Friday, June 8, 2012

Twitter for Research

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Bloom's Taxonomy: Comprehension, Application


This semester I introduced my two ENG 101s to Twitter, both in similar and in different ways than in the fall. In my ENG 101 Global Politics (GP) class, I had them use Twitter as a note-taking device while we watched films such as The Black Power Mix Tape. In follow up exercises, I'd have them re-read what the rest of the class Tweeted, reTweet those they found interesting, and 'message' the author to explain why. I imagined it as a writing process activity and a collaborative learning exercise.

In my other ENG 101 Ethics of Food (EF) class, I was a little overwhelmed because it wasn't a cluster (with 6 hours of class time): instead, we lacked a lab and only met twice a week. It took more time to get them situated with blogs, and therefore I rolled out Twitter as a later semester assignment. Since their Tweets would necessarily be out of class, I assigned their Tweets to the research portions of their second and third essays. Besides Tweeting what they enjoyed about the reading, a task I continued from last semester's classes, they were instructed to find articles related to class discussions - and their research - and to Tweet the links. They were to then follow up with a Tweet about why they chose those links.

How It Went

The GP class seemed to enjoy Tweeting as a form of note taking. I liked having visible demonstrations of their thoughts; Twitter allowed their note-taking to become public, and potentially evaluable. Their Tweets captured several key elements of the film. As I hoped, many students included some observations into their second essays on black power and civil rights. We used the hashtag #bpmt

Some of the EF class produced the Tweets I assigned, and I'm still waiting to see how they integrate that material into an assignment. I plan to create an in-class activity on Thursday that will allow them to 'draft' Tweets in class so that they can save a step outside of class. The problem here was participation: I only had 1/3 of the class figure out Twitter and remember to Tweet, despite it being worth 10% of their final grade (on a pass/fail basis). We used the hashtag #foodethics


Twitter is like an open note taking process. I might have students sign on to the school Wifi with their phones in the future and just Tweet responses that way. It  allows notes to become comparable and traceable. It makes students accountable for in-class writing in a way that their notebooks sometimes do not.

Twitter is a valuable resource tool, but I may have made a mistake waiting so long to introduce it alongside the research components of the EF class assignments. The students that completed the task did a good job, though.

Global Politics Example #bpmt
Ethics of Food Example #foodethics


  1. Cool. You are using Twitter sort of the way I am using Google Forms/Docs--to keep track of their "fleeting" thoughts, which, after all, can be the basis for some excellent ideas.

    I think this kind of work is key--harnessing the deep thinking our students can do (at which they can be *very* good) and slowly build toward the more *alien* form of the essay.

    Or maybe we should just get rid of academic essays altogether.

  2. Getting rid of academic essays? I've heard some of these radical thoughts whispered before.

    I know you're sort of half-joking, and I might agree that too much emphasis is put on one kind of academic essay, but I do think the academic essay serves a couple key purposes:

    - it's a dense form that allows students to make a persausive argument in slow time (they take long to write, and, compared to Twitter, take long to read)

    - the majority of forms that information pools take is still essay-like structures (news articles, memos, speeches, emails, cover letters and letters, etc)

    What I think is happening with Twitter and Google forms/docs, as you say, is that we're slowly altering how we conceive of the writing process, and, by extension, the reading process. We have more say and more insight into how students get from a blank screen to that dreaded essay.

    I will try and gather my thoughts and share this in a blog before the end of the semester.

    Glad you said that - got me thinking!

  3. I like the idea of using twitter (or any similar real time feed medium) when students watch movies. While a few (very few) take notes, I have never found showing a movie in class satisfying. Often the students might just as well had been watching it by themselves at home. But with a way to react to it and each other as they watch it becomes more of a reflective activity, albeit in the limited reflection 160 characters or so offer.

  4. I would like to use Twitter in my classrooms, too, but have not figured out how. Simply note taking or making art out of it? I believe there are many possibilities with that tool.