Twitter for intellectuals? ”Twitterature”

Twitter is a social-network generally used for publishing short texts of 140 characters called ‘‘tweets’’. People register in Twitter to follow people, associations or to connect with the community according to their intellectual or personal interests. It is very easy to create an account on Twitter, as people only need a valid and already existent e-mail address and password. On the official site www.twitter.com, two icons are put in evidence for downloading the Twitter application on the App store and the Android Application on Google Play. This again facilitates the process of being always connected to Twitter via a phone or a mobile device. However, can Twitter truly be a tool for educational purposes with its maximum of 140 characters when publishing a post?

 

Some teachers have benefited from this aspect of Twitter to encourage ‘‘Twitterature’’ in the classroom, where poetry is modernized with short posts that students publish one after the other. For instance, Twitter encourages creative writing with respect to writing a story or a poem collaboratively. ‘‘Many writers and poets have experimented with Twitter’s 140-character format to bring new, serialized works in small chunks to attention-divided audiences. Some educators may like the idea of asking their students to apply their creative writing skills to a restrictive social media outlet’’ (http://www.teachhub.com/50-ways-use-twitter-classroom). In fact, since Twitter is mostly a tool for publishing small texts, it becomes an area to explore in creative writing, since students can be encouraged to write one tweet a day. This way, their audience’s curiosity increases as it wants to know more about the story, or only to read another well-written poem. If all students in a classroom follow everyone, they benefit from the opportunity of reading the work done by their peers, which can increase students’ motivation and quality of writing as they publish and read others’ posts regularly. In addition, teachers can use Twitter to create a story collaboratively, if the school has access to Ipads or if students are all connected on Twitter via their phones. For example, if they want to create a round character, they ask every student alternatively to write a Tweet which reveals a special detail about him. Consequently, students’ creativity is promoted in addition of higher thinking, because students must take into consideration details that were previously posted by their classmates when inventing a new one.

 

Moreover, Twitter has also been used in the classroom for the purpose of asking questions online that are anonymous and that the teacher can answer during his lecture, which benefits everybody in the class. However, even if this educational approach seems effective because shyer students finally have a chance to be heard and to be answered without directly interrupting the class session, some argue that it is rather a distraction.  Sugato Chakravarty, a professor of consumer science and retailing at Purdue University argues in this direction : ‘‘Opening up a Twitter-powered channel in class […] alters classroom power dynamics and signals to students that they’re in control. Fans of the approach applaud technology that promises to change professors’ role from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side’’(https://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-With-Twitter-Not-for/49230/).  In this context, the teacher used a homemade software called ‘‘Hotseat’’, which enabled students to ask questions via Twitter. Teachers must be aware that giving that much control to students can either positively or negatively impact the atmosphere of the classroom. Even if every post was anonymous with Hotseat, it was still public, and issues such as cheating or ruining the professor’s credibility arose. Students can get easily off-track or write posts that contradict the teacher’s theory, which are again seen by everybody in the class. In this case, the teacher is in the obligation to defend himself in front of everyone. In addition, since questions are asked online, there are actually a lot more questions than in a traditional lecture classroom because students do not even need to raise their hands. Do teachers truly have the time to answer questions that are asked every 2 minutes? They usually have very dense material to cover in a precise time frame, and always answering questions may have the classroom diverge from its original educational goal. The traditional lecture is therefore replaced by an interactive session that students control, as the teacher becomes dependent on the questions posted by students on Twitter. There is in fact a huge difference between the ‘‘sage on the stage’’ and the ‘‘guide on the side’’, which is the question of independent intellectual authority. By being a guide, teachers are still competent intellectuals, but have lost their privilege of having the control over their classroom.

 

‘‘Barrett (2008) considers one of the functions of Twitter as a tool filling the gap between email and instant messaging (IM). Instant messaging is all about synchronous communication, relying upon people being online at the same moment. Asynchronous communication characterised by email (and by blog commenting) is slightly more time consuming but does not rely upon people being online at the same time’’ (http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=mutuota_kigotho). For this reason, Twitter becomes an effective means of communication between teachers and students. Since Twitter does not require synchronous communication, teachers can feel free to answer their students whenever they connect to Twitter; they do not actually have to be always online. This way, students still know they will receive a fast reply without being totally asynchronous with their teachers. Students truly benefit from their teachers’ availability, and with Twitter, teachers are much more present for them. It is also of importance to mention that if everyone is a follower of everybody in the class, the teacher’s response to a particular student will be significant to others as well. This will decrease useless repetitions for the same questions, as it often happens when teachers answer students via email. In this sense, Twitter enables an interactive and accessible network for teachers and students to exchange information over school assignments.

Carrie Kamm, an instructional coach, considers Twitter as a new opportunity for students to communicate learning and to know each other. In her school, teachers asked students questions about their experience as a student, or about any subject of actuality in the news. As a consequence, ‘‘Students also learned about the responsibilities that come with having an online presence-starting in the kindergarten classroom. Teachers facilitated discussions about the norms for treating one another that they established in the classroom were also connected to Twitter interactions’’ (https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2013/06/20/twitter-in-the-classroom/). What is significant in this approach with Twitter is that students feel that they are involved by the staff of the school, which lowers the distance that is usually present between students and the instructors. By asking regularly questions to students, it fosters a sense of belonging to the community of the school. What is even more impressive is how teachers can reflect on this communication in their classroom. For instance, students are not only aware of their presence online with Twitter, but they think about the impact of their words. In this sense, Twitter becomes a virtual reality aiming to prepare students to better understand and fulfill their roles as future citizens involved in other social networks or in real life. It provides an opportunity for understanding that virtual behaviour reflects real behaviour and can easily affect other people’s perceptions positively or negatively.

 

Twitter is also of great interest for establishing a direct communication with the parents of students. ‘‘A Grade 5 teacher who uses Twitter has designated one of the jobs in her classroom as that of Tweeter. The student with this job Tweets two or three times a day about classroom learning activities; sometimes a photo is included’’ (http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/stenhouse/classroom-communication-social-media-tips.shtml). Parents often complain about not knowing enough of what is going on in the classroom. This permits parents to be aware of what his child is learning at the instant that students write their Tweets. Since parents are more involved in the academic life of their children, it is easier for them to connect with their children, as they already know what they did in general. A better knowledge of their children gives a better chance for parents to help and support them. Twitter can also be used for communication between teachers and parents, as parents only need to follow the teachers of their children on Twitter. All in all, Twitter is useful for providing parents information over the content viewed in class or on any disruptive behaviour.

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Dropbox: A Powerful synchronization tool

Dropbox is a very useful tool when it comes to managing workload and accessing it via different computers or even via a phone. Files can be text documents, photos, videos, music and even Powerpoint presentations. For instance, Dropbox is an application that is downloaded at www.dropbox.com and that once it is downloaded on every device or computer, it becomes an independent desktop. More precisely, every file is automatically available on every computer and is shared and saved automatically. When creating a new account, Dropbox gives 2 Gig of free store, which is enough to start with for educational purposes. However, for additional storage, there are costs of around 10$ a month or of100 $ a year to consider.

 

As mentioned in this video tutorial on Dropbox (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6tkGSIFsH0 ), one interesting feature to keep track of group work efficiently is that when opening Dropbox, the file on top will always be the most recent one. This is very interesting considering that sometimes with other tools such as Microsoft Word, different documents are saved and they can be easily mixed up with one another when attaching it to an email. With Dropbox, every teammate is absolutely sure of the latest version of the project, which saves time and avoids people to work on the wrong document. In addition, it represents an interesting feature for students who automatically notice that new modification has been done on a certain document because it is at the top of their page. This function is also interesting for teachers who can keep track of assignments that are uploaded on a folder on Dropbox from the most recent one to the less recent one. In other words, Dropbox is effective for organizing documents because both students and teachers are directly directed towards the documents that were last modified, which indirectly sets priorities, as the files on top of the page are the most up to date ones, while files that have been not used for a while do not become an obstacle to finding more recent and pertinent ones.

 

Probably the most important function of Dropbox is that ‘‘Any file you save to Dropbox is automatically synchronized to all your devices–your home computer, your work computer, your phone, and online at dropbox.com. Once you download Dropbox on a device, it syncs with every other device you own. Since it’s saved online, files are backed up automatically.’’ (http://www.billselak.com/2012/dropbox) This synchronization function is a huge advantage for students who are used to sending themselves emails back and forth in order to access documents at home that were created at school, or vice versa. A lot of students were in trouble because they thought they had attached a file to their email, but they had only sent themselves the email without any attached document. In this case, it only creates undesired anxiety. Moreover, Dropbox offers a better solution than the USB key, since the USB key is something that people have to carry all the time with them if they want to access their documents. Therefore, there are risks of losing it and of losing every single document that was on it if it was not backed up on a computer. Again, this creates useless frustration. Dropbox enables students to never lose their documents and to avoid errors of distraction and organization as every file is always synchronized automatically via any device or computer. Dropbox offers students a sense of trustworthiness and accessibility, as files are available everywhere there is an Internet connection.

 

Dropbox is also a great tool for students to hand in assignments directly online and to receive feedback from the teacher. For instance, ‘‘Students […]  can also use it to submit assignments, and store their e-portfolios. Once they finish an assignment, they can share the file with you by sending you a link. The teacher can then read the file, highlight and leave comments on it, and save the annotations for the student to read later’’ (http://www.brighthubeducation.com/teaching-methods-tips/86024-tips-for-using-dropbox-in-schools/).  Correction on hard copies can become quite a big responsibility for teachers as they have to carry all of their students’ assignments with them, especially if they teach more than one group. There is also a risk of losing a students’ copy, which can create a lot of problems. Dropbox also saves time and paper for students, because they only need to share their document with their teacher using their teacher’s email address. In fact, by asking students to download Dropbox at the beginning of the year, teachers can always rely on this tool as a portal for school work, and students will easily become accustomed to it. Finally, individual privacy is respected when using Dropbox, because teachers only send the revised copy to the concerned student, and no other people can access it. It is quite important to respect this convention, even if Dropbox can be used for group work assignments, because it would not be appropriate for students to see their peers’ grades only because it was shared once with them as it happens with Google Doc.

 

When working collaboratively, everyone with whom a document is shared can modify it as much as they want. For this reason, some students can decide to delete something in particular that was not approved by everybody on the team. In fact, Dropbox has a great option to recover deleted data : ‘‘If a file is deleted and you need to recover that particular file, Dropbox keeps it for 30 days. Dropbox also keeps the history of changes to a file so that you are able to undo changes made to the file within 30 days. For those who prefer to keep all of their files, Dropbox has a “pack-rat” option that keeps files for an unlimited amount of time’’ (https://wiki.itap.purdue.edu/display/INSITE/Dropbox). This delay of 30 days is very useful because it allows sufficient time to review what was previously changed and still be able to cancel the deletion. This option can also be of very great use for teachers, because when they share a document with all their students, everyone can modify or delete something in it. Thus, it enables teachers to keep control and keep track of what has been last modified in their document. For example, if they created a file for a collaborative whole-class brainstorming, and that some students erased some ideas that they felt were useless, the teacher can retrieve this data and post it again. Finally, the historic of deleted items helps to keep track of what type of content was deleted in order to be easier to understand why it was actually deleted when discussing it in teams.

All in all, using Dropbox promotes active learning between students with the help of additional articles or reading assignments that go beyond traditional textbooks. In other words, ‘‘Creating assignments that require students to apply real world knowledge and events, involve discussion, and critical thinking about past experiences all contribute to increasing active learning’’ (https://eee.uci.edu/help/dropbox/teaching/). Teachers must take advantage of Dropbox to upload additional content or videos that are directly related to their course material. Students will consider this different approach in learning as interesting and innovative. Discussions can be easily recorded on a written document and saved for every member of a team, and this direct access will encourage collaborative critical thinking as students have the opportunity to modify the document that was shared with them. Once the class is over, students can easily retrieve content that was uploaded in class because teachers can share their document via Dropbox for students to enrich themselves at home. In conclusion, Dropbox promotes personal and collaborative learning that can be applied with the help of innovative projects uploaded on the application and that can be accessed from everywhere where there is Internet connection.

 

Save the school’s budget or buy Ipads in a Classroom?

Teachers seek to transmit academic content with the use of Ipads and applications in order to carry out tasks that cannot be done in the context of a traditional classroom. Ipads are devices which serve as little interactive computers and that are meant to have applications. These applications are often freely downloaded from the internet or they have to be bought via Itunes. Applications recommended to download are the ones for annotation, recording-creating videos, recording-creating audio, internet and the sharing of content via Google Drive or Drop box.

Matthew Schneps, a physicist at Harvard University, argues that abstract concepts in science such as space in time are better understood by students through the use of Ipads. ‘‘Schneps pointed to a realistic demonstration of the solar system on the tablet as one such example of something that can be difficult to explain in a classroom. Tapping the unique powers of these devices unleashed neurocognitive learning capabilities in the brain that aren’t often used during traditional instruction’’ (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131210-ipad-learning-education-space-science/). In this sense, students benefit from more realistic content conveyed by Ipads as opposed to a traditional explanation on the board. Because it is more concrete, students better acknowledge the material and improve their grades during examinations. For a teacher, providing more interesting and accurate material for better academic results from his students represent a great accomplishment in the evolution of his classroom. In addition, students are given the opportunity to independently explore the content that they need to acquire with the application. For this reason, Ipads encourage less reliability on the teacher and more individual learning when interacting with the tool. However, the application used by Schneps was the Solar Walk simulation from Vito Technology, which costs 2.99 on Itunes per installation. Thus, budget can become a serious barrier to the use of excellent applications in the classroom.

Budget is not the only obstacle to using Ipads in the classroom. For instance, distraction seems to be an important issue. Out of 6057 Quebec students surveyed in Grade 6, through 10, ‘‘the report notes that a “surprising” number of students – more than one in three – admitted to playing games in class, sometimes with their teachers’ permission after an assignment or task was completed’’. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/tech-news/a-third-of-students-using-distracting-classroom-ipads-for-play-not-work-study/article15877829/). First of all, this betrays the incapacity of the teacher to have a plan B when the activity A is finished, as well as a lack of discipline and class control. Is it only the teacher’s fault? No. Children use most of the time Ipads for entertainment outside of the classroom. Another factor which increases students’ distraction is the lack of experience and knowledge of teachers. In general, students know a lot more about Ipads than teachers do, because they use it almost every day. For this reason, teachers must be well prepared and must know perfectly how to manipulate Ipads in order to gain the respect of their students. Teachers also have to consider the possibility that some students will do their task very quickly with poor quality in order to finish before the others and to play games or go on Facebook. Distraction has always been a big issue in education with cellphones and other electronic devices, even when they were forbidden. It is logical to infer that giving them permission and access to use Ipads will increase their temptation for distraction.

 

Another interesting feature of Ipads is the possibility to record videos for academic purposes. More precisely, ‘‘Video creation and editing is simple on the iPad. This can be a great group activity to encourage collaboration. Unfortunately Flash is not supported on the iPad, so watching videos (except on YouTube) is not always possible’’ (http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/iPadsintheClassroom.aspx).  Video projects can therefore be easily carried out in the classroom with the application iMovie. It encourages collaborative learning as well as team work to reach a common goal given by the teacher. Since Safari does not support Flash, teachers should download the application Puffin, because it communicates with its own server and can read flash. This way, videos created by students can be shared in front of the whole class. Teachers can also take advantage of the video function to ask students to record themselves speaking in English at home individually or explaining something in particular in English. This provides a great opportunity for students to feel less shy with regards to their pronunciation in English, since they are alone with the Ipad. In addition, they practice their pronunciation as much as they want, because they can start again their recording to improve and have a better result in the end. A sense of personal accomplishment arises as they personally control their performance by being their own monitor and by achieving a final product that corresponds to their best of capacities without the traditional stress of oral presentations.

In a language classroom, real communication in the target language is always something to encourage because students learn from realistic settings. For instance, the application Skype can be downloaded on the Ipads. ‘‘Skype gives students and teachers the ability to connect with the outside world without leaving the classroom, allowing them to meet face-to-face with the subjects of their learning or with students from other cultures.’’ (http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/education/2013/Skype.html). Skype becomes a new innovative way to replace the traditional activity of writing to a pen-pal. It has a lot more benefits, since oral skills are developed through the interaction with a native speaker instead of only practicing writing skills. Videoconference can be done in groups or individually, depending on the objectives of the teacher. This function is great because it enables students to connect with people from everywhere around the world who share a different culture and to learn from their cultural background. Thus, open-mindedness, general knowledge and language skills are emphasized with the Skype application on the Ipads.

As discussed in class with the teacher Mark Miller, Ipads Air of 32 gigs cost 620 $ each, excluding the price for the installation of applications. However, Ipads cannot operate on their own. They need a central computer with a card that manages the Ipads and that can install all the applications on the Ipads at the same time. This computer costs another 100 $, so is buying Ipads a realistic idea? ‘‘Assume the school is small with only 300 children enrolled. Assume also that the school wants to buy the cheapest iPad without AppleCare. At a little more than $450 per iPad, that’s a cost of almost $144,000. I imagine the average state-funded school enjoys less than half that in its annual I.T. budget.’’ (http://gigaom.com/2010/03/24/why-apples-ipad-cant-succeed-in-schools-yet/).  In this sense, public schools are disadvantaged because of their lack of sufficient budget to buy enough Ipads for everyone. Inequalities will arise as private schools will impress and attract young parents with their iPads, while public schools will struggle to have access to several ones in a classroom. With a cost that high, all the teachers in a school must convince the school principle that Ipads will be helpful in every classroom. However, if the school principle refuses the idea because of lack of sufficient budget or because of personal reasons, teachers will have to cope with that decision and return to their traditional teaching methods.

All in all, good applications that are directly related to a specific school subject usually cost something and teachers get easily discouraged. For instance, maybe teachers put too much emphasis on the use of applications to replace traditional lectures as if they were magically programmed to replace the teacher’s instruction. One must never forget that Ipads cannot replace teaching or content, they are only a tool to enhance students’ learning.