Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creating Producers Instead of Consumers Using Twitter

This is less a blog post and more of a call for ideas. Let me start from the beginning.

Three months ago, Joe Wood CC’d me on an email asking for teachers to be a part of the KQED DO Now project. The email was from Paul Oh of the National Writing Project. I replied yes before I knew what I had gotten myself into. (I mean come on, it was the National Writing Project!) Do Now is a weekly activity for students to engage and respond to current issues using social media tools like Twitter. I was not on Twitter nor had I ever wanted to be on Twitter. I grudgingly signed up and instantly, I saw the potential for students to actively engage in discussions about art, politics, and current events.

However, I think that the most important thing is that students understand the power they have over this emerging digital genre. As part of a discussion about digital literacy with my 9th grade Honors English class, we watched Evan William’s TED Talk about Twitter’s growth.  During one part of the talk he says that he is going to “Twit” something. My students were appalled. Didn’t he know that you “Tweet” not “Twit”? I laughed and said to them, “Wait a minute, he is the President of the company, doesn’t he get to decide what it is called? Their response came with a roll of the eyes, “No because we are the ones who use it”. They were right, in fact Twitter did not start out by using hash tags. That was something the user created and Twitter decided to integrate. Never before has a generation been so involved in the development of a new genre at the age of 14 and had the genre recognized by respected, old school institutions. The Modern Language Association even has an offical method of citing a Tweet.

Twitter may also transform our students into citizen scientists.  Last week Nic Russo invited his students to post their experiment results on Twitter as a way to compare data. As part of an introduction to evolution, Biology students looked at how the human hand has adapted to allow us to use tools and eventually has led us to the advancements that we have made as a species - including using Twitter.  Students did a series of trivial tasks utilizing their hands.  They timed themselves, recorded the data and then re-did the trials, with one minor modification; their thumbs were taped to their palms.  The final task was to Tweet one of their results (without the use of their thumbs) in order to share their data with the rest of their classmates.  Think of the implication. If students are engaged in meaningful observation of real life scientific work and use Twitter to contribute the data then their audience is becomes the Scientific community. Imagine how cool it will be when Nic coordinates an experiment with a class in another state and Tweets the results with the same hash tag!! Twitter allows students to be more than consumers of information. Twitter allows them to be published Scientists.

So what other ways do you think our students can utilize the genre that they have helped to create?  How can we help them to develop a culture that values intellectual thought, research, and discourse? How can we help them find real audiences?


  1. I love the way in which you are challenging your students to think about genre and how language is formed. I wonder how many of your students have yet to recognize that they are doing "real work" through this project. As far as Twitter ideas go, teachers often use hashtags at conferences or events to learn from each other - for example, #cue13, #caedchat, #edtech. I wonder if students could do something similar for their own personal interests or related projects. I also think a Twitter-story would be a fun writing genre. You might find some more ideas here

  2. Thanks,already made a rookie mistake... had the use the wrong hash tag. Emailed them to correct it! Thanks for the info.