Social Media in the Classroom: Putting Students in Charge

By Biljana Njegovan

April 18, 2018


This is the second profile in our ‘Social Media in the Classroom’ series.  Our first feature was on Joe Kim and #MacIntroPsych. We’ve been looking at the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool starting with Joe Kim and #IntroPsych.  Lets take a look at another example. Liam Stockdale has integrated Twitter into his Globalization course by allowing the students to take turns tweeting to the class out of the official course Twitter account.  This activity was created by Liam as a way to engage the students and to offer up potential bonus participation points to those who chose to get involved. We had a chance to ask Liam about this exercise and the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool.

Can you tell us how you got started with using Twitter in the classroom?

I started with the Social Sciences Inquiry course and I’ve done it in the Globalization course (Global Citizenship) the first time course was offered and I’ve used it twice. So it has been a part of the course from the beginning.

What are the mechanics of having students manage the Twitter account?

Well, I’m still working it out. I want to figure out some way of having every student do it. Although, in a class of 200 it isn’t really possible. What I’ve done is I basically have it as an option. First come first serve – the students sign up in the first week of the class. They pick a week of the term up on Avenue (including reading week) 13 weeks are open to them and I usually do the first week myself.

Students will sign up to a week that works for them. The incentive is up to a 3% bonus in their participation grade. There are tutorials in the course and they are graded for participation, so this Twitter participation is fully optional. I initially conceived this for students who might be hesitant of the forced interaction of the tutorial setting. So, this would give them a way to bolster that.

Is this seen as a worthwhile exercise by the students?

Yes, I think so – – I’ve never had a problem filling the slots. In this most recent course it was filled by the end of the first week. I was reading my course evaluations and one of them said ‘it was a good thing but I joined the class late so I didn’t get a chance to sign up for it’. So, I’d like to expand this somehow but I’m not sure how best to do it.

Do you give students the full control of the Twitter account?

Students get the log-in info when their week comes up. The students will respond to any tweet mentions or replies. I follow it all on Tweetdeck. I can see what’s going on and the notifications. That’s how I assess if they get 1, 2, or 3 percent of the bonus. If they’re tweeting relevant stuff on a regular basis they will usually get the full mark.

Displaying the Desire to Learn Learning Management System page with a Twitter widget.

Do the rest of the students in the course typically follow this account?

Not all students have Twitter accounts. Twitter seems to be for Gen-X’ers or older Millennials. Many of them don’t have it, but those that do I encourage them to follow the course account and they typically will do so. Also, Twitter is embedded in the course homepage on Avenue. There is a widget that displays the course Twitter feed; it’s neat that Avenue could do that. The information is right there and the students don’t have to try to search for it on Twitter. It’s very visible and is easy to access.

Can you tell us about the element of trust involved in an exercise like this?

I haven’t had an issue of students tweeting inappropriate things. Students have posted questionable stuff just a few times; not that it was offensive or racist, it was more of an issue of the information coming from dubious sources. Fake news is all in the news these days, but there’s been nothing too wild from the students. I’ve actually messaged the students about that at times, “Try and keep it legit’ but I don’t police it too much. I do encourage some freedom. I want the students to allow themselves to show their personalities a bit, that’s what social media is for after all. You can use it to shape your personal ‘brand’ if you will and this gives them an exercise to practice that. It’s a skill they will need in the digital economy. I have never had them be trolled by anybody or something like that and that is lucky. It’s gone quite smoothly given the cesspool that Twitter can become, and especially for this subject matter.

Is there an element of media literacy in your course?

I don’t have a particular module on that subject, I let it go freely. I do have my TA’s run a library session on sources. It’s more for information literacy in terms of academic sources and research, but there is a component that distinguishes between types of information sources. Before each pair starts on Twitter I have a specific instruction sheet I send to them that says ‘here’s whats expected, what you should and shouldn’t do, use your judgement as best as you can to share things’. I think that because I haven’t had much of a problem with this I haven’t thought of forcefully foreground that. If this Twitter exercise was mandatory to the course then I think I would definitely include a module on media literacy. Right now its an adjunct to the course as it is.

How is this exercise beneficial for the class?

Only 26 students (out of 200) participate by tweeting but what it really functions well as is sort of a curation of additional materials that students can scroll back through. Each week I try to get the students to tweet stuff that’s relevant to the theme of that week like, globalization and the environment, etc. So, they may post some news sources about the pipeline debates. The reason that is beneficial is because all students in the class also do a blog assignment where they create a blog and post four times over the term. I ask them to connect something we spoke about in class to something that’s happening in the world. It’s a first year course so I was weary about this free reign but I’ll tell you that I’ve been incredibly impressed by the connections made. Some of the stuff is really really interesting. The posts are only 300 words but a lot of them write a lot more because they are interested. I regularly suggest that they refer to the Twitter account if they are looking for ideas or articles. It’s a repository of information selected by their peers and it has been quite useful.

How do you feel having your students see your personal account on Twitter?

I give out my Twitter account on the syllabus. I actually think its quite positive and that it humanizes me, especially in a big class. I will not speak to 80 percent of the students face to face because of the number of them and the fact that we only meet twice a week. So they can see me tweeting about the Jays or about Trump mostly these days and they get a sense of who I am as a person. I wouldn’t say anything on there that I wouldn’t say at the office or in public. I express my opinions and I don’t have any problems with that. I think it helps bridge the gulf between instructor and student.

Has incorporating Twitter into the course in this way created a lot of extra work for you?

Not really. I just have to remember every Monday morning to send the information to the new Twitter managers. I keep an eye out and check the Tweetdeck a few times a day. It is not that time consuming at all, and for the benefits it provides to the rest of the class it is time well spent.

What’s next?

My main challenge going forward is how to expand this to allow anyone to participate. Do I make it mandatory? And how would I do that in a class of this size? It has worked about as well as I could have hoped in this context. Right now its just a bonus but I would like to make it a bit more integrated solidly into the class.

Click here to continue to our next Social Media in the classroom feature with Joe Kim and #MacIntroPsych. We also have a post listing some popular Twitter tools and add-ons.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

DisruptED: Education Interrupted Copyright © by Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence, McMaster University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book