Friday, February 17, 2012

iPad-based Social Media in the classroom, Part One

I've been using social media in the classroom for the last two years, so here's an example of how I make use of Twitter.  For the iPad, the Twitter app is fine, but I wish it did more.  I supplement that app with HootSuite and with TweetDeck.

Last week, we were discussing the Incan society, and I was surprised at how little my students knew about both Aztec and Incan empires.  So we set out to learn more than what the textbook had to offer, which was neither very much, nor very deep.  As an in-class assignment, I had the students use Twitter to develop a comparison between the roads built by the Incans, the Romans and the Persians.  I established the hashtag #incaroads and wrote it on the board. (This is not any more complicated than saying to the students, "In every tweet, you must include this: #incaroads." Thus is a hashtag born...)

I should say at this point that my students had all created Twitter accounts earlier in the year, so I didn't have to spend time doing that.  I do have a handful of students who maintain that they are "philosophically opposed to Twitter" for reasons they can't articulate. (All are inveterate Facebookers, so perhaps there is something there that interposes itself? brand loyalty?)

Students were then divided into groups covering one of three categories: Distance, Composition, and Purpose. Their task was to do some quick research to discover where the roads went and how far; how the roads were made and of what; and how the roads were used and by whom.  They then were asked to tweet their answers, including web addresses for information (shortened using or tinyURL if needed) and images to help explain/show their topic.  All included the #incaroads so they could be compiled.

They then made use of their Twitter apps (which got poor reviews) or either HootSuite or TweetDeck to view all the tweets in one place using #incaroads, and looked over each others' research. (I also projected the hashtag's feed for everyone to see--students were excited to see themselves "published.")  Finally, they sent out a new tweet declaring which society made the better road using a new hashtag: #roadsmackdown.  Though it wasn't required, some re-tweeted and responded to their peers in other sections, broadening the audience and providing feedback to each other about their arguments.

This was accomplished in a 45 minute period. (For the research, students made use of apps such as the Google search app, wikipanion, lightspeed browser and g-whizz to reach search engines.)

Benefits for the students:
#1 They got much more information than the textbook provided about a major aspect of Incan society.
#2 They realized that transportation was vital for an empire's growth and success.
#3 They learned that the Incas lived their lives both vertically and horizontally in the Andes.
#4 They compared three different societies use of technology and came to conclusions on their own about which was more advanced in the conception, formulation and application of transportation networks.
#5 They had fun being witty and pithy.
#6 They worked collaboratively to find the information, but independently to articulate it, and collaboratively to provide feedback on all aspects of their work.
#7 They practiced using a growing form of public expression responsibly.

Drawback for the students:
#1 Students who didn't use Twitter posted their findings to their blogs, but weren't a part of the "crowd" and felt left out. 3 of the 5 who initially didn't want to have a Twitter account signed up mid-way through the project to avoid this feeling.
#2 Some students felt confined and frustrated by the 140 character limitation of tweeting.
#3 There was some repetition of content in all three areas that made the hashtags cluttered.
#4 Some students forgot to use the hashtags and had to go back and re-Tweet, and a few students' Twitter feeds are private so they needed to take screenshots of their tweets and email them to me to post via my account.

Benefits for the teacher:
#1 I have a nearly instant ability to see who is getting it and who is not.
#2 Ditto for quality of research being done.
#3 All the student's responses were in one place, where they are easily viewed, discussed and assessed (Though this assignment was un-graded mostly because it was done in-class, which for me is rarely graded, and also because it is still a new way of doing things and I'd rather them get accustomed to it first.) But should I want to assess their work, it is very easy to do so.
#4 Pedagogically, there is the added bonus of a summarizer in place for all stages of the activity
#5 I now have a handy, student-created and vetted digital reference to use with future classes when discussing the Incas.
#6 No paper was used.

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