide an email address.
We’ll be reading Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind; Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things; Jurgen Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere; Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia; John Rawls’ Justice as Fairness; and Richard Rorty’s Philosophy as Cultural Politics. Also, selections from Hannah Arendt, Michael Sandel, and Jacques Lacan … which I can email to you as pdf files.
Our class begins on August 23; I’ll be sending out the first messages to Twitter followers in about two weeks. We meet on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, but we’ll be tweeting all week long through early December. Follow along, join in, pass this info along to any of your friends who might be interested.