Can Twitter be used to engage students in history classes? I have a Twitter account that I rarely use to post, however I do follow several historians, history organizations, museums, and journals. My Twitter feed is a testament to how relevant history continues to be and I think that incorporating Twitter into my history courses might be a way to engage students in classes and get them excited about history. Not a day passes that I don’t see something that piques my interest. New discoveries, anniversaries of historical events, social commentary from renowned historians, reviews of exhibits, historic images, and links to articles regularly beckon me to click, peruse, favorite, and re-tweet…then recount in one of classes later that day.
Gibson (2011) noted that students who participated in determining learning objectives for a course had lower absentee rates and higher engagements than those that haven’t. In my own classes, in lieu of a review session for exams, I assigned groups of students to different chapters and have them write the exam, each group contributing two to three questions that best represent what they learned in their respective chapters. The class, as a whole, edits and votes on the final questions, which then become the study guide. Like Gibson (2011), I find that students who have agency over what is covered in the class, or on exams, do better. In Gibson’s (2001) study, students are choosing what they course will emphasize; and in my classes, students’ test anxiety is reduced because they are tested on what they know they learned. Gibson (2011) uses a structured process, giving students fifty learning objectives from which to choose, and I reserve the right to add or revise questions. Incidentally, I have found that over 90% of the questions students write are questions I would have included on any given exam.
How do learning objectives and exam questions relate to Twitter? They don’t, really, however the process of engaging students and allowing them to drive learning in the classroom do. Yakin and Tinmaz (2013) used Twitter for course content and activities and found that that student engagement improved. Students appreciated the access to course content, ability to create and share content with classmates and the increased interactions with classmates and instructors. Since all of my courses—face-to-face, hybrid, and online—use the Blackboard LMS, I don’t think that I would replace any of the Blackboard functions with Twitter, but I do see its potential to engage students in the classroom in much the same way that my teachers in the 80s and 90s required students to bring in newspaper or magazine articles to discuss current events or had us watch or read foreign media and journal about it to help in language acquisition.
Two key ways that I might integrate Twitter into the classroom is to generate discussion topics and as a platform for historical re-enactments. The first step for either activity would be to create a hashtag (#) for the class. Next, those students without Twitter accounts would need to sign up for Twitter. All students would be directed to follow me @ProfMoniK and at least two or three other history-related accounts.
For discussion activities, I would give students suggestions based on the class. For example, in a U.S. history class, I might suggest students start by following the National Archives @USNatArchives, The American Historian @TheAmHistorian, Smithsonian National Museum of American History @amhistorymuseum, and Teaching History @teachinghistory, then look for others that relate to a particular interest, such as the Civil War @civilwarhistory, California @CAHistory, or women @SheroesHistory. Each week, students would retweet potential discussion topics with the class hashtag (such as #AWCHIS121). Students could comment on the tweets from other students, or, in class, the topics and articles could be pulled up and projected on the screen and students could discuss topics in groups. If students were required to re-tweet topics by Sunday night, the instructor might have time to provide additional resources, such as primary sources, to introduce into the discussions. Discussions could be structured chronologically, by events, thematically, or focused on new discoveries and interpretations. In this way, discussions and ancillary content would be learner-directed, rather than instructor-directed, possibly leading to greater student engagement.
McKenzie (2014) used Twitter as a platform to re-enact the Paris Commune and Battle of Stalingrad, taking cues from the role Twitter and Facebook played in the Arab Spring. Using documents, images, and secondary resources, students adopted the personas of participants in the events. In US history, Twitter re-enactments might be used to better understand the American Revolution, Civil War, WWI & II, the New Deal, Civil Rights Movement, Cold War, or myriad other turning points in American history. I often assign students US Presidents to profile, so assigning students to act as presidents throughout the course might be another way to reflect on domestic and foreign policy decisions at different periods, while having other Presidents “weigh in” on decisions. Just as many politicians, Supreme Court Justices, and political analysists today often ask “what would the Founding Fathers do?”, Washington might question Jackson’s Indian Removal Act or Reagan might comment on TR’s Roosevelt Corollary.
Regardless of the mode of delivery, technology can be used to engage students and breathe new life into old topics, of which history has plenty!
Gibson, L. (2011). Student-directed learning: An exercise in student engagement. College Teaching, 59(3), 95–101.
McKenzie, B. A. (2014). Teaching Twitter: Re-enacting the Paris Commune and the Battle of Stalingrad. History Teacher, 47(3), 355-372.
Yakin, I., & Tinmaz, H. (2013). Using Twitter as an instructional tool: A case study in higher education. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 12(4), 209-218.