Twitter Research

In Spring 2013 I revised my use of Twitter in my Advanced Rhetoric courses as follows, primarily to bridge the online and face-to-face sections:

Twitter Posts
We will hold an ongoing conversation about our observations of rhetoric in contemporary culture in the form of a class Twitter feed. You may either use your current Twitter username or create one specifically for this course. Either way, you must follow me at @profpignetti. Tweets should be personal thoughts/insights/questions and/or links to relevant material on the web, and should include the course hashtag (#rhetoric371).
You must post at least 2 course-relevant tweets per week, preferably before Sundays at noon.

In February 2012, I presented alongside Mickey Fitch from UW-Superior at the Tools for Teaching Northwest Regional Showcase held at UW-Eau Claire. This is our Prezi:

Some of its material is from the talking points handout I created for my 2011 Computers and Writing session, “Making Writing Socially Engaging: Asking Why New Media Draws Us In.” Download a PDF of that handout here: CWProfPignetti.Twitter


2010-2011 Teaching with Twitter

The basic prompt freshman composition students were to follow was this:

Twitter Journal
In addition to utilizing to the D2L website, a requirement for this course is an account on
• Whenever reading is assigned, students will be required to post at least 2 questions or comments about that text to their timeline. Shared at the beginning of each class period, we will reference these tweets as a means to generate discussion.
• While not required, I encourage you to use this microblogging social network as an informal journal about technology, as a way to communicate with each other, and as a quick way to ask me questions when outside of class.
• As your teacher, I will use the site to post announcements, extra credit opportunities, and share links relevant to our course focus on social media trends, so it is important that you check in on a daily basis.

Name of Emerging Technology: Twitter
Principal Investigator: Daisy Pignetti ~ Department of English and Philosophy, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Stout
Final Reports submitted to the Dan Riordan, Director of Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center and Sue Foxwell, Director of Research Services

Ø Explain in detail how you used the tool, include your goals:
In the Spring 2009 semester, I asked all three sections of my ENG 102 students, 2 online and 1 face-to-face, to create Twitter accounts.
Because English 102 is a Reading and Related Writing course, the goal was for students to use Twitter to take notes on assigned readings [in this course and others] and ultimately become more active readers. While a tutorial was given in the face-to-face class, the site is quite intuitive and the online students had no problems signing up. Once accounts had been created, students posted their Twitter URLs in a D2L discussion forum the first week of class. This allowed for the “following” of each other, thereby creating classroom community.

Ø Implications for instruction/student learning (e.g. Did it help learning?):
Reflecting on the many uses students created for their Twitter use, I am pleased to report that it’s clearly has impacted their active learning.
Because of the quest to reach 200 updates, face-to-face students “live-blogged” during my lectures, while we watched videos related to the readings, and outside of class when they had questions.
My 2 groups of distance learners greatly benefited from “updating their status” and began to rely on each other for answers rather than just emailing me when they had a question. I found this student’s description of his Twitter use most revealing:

Throughout the past year and a half I have been taking distance education classes; therefore, I have used reading not only to gain knowledge from text books, but I have also used reading as a way to stay connected with peers from a distance. Twitter, an online journal, allowed me to informally post comments about my classes, what I was doing, and what was going on in my life. I didn’t like posting or reading other Twitter messages at first; I found it somewhat pointless. Sooner than later, I found that I often desired to read about other students’ studies, tests, or late nights of doing homework. I slowly became addicted to it. This reading made me feel connected with others and gave me the energy to push on because I knew I wasn’t the only one stressed about school work.

The humanizing effect was one that I hadn’t initially planned on, but is obviously representative of Web 2.0 technologies where the users are producers, consumers, and collaborators. Many online students expressed how they enjoyed the fact that I Twittered too, that I was “more like a teacher and less of a server in some basement.” They also enjoyed learning more about their classmates, remarking that this course was “the only one so far in which I’ve even known my other classmates’ names.”

Ø Cost of product (was it free? If not what cost was involved):
Free accounts are available at Students had the option to protect their updates, but only after following me and everyone else in the course. This allowed for some expectation of privacy albeit a public writing exercise.

Ø Rate usability for end-user (1= Very difficult; 5+ very easy, intuitive):
5. While a few students complained about forgetting to post or “not knowing what to write about,” the only legitimate issue I heard concerned the speed of the site. Even with there only being 140-character bursts of text to compose, if the site was slow, the face-to-face students became frustrated.

Ø Rate ease of learning the tool (1= Very difficult; 5+ very easy, intuitive):
4. Answering the question Twitter asks, “What are you doing?” is quite easy for students, probably because it is so similar to updating their Facebook status. Replying to one another [with the @username script] and thus beginning a dialogue requires more time to explore the site and asks students to hover over messages in order to see the links. Direct messages [which are private and do not show up on the timeline] are also an option, although not many students used this feature. Many students uploaded images of themselves, wrote short bios, and personalized their backgrounds, again illustrating that they were trying to “own” their profile.

Ø Recommend/Not recommended:
I highly recommend Twitter to those instructors wanting 1) to establish greater classroom community, 2) to have students journal their work, and 3) are eager for the opportunity to explore forums outside of the D2L course management software. I plan on using the site more during my virtual office hours rather than relying on instant messenger or discussion boards [or even email] because of the ease and speed with which questions can be answered and resources shared.

Ø Similar products for comparison available:
In terms of other microblogging tools, there are several free sites out there but Twitter has gained the most recognition, even skyrocketed in popularity over the past few months.
Several face-to-face students kept repeating to me that they wouldn’t keep up with Twitter after the class is over because they “do the same thing on Facebook” and “all my friends are on Facebook.” I reminded them that we were using Twitter as an academic exercise and rather than invade their Facebook space, I felt it best that we start in neutral territory. Once reminded of this, and likely horrified at the thought of being required to “friend” their teacher, they continued on with their updating as assigned. ☺


Dissemination to Greater Campus Community
Upon my return from the San Francisco CCCC meeting in March 2009, the Office of University Communications contacted me about sending out a press release on my professional development grant “What are you doing? Teaching with Twitter!” I communicated with Hannah Flom and shared my conference slides [which are also publicly available online] and gave her details on how I’ve been implementing Twitter as a journaling technique in my classes as well as how students were responding. This press release came out in April and is available here.

Because of the increasing popularity and name recognition Twitter experienced this Spring, many news outlets contacted me for follow-ups once they read that initial press release. Some of those articles include the following:
• WEAU > “Teachers Become Technology Savvy”
• Pioneer Press > “Professors urging college students to ‘Tweet’ — even in class” > article no longer available online
• Stoutonia > “The Twittering Teacher”

I also granted a phone interview to Sarah Schmidt of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. That article is pending.

On campus, I shared the details and findings of my “Teaching with Twitter” project with the English Department’s Freshman Writing Committee on May 1, 2009, and with the Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center during its MayDay Celebration of Learning, May 19, 2009. Earlier in the year I also shared “How To Twitter” tips during January’s Professional Development day and wrote up a tutorial for Dan Riordan to share with New Instructors.


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