A Twitter Revelation

“Holy cow, I’ve got to revamp some of this course.”

I don’t know how often faculty members have such a revelation while in the middle of class, but I had one of those moments today. Specifically, it involves Twitter.

I teach one section of an intro media writing class, but all sections use the same textbook (I selected it). This is the second semester I’ve used it and, on the whole, it works just fine. It does have some gaps (like no chapter on editorial writing), so I build my own lessons to get those topics covered.

As I was tweaking the current lesson, I realized that the “Writing for the Web” chapter contained nothing about Twitter (not to mention a few other social media sites). Knowing how important Twitter has been to news reporting for the past couple of years, I made sure to introduce it (and some other social media sites) to my class. I also decided that any conversation about Twitter would need to include link shorteners, so I used bit.ly as my example.

I was surprised when only about four of my 20+ students said they use Twitter. I was even more surprised when some students said they had never even heard of it and didn’t know how it worked. Refer to the “Holy Cow” comment above.

I did a little academic tap dance and switched my classwork assignment. It was pretty simple on the surface: find a news article online somewhere and “tweet” about it in 140 characters or less. (This was done in a word processor, not through Twitter.) For the second tweet, write some different copy and include a shortened link to the article.

I kept feeling the need to justify what we were doing. “If you’re going to be in communication, your internship directors or future employers will expect you to know how to do this,” I would say. A few students had some initial trouble with the Twitter concept (“why would anybody want to do this?”), but they got a grip on the method pretty quickly.

It got me to thinking that I had better make sure my students know how to use Twitter as a media tool. I’m seriously considering incorporating it into many of our remaining assignments for the semester.

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