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.