Is Twitter Classroom Worthy?

Sending Twitter Message by Cell Phone Image by rockinfreeI have a confession to make. I spend more time sending out Twitter updates (commonly called tweets) than I do on email these days.

Why is it a confession? Twitter has gotten a bad reputation in some circles. The College Humor video Twitter in Real Life demonstrates the way many people perceive the world of Twitter—it’s all a bunch of random, mediocre comments about whatever the writer happens to be doing at the moment in time.

Just because you can use Twitter for random reports on your day, however, doesn’t meant that you have to use it that way. In fact, I’d argue that a lot of the updates on Twitter are anything but random and mediocre when they are read by the intended audience in the appropriate context.

Yep, it’s all about the rhetorical situation. There are lots of people using Twitter to publish status updates about projects, news, and their lives in ways that are anything but random. Take @BreakingNews for instance. All day long, every day, the editors post the latest news stories in 140 characters or less, often with a link to a page with more information.

Looking for a more local example? The town where I live posts regular updates about road construction, town planning, town council meetings, and special events as @Blacksburg_Gov. Virginia Tech, my local university, posts similar updates as @vt_edu and @vtnews.

But is Twitter classroom worthy? Obviously, you can send similar class information and news to students using Twitter, but is the social networking tool capable of more than simply class announcements? Absolutely.

If you’re unsure, think about Twitter as another of the many ways that students can publish their writing. Make it one of the tools in your arsenal, placing it alongside blog posts, Wikipedia updates, email messages, and web forum posts.

Now any one of those tools for publishing writing can be used in mediocre ways that are not worthy of classroom exploration. That’s where the teacher comes in. The teacher has to talk about the audience and purpose for the messages and help students find the most effective ways to communicate—whether students are using blogs, email messages or Twitter.

Now just how do you go about it? Come back later this week for tips on how to introduce Twitter and ways to use Twitter in the classroom.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by rockinfree]

Week in Review: January 30–February 5

The “better late than never” edition of news for this week. Be sure to check out the “Assorted Extras” links to an image placeholder technique you can share with web design students and a poetry interactive.

Campus Issues

Donations have decreased at colleges across the country (Inside Higher Ed). Yale will cut staff and freeze some salaries to meet a $150 million budget gap (NYTimes). Princeton’s efforts to squash grade inflation are meeting with complaints from students (NYTimes). In a ten-year strategic plan, the president of University of New Hampshire calls for interdisciplinary collaboration and rewards for innovation to ensure the school’s future (

Intellectual Property Rights

UCLA has removed all copyrighted films from their course Websites because complaints of copyright violation from the Association for Information and Media Equipment (Chronicle of Higher Ed). IP rights and piracy have been at issue for centuries (Inside Higher Ed), and many universities are unsure what is and isn’t legal (Inside Higher Ed). The UCLA action has lead to speculation about the role of video projects in education (Inside Higher Ed) and emerging understandings of copyright and online streaming (Inside Higher Ed).

In a strike against a possible plagiarism mill, an Illinois court has shut down an online term paper site until it can prove ownership of the essays it sells (USA Today).


Federal funding for FY2011 may fall short for Pell Grants, the Department of Labor’s Career Pathways Innovation Fund, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (Inside Higher Ed). The proposed end to the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership program could spell the end of millions of dollars in matching funds from state coffers for students (Inside Higher Ed). Lobbyists are challenging the federal plan to end government subsidies to private lenders and provide the monies to directly to students (NYTimes).

A letter from Jill Biden counters misconceptions about federally-subsidized loans and urges community colleges to offer the loans to students (Chronicle of Higher Ed).

According to a recent report, the number of nonprofit schools gaining federal funding as “Hispanic-Serving Institutions” is increasing (Inside Higher Ed).

Tablet Computing

The new iPad has inspired discussion of the tablet’s educational benefits (PCWorld), how students will respond (Nevada Sagebrush), and how the various tablets stack up (Lifehacker). Apple’s decision to use a proprietary format for ebooks on the iPad complicates things for consumers and publishers (Yahoo! News). The free Blio Reader may change expectations for ebooks, with features that duplicate layout and appearance of paper-based books (eSchoolNews). Regardless of the evolution of ebooks and tablets, author Katherine Paterson argues that we’ll still read paper-based books (NY Daily News).


Universities report increasing interest in hybrid courses, which combine online and traditional classroom experiences (eSchoolNews). A Brigham Young University experiment found that free online distance courses did not harm traditional course enrollment (Chronicle of Higher Ed).

A recent Pew Trust report finds that teens do not use Twitter or blog but their interest in social networking sites is growing (Washington Post). Regardless of teen engagement, teachers can benefit from using Twitter to connect with other teachers (Educational Leadership). For tenure purposes, however, a UC-Berkeley reports indicates professors should focus on traditional publication options (Chronicle of Higher Ed).

Assorted Extras

Why You Should Try Twitter in the Classroom

If you’re even slightly interested in how you might use Twitter in the classroom, take a look at William M. Ferriter’s essay “Why Teachers Should Try Twitter” from Educational Leadership.

The article explains, “For educators who use this tool to build a network of people whose Twitter messages connect to their work, Twitter becomes a constant source of new ideas to explore.” It includes some tips and how-to’s as well as a personal story on how the experience affected the author’s understanding of differentiated instruction.