Today was the first of what I hope will be an annual event: Digital Learning Day. The Alliance for Excellent Education suggested that teachers try one new thing, one new technology in their classes today. It was kind of a no-brainer for me since I’ve already used wikis, google sites, and blogs; I decided to have my students take part in a Twitter chat (using #FresnoDLD).
On the first day of class, I asked my students to set up a Twitter account–they were not excited, in fact some of them complained immediately. I talked with them about how Twitter allows teachers to take part in powerful learning networks and about how we need to stay open to new experiences (especially since that’s what we expect of our students). They grudgingly complied with my request (although I knew that was more about the power dynamics of teacher-student rather than because I was so convincing).
Today, I spent time talking about the benefits of Twitter–one thing that really helped was that in response to a tweet I made last night, a professor across the country had blogged about the topic I’d chosen for the Twitter chat: transactional theory (I owe Greg Mcverry bigtime. Please go to his blog and comment!). After my pep talk, I then modeled different aspects of Twitter (trying to keep it pretty simple). I asked students to do a test tweet–there were a number of things we had to problem solve before everyone’s tweets worked.
The next thing I asked students to do was to post something they thought was interesting about Louise Rosenblatt’s essay, “The Aesthetic Transaction.” Since I had already modeled how to reply to tweets, they also started to do that. A teacher I know who tweets (the wonderful @kimmin121) chimed in and before I knew it there was energy in the room: the clicking of keyboards and focused attention on computer screens. When I had thought about how things would go last night, I really expected the class to fail. I thought we’d last about 20 minutes and that then I’d need to switch gears. That didn’t happen. Students shared quotes they liked from the essay, they started to talk about activities they could do in class connecting literature and technology, they made witty comments. It helped that my friend and colleague @johncbeynon egged them on, talking about how Hamlet would have been addicted to Facebook, friending and unfriending people as his perception of them changed. Another student started pointing out haikus in Rosenblatt’s essay. Students asked each other questions and clarified concepts.
Towards the end of class, I asked the students to go to a Google document to enter in what they had learned from the Rosenblatt essay. This gave them the chance to use more than 140 characters and it gave me something to check to see how well they had understood the article. The combination of the Twitter chat and the Google document provided a nice balance to our discussion (though having everyone on the Google doc at once proved a little chaotic).
Because the class had gone by so quickly, we only had about 5 minutes to debrief. My students made some good observations–we talked about how the chat probably hadn’t been the best forum to talk about a complex article. Next time, I would probably focus on practice, instead. We also talked about how it wasn’t the most efficient way to have a discussion amongst a bunch of people in the same room. I’d still do this the first time I had students chat via Twitter, though, as they needed me to be there to help.
I’m really glad I tried this–and so relieved it went pretty well. I liked that the Twitter chat allowed students to play with ideas a little, that it created such an electricity in the classroom in spite of the quiet. I don’t know that all my students will keep their Twitter accounts, but I’m glad they were willing to participate this once and hope that they will be more open to using technology in their careers as teachers. I also hope that I’ve modeled for them the ways that teachers need to be fearless in trying new strategies. I think I would perish as a teacher if I wasn’t able to keep learning and growing–and adding to my teaching repertoire.