I worked in the admissions office in undergrad. The admission officers were always trying to incorporate new ways to communicate with potential students. This included old-fashioned letters and postcards as well as newer forms of communication like email and Facebook. Officers would “friend” potential students on Facebook and write on their walls or send them messages as a way of communicating. The officers, who ranged in age from 25 to the mid 50s, theorized that students are constantly on the site—or at least check it more times a day than they do their email. As a user of both Facebook and Twitter, I am proof this theory is sound. Procrastination, boredom, entertainment, whatever—I check both sites countless times a day.
Taking this knowledge and translating it to using Twitter for classroom communication seemed to make sense. If students are already on the site, they already have one less item to remove from their daily to-do lists (check email.) Granted, students probably regularly check their email since it is the common form of communication at the university. But if they check their email once a day and check Twitter four times a day, it seems that information can be disseminated quicker by using the latter. Not only that, but the short bursts of information that tweets can hold are not as overwhelming as a paragraph of information sent in an email. Likewise, students often claim their email was not working or that they did not receive an email. Twitter is a better way to communicate in instances when the university email system seems to shut down solely for one student.
Finally, communicating in words, phrases, or a short sentence is easier than writing a formal email—even if it is just saving time by not having to address or sign the communication. Replying and mentioning on Twitter does that work for you as it always contains the user’s handle and picture. Multiple students can be addressed in one tweet as well. It is easier to find a Twitter user’s handle (which often reflects some part of their name) than it is a two-letter, six-digit email address. In a class of 22, it is quite easy to memorize or remember students’ handles when mentioning.
It’s something most people dread: checking emails. As a student, the amount of anxiety that comes with that is high—it’s always going mean something bad, more work, or a change in an already packed planner. And it’s so easy to forget about an email, too. Who uses the “flag for follow-up” option anyway? As a teacher, multiple emails from students are overwhelming. While it is reassuring to know students care about even the littlest detail of an assignment, one often wishes they would have communicated better during class so their time outside of it was not spent answering 12 emails asking where to find that night’s reading. (On Blackboard. You know, where all the rest of the readings have been located.)
The plan was to use Twitter as a way to avoid these emails that must be answered, but sometimes cannot be answered until much later in the day or even sometimes when it’s too late. The advantages were two-fold. First, I could preempt these emails by tweeting reminders of the homework assignment or a detail I forgot to mention in class. Second, if students have a question about something mentioned in class that they forgot, they could rely on other students to answer it for them.
And it worked! It seemed that students were answering a lot of questions for me: when will our book be in? Is our book in yet? What was the reading assignment? What are we supposed to do for class tomorrow? And I only had to step in a few times to answer what no other student could. I believe this communication helped them become responsible for each other, which developed a very cool “community” concept.
If I sent multiple emails to the entire class, it would be annoying and overwhelming for students. Email is so formal, and it seems to invite verbose explanations. With tweets, I had to get the info out in short bursts. Not only is this less overwhelming than several paragraphs of explanation, but it seems easier to remember. It’s shorter, like a verbal exchange, I guess. If I replied to student emails with one-word answers or a short phrase, they might believe I was being rude. I certainly would think my professor was annoyed with me if he/she didn’t take the time to write me a greeting and sign the email.
I must admit, however, that logging into my Twitter account and responding to these questions was just as time consuming as logging into my email account. At the time, my Blackberry application for Twitter would only allow one account, which was registered as my personal account. A month after this class ended, the application upgraded and offered a “switch accounts” button which allows users to switch back and forth from different accounts. If this was the case, I would have bombarded my students with twice as many reminders and probably would have answered questions before students had the chance to. If this was the case, Twitter would have proved more valuable for saving time because I only needed my phone to communicate, rather than a computer to log in from. (And therefore students’ questions would have been answered on my walk to school, during office hours when no computers were available, or late at night when I was already in bed.)
"[I]t is actually a fun way to communicate with my classmates and to be reminded of homework due the next day.
The best thing we can do with it would be to help anyone who has questions about assignments that they might not have had the time to ask in class. Email is a slow form of communication and Twitter could answer most questions in a single Tweet. We could also contact others if we were not in the class a previous day or even if we forgot something we were supposed to know for a paper."
- Mark George
"I really like being able to use my phone to quickly and conveniently check what I am expected to have prepared for class the next day, and having an easy and informal means of contacting my professor. Twitter really enables almost constant communication with my peers in the class, and with the instructor."
- Zeke Hardman
"Another upside to twitter is staying informed with the professor. Emailing works but it isn’t always fast acting. With Twitter, you can have a full conversation with your professor without having to wait hours for them to check their email."
- Jake Meyer
"I also think it is very fun that we are able to tweet our teacher. I always thought that I’d never get to know my college professors, but being able to tweet my professor makes the class so much more relaxing and exciting.”
- Mallory Miller
From an instructor’s standpoint, using Twitter to communicate with the students is ideal for quick updates or reminders about class but is not an appropriate medium for transmitting important messages.
Responding to student questions is quick and easy on Twitter. It can also be quick and easy when responding by email, however several emails from students would fill up an inbox quite quickly. Having the answer in a public feed is also beneficial for the rest of the class to see. This way, the instructor does not have to spend extra time answering multiple emails from students with the same question.
By communicating on Twitter, students are encouraged to sign on more frequently to see updates or reminders. Their visit to the site then becomes an opportunity for the instructor to make other materials and information available to the student. For example, the student may sign on solely to look at the homework assignment but instead also sees a link to a pertinent article related to class. The student may or may not click on the link, but it is there and so is the potential to teach students outside of the classroom.
From a student’s standpoint, Twitter communication seems most useful to keep them organized. Many students cited the class feed as a reference to check the homework assignment. Related, some students mentioned communicating on Twitter helped clear up confusion. Thus, the class feed works as clarification outside of the classroom for assignments and concepts that were not explained or understood well enough in the classroom. One student mentioned that the feed makes students able to talk to multiple people at once, which helps to support the claim that communication can become a constant and multi-personal activity.
The instructor’s use of Twitter apparently made some students more comfortable. This is undoubtedly because the instructor’s tweets were often informal, both in writing style and topic. Because tweeting to individual students is a public act, perhaps it seems less personal. That is, an email to a student asking what they were doing that weekend would not only be an inappropriate breech of the instructor-student boundary, but it would also be a private form of communication. Tweeting a student is more conversational and invites other students to join in the conversation. Perhaps it is because of this that some students felt that they were able to talk to the instructor more freely and therefore felt more comfortable in class as well.