meeting students where they are: using twitter to teach

one of my many hats is that of instructional technologist at ucla. part of my job is to seek out new technologies and new uses of existing technologies for use in improving university instruction. a recent article by simmi aujla entitled, ‘professor gets religion about twitter in class,’ caught my eye.

the article reported on a digital humanities effort by mount royal university professor steven engler to get students interested in his religious studies course. the article states:

Hoping to get students engaged in his introductory course on Islam, Christianity and Judaism, Steven Engler, a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, will test students on news stories posted to the class’s Twitter account.

i am a twitter user, but am not its biggest fan. to me, twitter is facebook without most of the functionality. twitter is facebook’s status updates and nothing more. that said, twitter is where many of the students are and for that reason, anyone who can effectively find an instructional application for twitter should be commended. curriculum should never be modified just to make room for technology; rather, technology should be used to improve instruction when and where it can.

professor engler’s twitter tests are one example of using twitter in a manner congruent with its design. twitter is essentially a series of headlines limited to 140-characters. in that sense, it is like the drudge report, but with only one headline at a time. using twitter as a current events headlines rss feed allows a professor to slip a little instruction into a student’s otherwise narcissistic daily exchange of comedy, drama, and global positioning declarations. and, by making the quizzes simple and not count for too much of the student’s grade, it is important enough to demand worthwhile attention, yet not so overblown that it looks gimmicky. it is a great way to get the students thinking about something besides what some girl they will never date is watching on tv.

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