A student of mine is writing a story about Twitter on campus for another class. I thought his questions — and hopefully my answers — were worth a blog post:
1) What’s your official title at Oregon State University? What name would you like to be referred by in the article? What’s your age? Finally, how long have you been teaching?
ANSWER: I’m an Instructor in NMC at OSU. Pamela Cytrynbaum. Second reference is always “Cytrynbaum.” I’m 43. I’ve been teaching in one form or another for 12 years.
Now onto our subject.
2) Do you think Twitter is widely used by students on campus? Have you encountered Twitter in any of your classrooms (as an interruption or distraction, perhaps)?
ANSWER: No, I don’t see much use of Twitter on campus at all. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how few students have even heard of it when I raise the question in all of my classes. Very few of my my students — most of whom are new media students — use it. I require my NMC 301 (Writing for the Media Professional) students to learn it and do one assignment where they Twitter an event. It’s important for them to know what it is and how to use it. Once that’s done, it’s up to them to continue or not. Some do.
I think it seems useless to many students. They’ve got texts and Facebook messages coming in…what do they need this shortened social networking tool for? Far fewer students seem to continue on with Twitter after learning it in class than with blogging. I have many students who blog for the first time in my class and then get hooked and build their blogs and keep them going. They see the value in that. I’m not sure Twitter offers enough payoff for the effort. For me, I’ve had lots of fun with it. I use it as storage for all kinds of links I want to keep for classes, to connect with organizations, media outlets, friends, writers, to keep up with their lives and work. I don’t follow anybody who uses Twitter to proclaim an ingrown toenail. I’m looking for actual information.
I’m a working, writing mom. I don’t have one second in the day to waste on that.
3) Do you think Twitter has any potential as a teaching aid? In your opinion, should teachers or campus officials use Twitter to spread information to students?
ANSWER: I can’t speak for any other teachers or tell them what to do. I know from being a Twitter Follower of the Chronicle of Higher Education (and a regular reader) that there are lots of professors arguing for and against the use of Twitter. One story I read was by someone advocating the use of Twitter DURING classes and conference lectures as a way to INCREASE engagement.
Personally, I’d lose my mind juggling that. I’d rather have somebody comment in person so I can see them, hear them, respond one human being to another. But this person argued strongly that for them, Twittering deeply enriched the teaching experience. It’s important to take it seriously, though, and not just ignore or disregard Twitter. There are plenty of stories and surveys that have found Twitter is the top social networking medium for helping people get immediate information on natural disasters, like the Indonesian Tsunami. But, as we’ve seen just yesterday in the news about the swine flu issue, it’s also a mechanism for spreading false or overly-hyped information that can be deeply concerning. Either way, it’s here, and the larger plugged-in world is taking advantage of this technology. We need to check it out for ourselves and make our own choices.