Twitter helps teachers and students connect with new ideas and each other

Screenshot of live tweets from publication class

Live tweets from publication class

Sometime around the fall of 2007, I visited a class taught by Jon Funabiki to talk about some of the various online experiments that I was working on at The Chronicle: stuff like podcasting, interactive maps, databases, and using this newish thing called Twitter, which was then a little over a year old.

The Chronicle had just launched an account to send breaking news alerts via text message. I asked the room of SF State students, about 60 or so of them in the lecture hall, if anyone had heard of Twitter. No one had.

Although The Chronicle eventually gave up on many of its multimedia efforts, its presence on Twitter grew. Meanwhile, the number of journalism students at SF State who are not only aware of Twitter but are using it daily has steadily gone up as well.

Here’s a snapshot of where we are in early 2011: the department’s fledgling Twitter account, which I help to maintain, has a list of more than 100 current and former SF State journalism students, many of whom are very active users.

On the first day of our Intro to Online Journalism class, students are required to sign up for a Twitter account if they don’t have one already, and then they must follow at least 100 new people. This is a crucial step: The idea is to get them listening to the conversation first. Without this, newbies will be left staring at a blank screen, wondering if it was all a bunch of hype, and feeling unsure what to tweet about. (Hat tip to Byron Philhour for this great idea.)

Screenshot of a student's tweet to a source

When other means didn't work, a student used Twitter to get the story

Educators have discovered that Twitter is an important teaching tool because it fosters engagement. Over the past year I’ve noticed a steady uptick in the number of students interacting on Twitter with me, with sources, with each other and with the course material, during class and between classes. What more could a teacher ask for than students tweeting links to the assigned reading?

Backchannels are emerging. Soon, perhaps, such backchannels will become the norm in journalism classes at SF State.

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