I integrate social media into my professional and personal life daily. In addition to serving as Social Media Editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE) and Media Officer for the American Society for Environmental History Graduate Student Caucus, I run several other academic Twitter accounts and regularly consult and give talks on how to effectively use social media in academia. When I learned that I was going to teach HIST 274: American History to 1865 in the fall of 2017, I knew that I wanted to try to integrate Twitter into class. Because it was my first time teaching and because I was teaching a subject outside of my comfort zone, I was hesitant to get too fancy with my social media integration. I did, however, decide to create a hashtag for my course. That is when #HIST274US came into being.
*Advice I was given: course hashtags should contain some indication of the university where it is taught so as to decipher it from other similarly numbered/named courses at other institutions. I chose #HIST274US because US simultaneously symbolised US History and the University of Saskatchewan.
How did I use #HIST274US?
1. Student Reading Responses
I provided my students two options for providing their responses to their primary source readings. Firstly, they could hand in index cards with their reflections in class. Secondly, they could post Twitter threads. If they chose the Twitter option, they were expected to do three threads per class/set of readings. They were expected to tweet these threads by 8am on the day of class so I could read them and integrate them into that day’s lecture and discussion.
*Most universities require that any social media use in class stick strictly to course content.
How did it go? Well, I only had two out of nineteen students regularly provide their reading responses on Twitter. These two students were gung-ho and did a great job.
#HIST274US Reading Response 2 for November 21st, 2017. Reflections on the Missouri Question.
— a n i k a 🇨🇦 (@capitalismwitch) November 21, 2017
2. To Share Related Content
I used the class hashtag to share any relevant articles, podcasts, memes, and other information that I came across during the term. For example, I regularly shared episodes of Liz Covart’s Ben Franklin’s World podcast to the hashtag feed.
Students were also encouraged to share content that they found and were given extra-credit points for doing so. (1% towards their participation grade per ten extra reading comments or extra content).
3. Lecture Content
The third main way I used the class hashtag was to share links to online readings, links to any videos I showed in class, and all images that I used in class. I then organized all of this content into Twitter Moments.
"Soldiers with the 25th regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops(USCT) Company during the Civil War."
— Dr. Jessica DeWitt (@JessicaMDeWitt) December 5, 2017
Course Lecture Twitter Moments
I organized all of the course hashtag content: student responses, related content, and lecture content into Twitter Moments that matched each lecture. Even though only two students used Twitter for their responses, I know that most of my students visited the hashtag for course content. Organizing the content into specific moments enabled students to access the information more easily. It also helped me keep track of the content that I and the students produced throughout the term. To make the Moments even more salient, I allowed the students to cite content shared to the hashtags in their take-home final exams. Here is one example of the course Twitter Moments: #HIST274US: Slavery in the English Colonies
Recommendations for Future Educators
If you are interested in doing something like this in your class, I do have a couple of recommendations regarding asking students to create content in a public forum. First, I think that you and your department should set out some guidelines to protect students from online harassment on social media. Unfortunately this is a reality these days, and it is our responsibility to ensure that students have a safe space in which to learn. Second, I think that there should be some discussion with your students about copyright infringement and plagiarism. This is both in terms of avoiding it themselves (for instance, in the use of images), but also what to do if others plagiarize their work.
That said, I do still think this was a successful experiment. Please let me know if you have any questions or want any clarification on how I used this course hashtag, or if you plan to use one yourself!