PLAYBACK: Why Educators Should Embrace Texting, Tweeting and All That Mobile Technology Has to Offer


12.17.09 | Texting, Tweeting Are GR8 Teaching Tools: Carol Tilley, a professor of library and information science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that instead of looking at texting as the equivalent of literary degradation (a point raised in a UK study covered here last week), educators should embrace texting—as well as tweeting—to engage students and to encourage their research. Her comments appear in this University of Illinois News Bureau story.

Noting that more than 70 percent of teens have a mobile phone, Tilley says the technology offers a “viable alternate means of engaging with that age group.” She offers numerous examples of classroom applications, including a look at how English teachers can use Twitter, which can be broadcast to a wider audience than texts:

“In terms of strategies for creative or critical writing, having a limited number of characters to work with opens up all sorts of cool ways to play with the medium,” she said.

For example, an English teacher could take a famous character from a novel and ask students to tweet from that character’s perspective.

“It’s a good way to get into the psychology of the character,” she said.

Teachers could also challenge students to craft micro-stories complete with a climax and a denouement in 140 characters. Tilley noted that the flash-fiction genre has a distinguished lineage: the famously laconic Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story using just six words – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” – and is said to have called it his best work.

How Mobile Cell Phones Change Everything When We Do: UK digital media expert Ewan McIntosh wrote an interesting post about using mobile phones in the classroom for on-the-spot research, reference and interaction—and the thinking required to change classroom practices.

McIntosh builds off this post by Will Richardson, author of “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms,” in which Richardson asks: “If at some point in the fairly near future just about every high school kid is going to have a device that connects to the Internet, how much longer can we ask them to stuff it in their lockers at the beginning of the day?”

How the iPhone Could Reboot Education: “How do you educate a generation of students eternally distracted by the internet, cellphones and video games?” asks Wired’s Brian X. Chen. “Easy. You enable them by handing out free iPhones — and then integrating the gadget into your curriculum.”

Abilene Christian University in Texas has just completed year one of a pilot program, in which 1,000 freshman students received either a free iPhone or an iPod Touch. Chen writes:

Instead of standing in front of a classroom and talking for an hour, [Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies who helped plan the initiative], instructs his students to use their iPhones to look up relevant information on the fly. Then, the students can discuss the information they’ve found, and Rankin leads the dialogue by helping assess which sources are accurate and useful.

It’s like a mashup of a 1960s teach-in with smartphone technology from the 2000s.

Continue reading the story in Wired to learn more about Abilene’s customized iPhone applications.


iphone, texting, twitter



Picture of Katie


As an English teacher, I appreciate Carol Tilley’s attempt to rescue technology from the cynical snobs who think it is, de facto, evil.  Her example of use of tweeting the English classroom seems rather limiting, however.  I like to embrace technology first where it’s at—rather than trying to find some way to marry the technology with the traditional English curricula.  I’d rather have my students doing actual tweeting—for public consumption, not just my class—engaging in conversations and making connections about the texts and ideas we are covering in class, but in a more natural way for a broader audience.

Picture of Jason


Seeing texting as dialogue (as Tilley does in the article) is such a radically simple way for teachers and students to understand its power and its limits.  So much of our culture now—and literature for at least the past century—is about voice & persona.  Texting us just an extension of that.

For all of those who see it as the death of writing, just realize that students are writing more now—both formally and informally—at least in English classes—than they have ever before.  And that is always a good thing.

Picture of Chris Judson
Chris Judson


The strongest contribution of technologies such as Twitter and Smart phones is the emphasis on creating and responses to texts and for that I concur with the overall idea of the post. Unfortunately, most students don’t want to use these technologies for educational purposes and we are left to try and “train” our students to use something that once was for fun and social connections to something that happens in the classroom.

The newer technologies will rapidly change and it seems we would be better off trying to hit the most important ideas of creating and reading texts without having to spend the money on something that will be out of date within three years. Sometimes the composition book and a good pen can accomplish the same things as the iPhone (without the bells and whistles and Apple logo).

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Tom Johnson (Vancouver)


There is something about the anonymity of texting that may be useful, that in a classroom could be a way by having students texting and being shown on a screen in the front of the class may be a way to get more participation from students who are either shy/self concious, and could engage the students more. and act as a icebreaker for starting discussion.

Picture of Debbie Chapman
Debbie Chapman (Ont Can)


What a great idea…. as a professor, I too will have students who may have questions, and are afraid to ask…. what a great method….. texting !

Picture of Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson (Vancouver)


I could picture the students begin texting and once the ice is broken would start to talk outloud… probably the discussion could get to a point where people can’t type as fast as the discussion and would jump in verbally.

Picture of Sarah M Howell
Sarah M Howell (Italy)


Idea that works: Students re-write “classics” and novels in tweets.


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