Assignment Ideas: Blogs, Twitter, & Social Media

Blogs

Julie Meloni lists some of the questions a professor should think through when he or she integrates a blog into the classroom.

Mark Sample responds and describes his experiences after using thirteen class blogs spread across seven semesters, including a description of "a simple 5-point scale" for grading blog posts, "which rates each post according to the level of critical thinking and engagement displayed in the post. The rubric is quick and easy and in roughly 1–2 minutes I know what to rate any given blog post." (Note, too, the comments to the post, which include more discussion of the logistics of incorporating blogs into the classroom.)

Boone Gorges has a post describing a different approach to blogging: hub-and-spoke, as opposed to one central collaborative blog.

Mark Sample also toys around with using a rotation model for blogs in large classes, where students cycle "through these five roles:

  • Role 1 – Students are “first readers,” posting initial questions and insights about the reading to the class blog by Monday morning
  • Role 2 - Students are “respondents,” building upon, disagreeing with, or clarifying the first readers’ posts by class time on Tuesday
  • Role 3 - Students are “synthesizers,” mediating and synthesizing the dialogue between first readers and respondents by Thursday
  • Role 4 - Students are responsible for the week’s class notes
  • Role  5 – Students have this week “off” in terms of blogging and the wiki"

Kathryn Crowder describes how she uses student blogs as a place for students in her composition classes at Georgia Tech to develop longer essays

This semester my students developed formal “literary analysis” papers on Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Yearby beginning with informal brainstorming and writing assignments on their blogs. The full assignment is here, but basically the students moved from a “first impressions” blog post where they could do a free-write or brainstorming on their first reactions to the novel, through two “close-reading” posts where they selected passages to analyze, to an outline and tentative thesis statement as they honed their argument. At the end of the process, many chose to post their rough drafts on their blogs as well.  With each step, the students gave and received feedback via the comments (in addition to a session in the T-Square chatroom with their group members) and used peer-feedback to shape their initial ideas into arguments with supporting evidence.

Twitter

The Ultimate Twitter Teacher Resource is an extensive list of resources, ideas, hints, tips, and tricks on how to positively affect your classroom with the use of Twitter

Twitter Symbiosis: A Librarian, a Hashtag, and a First-Year Seminar,” a talk at Educause by Gardner Campbell, librarian Ellen Filgo and first-year student Alexis Tracy, is available online as video and slides that provides three different points of view on how Twitter worked in their class and some suggested best practices. He includes a look at the way he structures the website for the class as a "mother blog" and how he uses RSS aggregation.

Gardner Campbell uses Twitter to establish a backchannel in his classrooms:

In a nutshell, here’s how Gardner incorporated Twitter in his course: As part of their class participation, Gardner’s students were encouraged to open Twitter accounts and participate in backchannel discussion on Twitter during class sessions, using a course-specific hashtag to make their tweets easy to find and follow. Moreover, Ellen Filgo, a university librarian, participated in the Twitterstream, too, although she did not attend class sessions in general. Instead, she followed the Twitter conversation from her office (by loading a column in her Tweetdeck application that searched for the course hashtag) and contributed resources and ideas to the backchannel discussion.
How did Gardner and his students use the backchannel?  I’ll use my “nine uses” as a framework here.  Gardner’s students engaged in notetaking, sharing resources with each other,commenting on the class discussion and presentations given by Gardner and by fellow students, asking questions of Gardner and each other, and helping one another by suggesting answers to those questions.  Also, Gardner was intentional about using the backchannel and other mechanisms (including student blogs “fed” into a course “mother blog” and social bookmarking via Delicious) to build community in his course.

It's a brief post, but I really like the way Mark Sample has his students live-tweet watching Blade Runner for his science fiction class: 

Since I wasn’t screening the film in class, students would be watching it in all sorts of contexts: on Netflix in the residence hall, on a reserve DVD upstairs in the JC, rented from iTunes, a BluRay collector’s set at home, and so on. However, I still wanted to create a collective experience out of these disparate viewings. To this end, I asked students to “live tweet” their own viewing, posting to Twitter whatever came to mind as they watched the film.
In this way I turned movie watching—a lean-back activity—into a lean-forward practice. And because the students often directed their tweets as replies to each other, it was social, much more social than viewing the film in class together. Over a 5-day period I had hundreds of tweets coming in, and I used a tool called Storify to track rhetorical and interpretative moves students made during this assignment. In particular, I categorized the incoming tweets, bringing to the surface some underlying themes in my students’ tweets. And then we began the next class period by examining the tweets and the themes they pointed to.

Jesse Stommel has his students write "Twitter essays":

in which students condense an argument with evidential support into 140 characters, which they unleash upon a hashtag (or trending topic) in the Twitter-verse. Tweets often attempt to convey as much information in as few words as possible. A tweet could be seen, then, not as a paragon of the many potential horrors of student writing, but as a model of writerly concision. In composing their Twitter-essay, I have students proceed through all the steps I would have them take in writing a traditional academic essay, including brainstorming, composing, workshopping, and revising. I also have them consider and research their audience, the Twitter members engaged in discussion around a particular hashtag. Finally, I have them work dynamically with the Tweets of their peers, responding to them on Twitter and close-analyzing them in class. I ask the students to consider their word-choice, use of abbreviation, punctuation, etc. To model the activity for them and to give them a sense for the shape of a Twitter-essay, I compose my instructions for the assignment in exactly 140 characters and post them to Twitter.
In her class on Friendship, Bellee Jones had her students tweet a definition for terms related to the class topic:
"Writing definitions is difficult work. Lucky for you, you have your classmates and friends to help you. Work together in groups to define either frienemy or friend with benefits. You may DM or tweet directly to group members using your @usernames during your drafting and revision phases. Keep Twitter’s 140-character limit in mind! Once you’ve come up with your definition (or a draft you’d like people to discuss), post it with our hashtag, #FRNDSHP. Feel free to RT what others have said, include friends from outside the class, link to websites, etc. I’m looking forward to lively interaction on this topic!"

Wikis

Brian Croxall has his students work in groups to create a collaborative and comprehensive set of class notes on a wiki.

Further Reading

A Social Pedagogies Reading List, by Derek Bruff, provides resources for methods that "engage students with… an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher) where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course."