Going Micro: meaningful microblogging in the classroom

  • On 2011-06-10
  • education, learning, microblogging, twitter

One of the key challenges in any classroom is to have our students express their ideas in a concise manner, often under time-pressure. The emergence of micro-blogs such as Twitter has required people to quickly become adept at getting a message across (sometimes to an online audience of millions) in the most succinct way possible. Schools often work very hard to keep social media OUT of the classroom. My view is that not only is this unrealistic, but it is preventing us from creating rich learning opportunities and engaging students in development of key literacy skills for the twenty-first century.

Microblogging (a blogging mode that limits the number of characters the writer can use in one post) is a great way to teach kids to be concise in what they say and to select only the most crucial information. Selection of information is a critical skill that students must develop in order to successfully navigate the tidal wave of information coming at them through a range of media. Creating a class microblog could be a great activity for teachers of students in the middle years, as it encourages them to use social media in a critical way and gives them practice at being succinct! Have your students create a microblog on one of your topics (from Shakespeare to photosynthesis) and see what they have to say. An engaging way to begin the blog would be to post a contentious idea and then let them debate it online. As the teacher, you could act as the blog’s ‘moderator’, or have your students rotate through the role, which develops a sense of responsibility. Additionally, having students share the role of moderator (‘mod’ in social networking-speak) systematically, creates opportunities for collaboration, peer assessment and reflection on the role and responsibility of managing an online debate. Sounds like an incredibly rich twenty-first century class to me!

Troubleshooting: If your school network is down or you are having trouble accessing ICT; model resilience to your class by finding an alternative means of doing the same activity. Have the students create the microblog in a Word document, or even on poster paper using post-it notes (one post-it per post) A challenge could be to fit their post on the one post-it (see how miniscule the hand-writing gets!) They can make it electronic later. The most important things to remind them of are to keep each post to 150 characters and to remember that everything they say is going to be publicly viewed and discussed by the group; just as it would be on the Internet.
To conclude, my view is that social media is here, whether we like it or not! If you need further convincing, check out the clip: ‘Social Media Revolution2’.

Recently, the principal of Christian Brothers College in St.Kilda, Gerald Bain-King decided it was worth the risk – not to mention impossible to stop – social media entering classrooms at the School via mobile internet devices (MIDs). (‘School Principal answers call to ditch mobile phone ban’ The Age 30/5/11) Just like the Internet as a whole, bringing mobile Internet technology into your daily teaching and learning offers up endless, rich possibilities…and comes with unique and highly complex challenges.
In light of all the discussion about social media and its potential for use in schools, my question for the week is this: What are the opportunities for using microblogs in the classroom? What are some of the challenges that teachers and schools will need to manage and how might we begin to address these?

Please sound off below (and try to keep it to 150 characters!!)

Cathryn can be followed on Twitter via: #CathrynStephens



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