An hour of tweeting dangerously

18 Nov

Lecture tweets It all started with an innocent discussion on Twitter. Should we encourage students to tweet in lectures?

It resulted in this blog post and the follow-up comments.

There was only one way to find out: to experiment.

But how many would be in the lecture? How many would be registered on Twitter? How many would be holding a suitable device and willing to participate?

Surprise #1. The majority of first year students (based on this small and random sample) were already on Twitter and about half were prepared to give it a go.

I sprung surprise #2 on them. There were already a few people 'watching'.

We involved another through an @mention during the lecture.

Surprise #3 is no surprise at all. Employers – and consultancies in particular – are keen to work with digitally savvy students and graduates. I was able to announce a very appealing music industry internship with Rising Digital in the lecture. 

So what are the lessons?

  • Anything live is better than over-prepared, pre-recorded or the linearity of PowerPoint. My mistakes were visible for all to see, and we had fun
  • Clay Shirky's 'publish then filter' was clearly a memorable concept, mentioned in several tweets
  • We learnt about the use of hashtags to filter conversations
  • Students enjoyed the shift in the balance of power: I spoke, but they chose what to say about it
  • We should trust students more (the default setting is to ban mobiles in class)
  • No one in that room will forget that Twitter is a public channel and that people are watching


8 Responses to “An hour of tweeting dangerously”

  1. Jane Crofts 18/11/2010 at 8:38 pm #

    you brave man! I have been doing a straw poll at Lincoln and like you suggest there is general opposition to the idea – and not just from the lecturers. Keep me posted on how this develops

  2. Sarah Stimson 18/11/2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Richard thanks for letting me know about the hashtag, it was incredibly interesting to watch the students’ delight and wonder! I would love more lecturers to give it a try – I am becoming more convinced that only by engaging in social media can a practitioner truly understand its value.
    With my next lot of interns in 2011 I am considering only communicating with them through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They will ignore them at their peril then!

  3. Richard Bailey 19/11/2010 at 8:32 am #

    I’m about to sound like David Phillips… But university lecturers are at risk of becoming dinosaurs stuck in a past age, impervious to changes in the world around them (and I’m not even talking about fees … yet).
    The one hour lecture slot dates back to the Middle Ages. Of course most don’t want daylight let in on what they do because it’s nothing special.
    In the new era of an education market, we will have to up our game and justify our courses in terms of employability (while still defending the traditional role of education as a good thing in itself).
    That’s why I’m very alert to goading from recruitment specialists and encouragement from employers.
    Our better students have been ahead of us in this for a while. Another lesson we teachers must learn!

  4. Ben Cotton 19/11/2010 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Richard,
    What a fantastic idea. Whilst, we talk a lot about two-way communication, the very nature and structure of lectures means this is rarely achieved – with the exception of a quick Q&A at the end.
    Whilst, live Tweeting during conferences is relatively widespread as it enhances the event by providing an immediate feedback loop – it is refreshing and dare I say it, innovative to see it in an academic setting.
    This may be a great way to change the very dynamic of lectures.
    For me, the best lectures at university were the ones which generated further questions – by enabling your students to provide instantaneous feedback, you are adding a new dimension to the student experience. We learn by questioning and participating, rather than just listening.
    Not only are you encouraging your students to use a platform that is widely used in the PR industry, I expect they also enjoyed trying something new!

  5. Michelle Allison 19/11/2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Great experiment Richard, it will be interesting to see how this develops. I think I would have felt very rude whipping my Blackberry out for a tweet during my university days (a mere 18 months ago, I hasten to add). Perhaps I’m a bit old-school, which surprises me somewhat! I’m really not sure about lecture tweeting. I still cling to the ideal of university as a hallowed place of learning, focus, and concentration. And I am a stickler for quietness and contemplation (particularly in libraries!). I see that in this instance, with prior consent, encouragement, and relevant subject matter; it seems to have worked well as a tool of excitement and engagement.
    But I wonder if you are you really concentrating if you are tweeting? This subject seems to me to be linked with shortening attention spans and the need to constantly share what you are doing in an online space. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but surely there is a time for turning off the phones, closing the laptops, and really listening to what your teacher is saying? I will be following this conversation with interest though; others have said this should be approached on a case-by-case basis, which I tend to agree with.

  6. Richard Bailey 19/11/2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks for the reality check, Michelle.
    I’m not claiming this experiment as a success. I sprung it on my students and they struggled to work out what was going on and what to say.
    Perhaps it wasn’t for first years. But I know from my own conference attendance that writing short summaries at tweet length is a very good way to process the content of a talk – and an excellent way to filter out significant points.
    It’s not for everyone. It’s not for every lesson. But it has potential – and the opening up of education to the wider world is something I support.

  7. Sean Ball 20/11/2010 at 10:01 pm #

    It was definitely a stimulating lecture, fascinating in content. The encourgament of live tweeting pioneered a new dimension to conventional learning.
    However I agree with Michelle Allinson because I missed some important points concerntrating on tweeting what had been said 10 seconds ago (made even more difficult by my temperamental phone).
    Perhaps in future, when more of the group are keen tweeters and confident in blogging, a more active online post-lecture discussion will take place on issues and concepts raised. Although it was a useful wake up call the significance and influence of online communication in the PR industry.

  8. Richard Bailey 21/11/2010 at 7:34 am #

    You win! As a student from the lecture theatre, your view trumps the others.
    You have confirmed that the experiment was confusing.
    But my ONE main purpose was to give, in your words, a ‘wake up call [to] the significance and influence of online communication in the PR industry.’
    I’m happy to have achieved that (if nothing else).

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