February 5, 2016

How Students Access Twitter in the Classroom

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Paul:

We are considering the appropriate role for Twitter in schools and as part of my research I read your article “13 Reasons to Use Twitter in the Classroom.” While I understand the points that you are making in the article, one question I didn’t see answered is how students access Twitter — is this done on their personal devices; or is this something that is allowed on district equipment?

If schools are allowing twitter on district-/school-owned equipment, how do they deal with the risks involved with a completely open environment in which students could share anything (pornography, threats, etc.) with little ability of the school or district to monitor direct messages, etc.

I appreciate your perspectives and we continue to consider the best way to reach our digital native students.

Twitter can be a revolutionary tool for students, used correctly. It meets students where they wish to learn and energizes pretty much any activity that takes place on the stream.

Most schools do not let students set up or access Twitter accounts at school earlier than high school. I’ve seen Middle School, but this is for unique student groups, certainly with parent approval and administration knowledge and support. Younger, accounts are usually set up as private class accounts.

Class accounts can be run two ways:

twitter in the classroom

  1. With one log-in that is accessed only by the teacher. This is best for K-2 or older if it’s appropriate to your unique student groups. The teacher either uses it as a vehicle to stay in touch with busy parents or the class creates a daily/weekly 140-character tweet that is sent to update followers on class activities. This is a lot of fun for students–to be involved in the tweet and see it show up at their home.
  2. With one log-in that is accessed by all students. This is great for a backchannel during class activities, transparently displayed on the Smartscreen. The teacher (and everyone else) can see exactly what is tweeted, and can insure they are appropriate. Because students know the account is supervised by the teacher, there usually is no problem (if there is, this option won’t work). One downside: There’s a time-lag in posting, which can be frustrating.

Because the accounts are private class accounts (no followers approved that the teacher doesn’t personally OK), there is limited risk of unacceptable material being accessed. Students only use it for class purposes (anything else is easily identified in the account stream and can be hidden). No one is accepted as a follower that is not appropriate to the class education goals (for example, other grade level classes would be welcomed, but individuals wouldn’t). Students and classes use #hashtags to catalog tweets and help students and parents quickly identify what is pertinent to them.

Before introducing Twitter to the classroom, a few preparatory steps will make this a much more successful program:

  • get the buy-in of all stakeholders (parents, teachers, admin)
  • put all students through a brief course in digital citizenship–both the rights and the responsibilities. This will help address your concern about improper use of the internet via Twitter.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.