Post by Rebecca Goodway, Swinburne University of Technology (@rebeccagoodway)
By now we may have sold you on the benefits of Twitter for teaching. However, in order to really harness the affordances of Twitter there are some practical considerations you may want to think about in light of your course or program.
Before you think about implementing Twitter as a part of your curriculum, you will need to look at your university’s social media usage policies and/or guidelines. There may be policies for students and policies for staff, so make sure that you engage with these, and make your students aware of these as well.
Share with us on Twitter using the hashtag #TWTCoffeeCourse – what policies or guidelines are in place at your institution? Were you already familiar with them? What impact might they have on your ideas of how to use Twitter?
Similarly, your institution is likely to have policies regarding the submission and storage of assessment materials, with the possible inclusion that all assessment material (where practicable) must be stored within the learning management system. If you are asking your students to submit as a part of an assignment activity, you will need to consider how they will submit that to you. One workaround you can consider is asking your students to copy and paste their tweets into a Word document (including a link to it, so you can view the original online) including any replies and discussion it may have generated.
In addition to the assessment policies, it is critical to have clear guidelines around if and how Twitter will be assessed. In one study of the use of social media in an Economics subject, “The need for clarity in assessment guidelines was deemed of paramount importance to students. Those unfamiliar with using social media at university sometimes struggled to understand what was expected of them in assessments…” (O’Brien and Freund 2018: 8) What sorts of contributions should students be making, how often, and what are you looking for as the assessor of the tweets?
Just as with any learning content or activity you make available to your students, you should think about how you can make any Twitter activity accessible to all of your students. You should model best practice by making your own Tweets accessible, and ask all of your students to do the same. Some handy tips for making your Tweets more accessible include:
- Hashtags – in order to make hashtags more accessible by a screenreader, you should capitalise each word, so instead of #twtcoffeecourse, it would instead be #TWTCoffeeCourse.
- Alt text – You are able to add alt text to any image you upload to Twitter, in order for it to again be accessible to vision impaired people. Twitter provides step-by-step instructions, specific to device type and popular screen readers.
- If you post an image which contains text, try to ensure it has appropriate colour contrast.
Twitter also has an official Twitter accessibility account, which is “dedicated to making Twitter as inclusive as possible”. You can follow @TwitterA11y here.
Bullying, trolling, harassment
While there are obvious benefits to asking our students to operate in the open, there are some potential hazards as well. The once popular notion of the digital native has been thoroughly debunked, so we shouldn’t assume that our students understand safe and/or appropriate social media behaviours, as well as the options they have available to them if they are harassed, threatened, or feel unsafe (such as blocking and reporting users). More information on Twitter’s safety mechanisms can be found here.
Writing in public
Another consideration (and potential challenge) is accommodating students who may be hesitant or concerned about the act of ‘writing in public’. Writing in public (via Twitter or any other social media platform) does carry different implications than contributing to an activity within the walled garden of the LMS. You should prepare your students for the act of writing to an open audience, as well as model for them best practice. You should consider the kinds of topics you will invite your students to engage with on Twitter, as certain topics may lend themselves more to troll interference than others.
Tip: You might like to ask our resident Twitter experts Narelle Lemon @rellypops (Swinburne University of Technology), Chris Moore (@CL_Moore) and Sue Turnbull (@SueTinThirroul) (University of Wollongong) how they manage the challenges and opportunities of writing in public on Twitter!
Another of the challenges of using Twitter is that it is usually not institutionally supported. Unlike the learning management system, there is no institutionally supported hotline or materials that you can direct your students to. (To learn more about using external tools for teaching, check out our coffee course.)
This doesn’t mean that you should be using Twitter however, rather, it means you need to consider other means of developing their digital literacy. Twitter has its own online help centre you can direct your students towards, otherwise a quick google will find you (and them) a world of resources to draw from.
Tip: you might like to do a real-time Tweet up in your first face-to-face class, to help your students set up their accounts and profile pages, talk through some of the practical considerations of using Twitter, and then sending their first tweet using their classes hashtag!
Share with us on Twitter or in the comments below:
- What social media policies or guidelines are in place at your institution? Are they relevant to learning and teaching? How might they impact your use of Twitter?
- What other practical challenges might Twitter pose when being used for teaching?
- Reply to your peers, what ideas do you have to as to how could these be mitigated?
Use the hashtag #TWTCoffeeCourse and join the conversation!
Join us for a live chat on Twitter on Friday, 11 Oct at 11am AEST, where Rebecca and Katie will be answering your questions and hosting a live discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #TWTCoffeeCourse.
O’Brien, M. & Freund, K. (2018). Lessons learned from introducing social media use in undergraduate economics research. International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology, 14 (1), 4-16. Available: https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1602&context=gsbpapers
I think the common thread among potential challenges is time. It takes (more) time to learn, teach, and support the use of non-institutional platforms. This time involvement is not limited to teachers; copying comments from Twitter back onto Word/LMS/a blog post is doubling up students’ work. It also leads to spam, where students and teachers are reading the same material multiple times over different platforms. This all seems incredibly time inefficient to me, especially when the alleged benefits are not unique to Twitter or social media.
Bhavani, good point on time taken up copying Tweets to the LMS. But I bet there is a tool out there which does this for you.
What I am not sure of is exactly how you would go about grading tweets. I use the rating option in Moodle’s forums, to have students peer-asses posts. Each student can give a rating of each post (I use a simple scale: 0,1, or 2). The system calculates the average. Obviously this is not available in Twitter, but then again, this is the sort of thing which might be provided with a third party application.
Hi Bhavani! From my understanding at ANU you use Moodle. In the past when I have worked with Moodle, what I have done is added a HTML Block to my Moodle unit, and then embedded a Twitter feed in it. This is a simple strategy to bring the Twitter experience into the LMS (as opposed to copying and pasting Tweets into the LMS).
Instructions on how to add a block to Moodle: https://services.anu.edu.au/information-technology/software-systems/wattle/add-a-block
Instructions on how to get the HTML for a Twitter feed or account: https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/embed-twitter-feed
Katie would definitely have other ANU specific advice, but this is one approach. Hope this is of use to you.
Thanks, Rebecca. Will definitely keep that in mind.
Just a quick note to say I had never thought about capitalising each word in a hashtag for accessibility, but will do so from now on. I need to do more research into the accessibility questions I haven’t even thought of yet.
ANU has a guideline: “Social media participation by ANU students”, ANUP_000785, 3 Oct 2012: “Be smart about protecting yourself …”. I have shared the link on Twitter via the hashtag.
I was not familiar with this policy, but in many ways it is a restatement of other ANU policies. This is very general and would not impact how I would use Twitter for students, apart from me obviously pointing out the policy to students.
As well as the university’s social media usage and guidelines, the teacher needs to consider what constraint students may be under when using social media. As an example, many ANU students work for government agencies, or companies employed by government agencies. Their use of social media is limited by their conditions of employment.
Also, as reported in the media, ANU was subject of a phishing attack in 2018. The attacker was able to impersonate a staff member at ANU, in order to gain access to internal systems. Information provided via social media might be used to aid future such attacks, not just on ANU, so students (and staff) should be careful what information they make public on Twitter, and elsewhere, about themselves, and others.
The APS “No Social Media” policy is a particular challenge. It’s also a completely mindmelting moment when a student enrolled in eMarketing course politely informs you that they can’t have any form of digital footprint, a social media presence, or be on the internet.
So in one case, I told them to adopt a cat, and let the cat have a social media presence, because “meow” was unlikely to be against policy.
Collectively this suggests the difficulties in using twitter at ANU for teachingay outweigh the benefits ?
Hi David, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. The social media for students document is a guideline, not an enforceable policy, and it primarily indicates that students should think about what they post before they post it and treat others respectfully online, which are hopefully things they would be going no matter the situation. It depends also on how Twitter is embedded into the course, and how (if?) it will be assessed. It’s important to consider what aspects of the assessment are required to be submitted, versus what is just assessed as a participation grade – this means students wouldn’t necessarily have to copy and paste comments into Wattle (Moodle). I will note that tracking tweets from students can become a challenge at scale. I would encourage you to check out the discussion on Twitter #TWTCoffeeCourse and see some of the comments there – lots to talk about!
I fell afoul of an ANU requirement for ANU connected social media accounts to have ANU icons – it was sorted when I did point out my accounts were older than the policy, and also, could they provide content please? But it did indicate that we couldn’t participate in banners, or twibbons, or any of the “Change your icon for X reason” social media trends of back in the day. Which, when you’re using social media to teach social media is really weird to have to handcuff your foot to a cinderblock.
In regards to grades and social media, I’ve always made the assignment “a plan and review” document, whereby you’d propose what you were going to do with the account (n% of grade), then perform that action (formative), and then write a review/reflection piece on how reality mapped against the plant (n% of grade). I found that meant the student assessments were contained within the LMS, and the performance of the social media was primary evidence to support their review document.
Also I got told bluntly that I wasn’t allowed to have assessment tasks that were located outside the Wattle site, so there was that restriction. Kinda hard to have an assessible 20% instagram feed in Wattle ( I have frequently asked about how the art gallery exhibits are handled as assessment pieces)
It’s been really interesting reading all the additional links and ideas about applications/challenges/ideas for twitter use and its impact that everyone has been so kind to supply! From my perspective, the main challenge is designing an assignment where twitter use makes logical sense. For example, group work facilitation, or commenting on information I post are activities that I think the LMS is set up better for and I personally don’t really feel comfortable with the act of “writing in public” when it’s so drastically different from how I normally utilize my twitter account. I guess this is maybe something for me personally to work more on and become more comfortable with.
As mentioned in previous days postings, I can see the benefits of building the students’ online academic digital profile and potentially facilitating their introduction to twitter as a means of communicating their scientific findings with the public and other academics in the field. Perhaps it might be useful to implement something more like Stephen’s plan and review assignment, as it requires the students to think about their experience using the social media platform in an academic context and how it affected them.