All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: How to Use Twitter From Kindergarten to College
6.14.12 | As Twitter continues to make more inroads into academic spaces, two recent articles demonstrate its use across the educational spectrum.
Both stories—a New York Times SchoolBook inside-look at a tweeting class of kindergarteners, and a ProfHacker column at The Chronicle of Higher Education on Twitter’s use in college classrooms—show not only how educators are using Twitter and social media for a great variety of tasks, but how educators are very aware of how to use them responsibly.
At Public School 150, a technologically sophisticated elementary school in TriBeCa, kindergarten teacher Jennifer Aaron engages her class in a group tweeting effort three times a week. Family members of the 2012 class were encouraged to follow her private account, @JensClass, and to respond to student tweets.
In the video above, Aaron explains how it works:
We tweet as a whole class three times a week so they come to the rug—Twitter is usually on—and they have either at their seats thought of an idea that they want to share, or when they get to the rug I’ll give them a few seconds to think about what they want to share. And they put their thumb up and I call on them.
I start typing whatever they say. So if it’s an incomplete sentence, I’ll type the incomplete sentence. And then when we read it back, they’ll tell me, they’ll be like, “What? I don’t understand.”
We’ll tend to have a conversation and try to include the kids as much as possible to get them to learn how to edit down—using an ampersand instead of “and,” abbreviating days of the week, and little things like that to get it within the correct count for Twitter. And then they all start shouting “Tweet!” and I click the button.
Here’s how an edited message appeared, cut down to fit within the 140-character limit: “We added more days in school stickers. We didn’t have any lame reflections. We had snack outside. Ask us about time.” (Read the full story to learn how that tweet developed.)
Kids aren’t the only ones learning from this exercise. A parent in the video describes Twitter as “a very good starter” to conversations with her daughter about her day. She added that tweeting also encourages learning spelling.
In a college-level digital humanities course, the focus of the student tweets shifts from sharing and spelling to debating scholarly articles, but as Ryan Cordell at ProfHacker explains, Twitter is also part of a larger plan to encourage conversation in his classes.
While Cordell has previously talked about how Twitter enables students to engage with each other and expert practitioners in their field of study, his recent post is more focused on how he allays concerns about privacy that prevent many educators from making social media part of their curriculum.
Although they work in very different educational contexts, the ways in which Aaron and Cordell address these concerns with students (and parents, in Aaron’s case) share a logic and simplicity that demonstrate to the rule-makers and other educators that there is no reason to be scared of social media when it is part of a responsible, conscious curriculum.
Aaron’s kindergarten class tweets as a group and limits their audience to family members. Cordell wants to open up the world a bit more for his college students, but he still wants students to feel safe in this new academic space, and to have the option of whether to divide or blend their personal and academic personas.
Cordell shares his social media assignment, which requires students to be active readers and writers of blogs and Twitter throughout their time in the course. The last part of the assignment asks students to sign up for a Twitter account:
You will need a Twitter account for this class, so you can follow the accounts of other scholars. If you have one already that you want to use for class, then go to the next step. If you don’t yet have a Twitter account—or if you prefer not to use your personal account for classroom work—then sign up for a new account. I strongly encourage you to create a disposable account if for any reason you prefer not to share your personal account for classroom activities.
When we tweet about this course, we will use the hashtag #s12tot.
Cordell explains his rationale for his flexibility:
I give students explicit permission to keep their personal and academic lives separate, even when we’re using social media in the classroom [...] I like the phrase “disposable account,” which evokes disposable cameras, pre-paid cell phones, and the like—something useful for a purpose and easily discarded once that purpose is fulfilled. Students can use an alternate email to sign up for a class-specific Twitter account (or even sign up for a dummy email address for this purpose), use that account to meet the requirements of the social media assignment, and delete or abandon the account when the semester ends. Students can even create entirely pseudonymous Twitter accounts for class. So long as they tell me which account they’re working under, I do not care if the account reflects any of their personal information. [...]
This strategy has worked pretty well in my classes. Some students are active on Twitter and want to use their personal accounts for class, which this setup allows. Other students are active on Twitter and do not want to use their personal accounts (one of my students said, perhaps too honestly, “Professor, if you read what I tweet about you’d probably lose respect for me.”), and this setup allows them to keep their personal and academic personae separate. Finally, some students have no interest in Twitter beyond this class assignment, and this setup respects their preference.
The evolution of Twitter—specifically, the practice of tweeting under pseudonyms—has allowed Cordell to bring all the power of social media into his classroom in an undeniably thoughtful and respectful way.
The elegantly constructed approaches of Aaron and Cordell prove the old maxim: The simplest solution is often the best. Or, to put it another way, kindergarten really is the source of all knowledge.
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