Just posted my final grades for the Race, Gender and Media class I taught at the University of Alabama this summer.
Most all of the students did well– very well!
But, I need to grade the new tool that we used– Twitter. For this class, it gets a “C”
With just eight 4-hour class meetings, this Race, Gender and Media course was heavily based on screening media projects that emphasize issues of race and issues of gender in the mass media.
I’ve been posting summaries of their tweets here.
Most recently, students tweeted on Spike Lee’s film, Bamboozled.
Last week, they tweeted on Media Education Foundation’s “Further Off the Straight and Narrow.”
And earlier in the term, they shared on Twitter their reactions to Part 1 of CNN’s 2009 documentary, Latino in America.
I laughed each time the students would use the term “educational tweets” when announcing to their followers that they were about to send comments about a movie, film or documentary we were watching in class.
I think it was a signal that their educational work was crossing over into a social space.
The enthusiasm was not especially high as I was asked “Do we have to Tweet about this?”
After all, microblogging is occurring on a social networking platform.
I’m NOT sure this activity works as a required classroom activity
It’s Different From Journalism and Public Relations
With any course, you have to establish specific expectations in order for a requirement to be taken seriously.
The expectation over the five media projects on which we Tweeted was that EACH student would send at least 2 tweets per project. That’s a total of 8 tweets for the whole term.
Most students didn’t have a problem doing that.
While in a course like newswriting and reporting, we are teaching students how to use social media as a tool for research, building reputation and relationships, those same skill expectations don’t necessarily transfer in a conceptual course such as Race, Gender and Media.
For those used to using social media to socialize, they may not be building much of a reputation by commenting briefly on things their followers haven’t seen.
More importantly, “forced Tweeting” doesn’t result in the profound insights that add much to our classroom dialogue and discussion– a goal I had for this component of the class.
We Did Get Feedback
Another goal I had was for those outside in our class to engage students on some of the things they were saying about the projects we screened.
Using Twitter handles of some of the principles in the projects was one strategy to encourage such engagement.
We did have one producer of one of the projects DIRECT MESSAGE me inquiring about the project.
I pointed him to the posting using STORIFY summarizing the tweets.
Another student tweeted to a professor in a previous class that he was watching a particular film. The professor re-tweeted his post.
So I guess these count as feedback and interaction.
The Bottomline on Requiring Twitter
One of the biggest reasons I like teaching courses in the summer is the chance to experiment with different, unconventional ways of teaching and learning.
This was the second time I required students in a class to have a Twitter account and use it. The results were, at best, mixed.
1. The best Twitter usage in a classroom environment comes from those who are already used to the tool and know how to engage followers
Forcing students to do something like this as we would a written assignment doesn’t make them any more prepared for the workplace. The motivation has to come from within. A grade is not enough.
2. Online interaction via social networking is NO SUBSTITUTE for face-to-face classroom interaction.
Our best classroom discussion came in the last 30 minutes of the last class meeting this past Tuesday. No Twitter needed– just students comfortable sharing their feelings and plenty of time, which we didn’t have at 8:30 Tuesday night.
3. STORIFY is NOT the best tool for context
On my syllabus I noted that I would be summarizing tweets using the STORIFY tool. It had a limited amount of space for contextualizing the tweets. So it didn’t quite meet my need in this setting. STORIFY works best if the 140-character missives are pithy, memorable often with links take the reader somewhere.
4. Teaching Twitter really requires time
Before putting an assignment like this into the class, the instructor needs to build in time for students to “lurk a little”– see what other Twitter users said about something similar to the topic on which they’ll be tweeting. This means more classtime is necessary.
5. Twitter works best in a skills-oriented class
I think a course that is showing students to how to use Twitter as a tool for engagement in an advertising or public relations campaign or to find information for a story or engagement a readership or viewership on a news item is one thing. Requiring students to contribute via Twitter is an entirely different story, where the skills and importance of using the medium are not as clearcut.
So, I won’t use Twitter again in this class, but I will take that effort and roll it back into the face-to-face classroom discussions. Lesson Learned!