Teaching with Twitter: Thick and Thin Tweets

Ever since I started thinking about using twitter in the classroom (and before I actually used it, which was in fall, 2010), I’ve been following the interesting and innovative work of David M. Silver and his media studies classes at the University of San Francisco. He has a helpful blog that he uses mostly for class assignments. I also follow him on twitter. Yesterday he tweeted to his class about an article that he had written for the Chronicle of Higher Education last May: Twitter Meets the Breakfast Club. He also assigned, via the tweet, another one of his articles from his blog: The Difference Between Thick and Thin Tweets

Here’s his brief description of thin and thick tweets:

thin tweets are posts that convey one layer of information. thick tweets convey two or more, often with help from a hyperlink.

While he encourages students to experiment with all sorts of tweets, he requires that they do thick tweets for his assignments. His blog post offers some great examples and explanations of how thick tweets work. I think this approach might be helpful for enabling students to think more carefully/deliberately about their tweets as forms of communication. I also think his introduction of the assignment, with so many help examples + explanations, is a great model for how to introduce an assignment.

I was struck by something he wrote at the end of his post:

As i wrote above, i encourage my students to use twitter in any way they see fit. but my bias is evident. by requiring them to post thick tweets and by encouraging them to pack multiple layers of information within 140 characters or less, i’m trying to teach my students how to craft creative, meaty, and to-the-point messages that attract other people’s attention.

I wonder, does the point of twitter exercises for class and/or tweets in general, always have to be about “attracting other people’s attention”? What other goals do twitter users have besides attracting attention and sharing information?

Sample Assignment on tweet/blog

As usual, I am experimenting with new assignments for class. This fall, I want to try some twitter/blog combo assignments that are designed to help students with their writing (my class is writing intensive). Since I like to try out assignments before using them and I like to provide students with examples, I thought I’d test out my “feminist example twitter/blog assignment” as I worked on my essay about my troublemaking pedagogy. First, here’s a description of the assignment:

1 Reading example posted on twitter/blog     25 points

You are required to tweet one example from the readings that supports/clarifies your definition/understanding of feminism. You are also required to expand on this example in a blog post.

Here’s the passage that I am using as an example; it’s from Kevin Kumashiro’s Troubling Education:

Critical pedagogy needs to move away from saying that students need this or my critical perspective since such an approach merely replaces one (socially hegemonic) framework for seeing the world with another (academically hegemonic) one. Rather than aim for understanding of some critical perspective, antioppressive pedagogy should aim for effect by having students engage with relevant aspects of critical theory and extend its terms of analysis to their own lives, but then critique it for what it overlooks or forecloses (49).

tweet: students must experience and engage w/perspectives, not just comprehend/understand/accept them; teachers are guides, not experts #femd2011 (138 characters)

blog expansion of tweet: In Troubling Education, Kumashiro argues that teachers need to develop pedagogies that encourage students to actively (and critically and creatively) engage with a variety of perspectives. This engagement necessarily requires that students do more than just comprehend or develop an understanding of any one perspective as the answer. Instead, they need to be guided by teachers on how to negotiate a wide range of perspectives and critically assess them in terms of their own lives.

In thinking about my own troublemaking pedagogy, I find this passage helpful because of Kumashiro’s emphasis on experience and engagement as opposed to comprehension. While understanding a term or concept is important, students (and teachers/scholars/readers) need to do more in order to not passively accept it as the truth; students need to think critically about the perspective, how it is/isn’t relevant and what it ignores or actively suppresses. In critically assessing a concept, students learn to challenge ideas and also that engagement with ideas requires active learning, thinking, and experiencing of a concept. This emphasis on engagement shifts the dynamic between teacher and student. In a typical class, the teacher stands in front of the class and lectures as the expert, providing passive students with the answers. The focus: the transmission of ideas from teacher to student. In contrast, in Kumashiro’s classroom, passive students aren’t given answers by an expert/Teacher. Instead, they actively engage with their teacher and other students, critically and creatively determining how the concept works and fails to work within their own lives.

Note: I like this exercise. It’s helpful to spend some time really focusing in on what’s important and then expanding on that focused articulation (the tweet) in a blog entry. Since I’m not completely satisfied with my blog explanation, I want to practice this assignment some more. 

A few links I want to re-read (or reference)…someday

Ever since I got my iPad in May, I use it a lot for my morning internet news reading. For some reason, I can’t figure out how to make bookmarks on my iPad version of safari (which might be a good thing because I tend to bookmark lots of links that I never return to). So instead, I have started emailing myself the links. Now my inbox is filled with them and I’m feeling the need to clean (which doesn’t happen that often–as hard as I try, I usually have hundreds of emails in my two main mail accounts. Sigh).

Since I use this blog as an archive for ideas, I have decided to post a brief “annotated” list of these links/entries/articles:

1. Childhood, Disability and Public Space a blog entry by Angus Johnston at Student Activism
This entry, which links to an interesting thread on Feministe about kids and public space, is about the rights of children and adults with disability in relation to public space. Here’s his conclusion:

Which brings me to my most important point: that the duty to minimize disruption isn’t a duty that the young and the old and those with disabilities have to the robust adults among us, it’s a reciprocal duty that each of us, whatever our condition, has to each of our neighbors, whatever their condition.

Each of us has an obligation to refrain from whining too long or too loudly in museums. But each of us also has an obligation to accept the company of others good-naturedly, and to respond with grace when disruptions inevitably occur.

Why I’m archiving it: This essay resonates with me on a number of different levels–personally (as the mother of two young children who struggles to navigate public space with them and in the midst of other parents who do seem to feel entitled to take up lots of space, and as a daughter who witnessed my mom’s fearful attempts to inhabit public space as terminally ill, slow-moving and fragile without being knocked over or shoved out of the way) and intellectually (I like thinking about the links between public space, children and disruption).

Where I found it: random twitter search on @bitchphd, buried deep on page 2 or 3

2. threadbared a blog by Mimi Thi Nguyen and Minh-Ha T. Pham
Here’s a description of this super-cool blog:

Threadbared is an evolving collaboration between two clotheshorse academics to discuss the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names “fashion” and “beauty.” With commentary on how clothes matter, as well as book and exhibit reviews and interviews with scholars and artists, Threadbared considers the critical importance of taking clothes –and the bodies that design, manufacture, disseminate, and wear them– seriously as an entry point into dialogue about the world around us.

Why I’m archiving it: Okay, I’m not really into fashion that much (but maybe after reading this blog, I will be!), however I am familiar with Mimi Thi Nguyen’s work (Alien Encounters and a brief online essay on Mulan from years ago) and I appreciate the ways in which she brings feminist, queer, and anti-racist analyses to bear on pop culture. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s work seems pretty cool too; I especially like her post (which I just found) on why I feel guilty when I don’t blog. And here’s one more reason: this is a kick-ass blog done by academics who are using their impressive set of critical tools (feminist transnational studies, queer theory, critical media studies) to critically reflect on popular (fashion) culture. And it’s a diablog. This is a great model for being diablogical!

Where I found it: Wow, I wish I could remember. Probably twitter again. I think twitter is my new researching BFF. Seriously, twitter is a great resource. I will definitely have to use it in my classes this year.

3. May I, Please, Queer Your Kids? The New Queer Pedagogy an online article by Stephanie Jo Marchese in a Special Issue of MP: An international feminist journal
In this article, Marchese opens her discussion of queer pedagogy and the queer classroom with one queer student’s story (Sara) of being deemed a threat by her teachers:

By asserting the contagion of queerness, any school system, any teacher, any student, and any administrator has an increased chance of exposure. Paranoia becomes the vaccine to this social disease. It has seeped into pedagogical practices resulting in the devaluation and disgust with which queer studies is viewed in mainstream educational discussions. In advocating queer learning spaces, educational institutions run the risk of losing all categories, run the risk of leaving all subject matter ripe learning material, and inadvertently allow for provocative and resistant citizens to thrive. In linking this theoretical pondering to my opening example it makes perfect sense that Sara was told to pipe down. Keep it quiet. Don’t disturb your role because you unsettle mine.

Marches argues that queer visibility (and a pedagogy that is queer) doesn’t always have to lead to paranoia and containment; making sexuality visible in the class could allow for more honest conversations about it and the ways in which it gets regulated (through what is normal/acceptable and what is not).

Why I’m archiving it: I am always interested in essays on queer pedagogy and the bibliography for this article seems like it could point to even more sources. Plus, I appreciate her discussion of the queer who unsettles/disrupts as someone who needs to be encouraged (because of the productive, good troublemaking they do) instead of being contained or denied.

Where I found it: I got a mass email through the WMST-L listserv about a call for papers from the MP journal. I went to their website and randomly searched the archives.

4. Twitter for Academia a blog entry by dave on Academic Hack
In this entry, dave provides a list of various ways in which to use twitter in the classroom, including: class chatter, classroom community, get a sense of the world, track a word, track a conference, instant feedback, follow a professional, follow a famous person and more.

Why I’m archiving it: I plan to use twitter in my classes this year (and to teach about how to use it in my feminist pedagogies class) and am always looking for advice and ideas about it. Not only does dave offer some great suggestions, but his post has 46 comments worth of ideas too. Cool. This post should be very helpful. Here are a few that I particularly like:

Track a Word: Through Twitter you can “track” a word. This will subscribe you to any post which contains said word. So, for example a student could be interested in how a particular word is used. They can track the word, and see the varied phrases in which people use it. Or, you can track an event, a proper name (I track Derrida for example), a movie title, a store name see how many people a day tweet that they are at or on their way to a Starbucks. (To do this send the message “track Starbucks” to Twitter, rather than posting the update “track Starbucks” you will now receive all messages with the word “Starbucks.”)

Instant Feedback: Because Twitter is always on, and gets pushed to your cell phone if you set it up this way, it is a good way to get instant feedback. I was prepping for a lecture and wanted to know if students shared a particular movie reference, I asked via Twitter and got instant responses. Students can also use this when doing their classwork, trying to understand the material. Tweet: “I don’t understand what this reading has to do with New Media? any ideas?” Other students then respond. (This actually happened recently in a class of mine.)

Maximizing the Teachable Moment: It is often hard to teach in context, Twitter allows you to do this, but better yet, allows your students to do it for you (a way that others will hear perhaps). Recently someone in my Twitter circle made a marginal comment about a male friend who was dating an older woman. Another person in the same circle called him out this. Perfect, an in-context lesson on gender prejudice.

Public NotePad: Twitter is really good for sharing short inspirations, thoughts that just popped into your head. Not only are they recorded, because you can go back and look at them, but you can also get inspiration from others. This is really useful for any “creative” based class.

Where I found it: I’m pretty sure that I did a google search for twitter and academic use (or twitter teaching?). Sidenote: I used Academic Hack’s blogroll to find ProfHacker, which is great source on the Chronicle of Higher Education for teaching and technology.

Okay, I’m done now. Well, my list of links is not done, but I’m done. I find this entry to be a helpful exercise, one I might try in my classes. It’s more time-consuming than I imagined it would be (it took about 90 minutes, off and on, to write). I need to go rest my brain now and listen to some summer music:

Learning Exercise: Women’s Studies, Curiosity and the Value of Asking Questions

The following is a learning exercise for use in an introductory Women’s Studies classroom. I have constructed this assignment to be brief–only taking up 12-15 minutes. However, ideally it would serve as the introduction to a longer class session/discussion. You can download an abbreviated version of the assignment here.

Because I am always interested in experimenting with different techniques for using the blogs in (and as) the classroom, I decided to put this learning exercise on my blog. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to do the exercise. Try it out and then tell me what you like/don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work. You can post a comment to this entry or any of the 4 parts of the exercise.

Click on the links in order to “do” this exercise.

A. What makes you curious about this image/object?
B. Why aren’t we curious? Feminism and the importance of curiosity
C. What questions can we ask about this image/object?
D. A Final Exercise

POSSIBLE IMPLEMENTATIONS: This exercise is designed for use in a wide range of classrooms.

In a face-to-face classroom, I envision using this exercise as the introduction to a larger discussion about curiosity and some different ways that feminists are curious about the world. In this version, the students could break up into groups after this exercise and discuss their various questions. Then, as a group, they would report on one question (or line of questions) that they find particularly compelling and we would have a large group discussion about the various questions.

In a hybrid classroom, I envision using this exercise as the foundation for students’ engagement with the lesson for that section. Students would spend time on the exercise, clicking on the various links and reading the articles (indicated here on the final part of this exercise) that are related to the exercise and topic of discussion. They would post an entry on their own questions and comment on other students’ post (at least 2). Finally, we would have a face-to-face session in which we discuss the readings and our questions.

In an online classroom, I envision using this exercise in many of the same ways as in the hybrid classroom. However, instead of meeting face-to-face, students would actively engage more with each other on the blog and through online discussions (of their questions and comments). Students might also be required to post their own links to images, blog sites, media examples that connect with their own questions.

One other important note about the design of this exercise: It is designed to accommodate a wide range of students and their various levels of interest, time and ability. I deliberately provide a lot of information for students who want to learn more, but I don’t make reading and engaging with all of that information a requirement of the assignment. Additionally, I provide a wide range of different perspectives on topics, so as to reach as many different students (and their varied experiences and interests) as possible. Whenever I use assignments like this one, I always try to be clear about this aspect of the design so that they are not overwhelmed by the assignment.