#History: Historical Thinking in 140 Characters

Last February I blogged about the possibilities of integrating Twitter into the history classroom. Six months later, I did just that, using an honors seminar, Women, War, and Revolution, as my pilot.  Since the pilot, I’ve introduced it into a few more classes with positive results.  The honors seminar was selected as a pilot for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the Honors Program at AWC  is comprised of a close cohort of students who take GE courses as a cohort and participate in co-curricular activities together. This created a safe community of students. Second, I wanted to see if students who are accustomed to submitting fully developed responses to questions would benefit from expressing their ideas with the brevity required of Twitter.

Here’s how I did it while maintaining a safe, and academic, course environment.

First, I did not use Twitter. Rather, I turned the discussion board into a “Twitter feed.” Few of my students use Twitter, and because I wanted them to come up with different “handles” each week, I opted to use the discussion forum instead of having students Tweet live. I also wanted to encourage students to experiment within the safe confines of the classroom (both online and in person), without the threat of Twitter trolls or other outsiders interfering.  This was especially important due to the course content, as students were reading articles about women’s involvement in 20th and 21st century movements, including those still in progress.

Within the discussion board, in this case Blackboard, I created weekly discussion forums with a twist. Students were assigned readings and  provided with a prompt from which to craft a response. The more structured the prompt, the better! In other words, rather than”Tweet something about the Sandinista Revolution,” students were required to respond to the prompt below.

sandinistaprompt Example “Twitter” prompt for “Women in the Sandinista Revolution” module in Women, War, and Revolution class

As shown above, students were required to create a unique handle (@SomeoneOrSomething) related to the topic. Students could adopt a persona and tweet as someone  involved in the war or revolution, or create a handle that described their perspective. Within the discussion board, their handle was in the subject line, and their Tweet was in the post field. Students were encouraged to create hashtags for the tweets and I directed them to http://www.lettercount.com to check the length of their tweets.

Obviously, the discussion board does not provide the anonymity of Twitter, as students can see who Tweeted what, but for the purposes of the class, that was fine. Incorporating the Twitter feed into the face-to-face part of the class by pulling up the feed and projecting it on the screen also held students accountable for taking the assignments seriously and was a great opportunity to wrap up each module. However, I did learn that I needed to change the deadline to the night before class met, rather than the day the class met, as even honors students procrastinate! There are often three to four students who posted after class, rather than prior to the class meeting. I also wasn’t consistent in reviewing the Twitter feed in class each week, which is something I remedied in later courses.

What I found was, in general, students were more engaged in the material. They were forced to be creative (can we force creativity??) and to think critically about what they read in order to express their understanding of the material. Student evaluations indicated that they found the assignments to be fun and thought-provoking.  It also required me, as an instructor, to carefully craft prompts that would work.

This semester I am using the twitter strategy in an upper-division Modern Latin America class at SDSU-IVC and just started a modified assignment in which students write their Tweets on the whiteboard at the beginning of class. More on that to come…

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About ProfMoniK

History professor at Arizona Western College and lecturer at Imperial Valley College and San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus.
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