Collaboration | Feature

Engaging Students with Twitter

On any given school day you can find Enrique Legaspi's eighth grade history and leadership class at Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles using Twitter to learn more about the events of World War I, collect and share information about the women's suffrage movement, and round up information about university-level programs.

It's all in a day's teaching for Legaspi, who has been using Twitter actively in his classroom since learning of the micro-blogging platform's educational applicability from other educators. Since then, Legaspi has all but replaced his auto responder system with one that relies heavily on Twitter.

When students read a chapter on women's suffrage out of a textbook, for example, Legaspi creates a hashtag like "#womenssuffrage." He then directs students to create tweets around the subject matter--retrieved from their textbooks--using that hashtag.

"I assign two or three chapter pages to my students, who spend about 10 minutes collecting the information and feeding it into Twitter," Legaspi explained. "In the end, we wind up with a bank of data that's been created, filtered, and edited by the class." When test time rolls around, Legaspi sends his students back to Twitter to use the hashtags--plus "@" mentions, lists, and re-tweets--to review for the exam.

Legaspi has also used Twitter to develop a high-tech academic competition between the middle school's various departments. The process was fairly simple:  Legaspi set up a neutral Twitter account that multiple student teams used for inputting their responses to multiple choice questions. "This was a good way to keep the participants involved and interested on a real-time basis," said Legaspi.

Equipped with 10 touchscreen computers, 25 laptops, an active response system, and several Smart boards, Legaspi's classroom is the perfect setting for Twitter-oriented teaching. Even before he discovered the micro-blogging site, Legaspi was experimenting with iTunes, podcasting, document readers, and Quizlet, an online application that helps students memorize vocabulary lists.

Legaspi has married Quizlet with Twitter to help students prepare for the eighth-grade California Standard Test (CST), which assesses children on the content they've been learning since sixth grade. "There's a lot of vocabulary to review, and Quizlet on its own is not that cool," said Legaspi. "But when you build a flashcard library and share it on Twitter, it makes the review process much more engaging."

And when the University of California, Los Angeles, tweets the latest news about scholarship opportunities, programs of study and campus events, Legaspi's class is among the first to receive (and then retweet and "favorite") the information. "This is a great way to get them thinking about college," said Legaspi, "and in tune with what's going on at the university level."

The micro-blogging site's 140-character limit poses challenges for Legaspi's students, who not only have to come up with brief, information-packed passages--they also have to use correct grammar and spelling.

To help students get around the issue, Legaspi said, he advises them to spread the information across several tweets, instead of trying to pack everything into a single, 140-character posting. In other cases, he has them share quick summaries of the information and then post the expanded data on the classroom's blog.

Calling Twitter an "affordable knowledge base" for a school that, owing to its geographic location and demographic makeup, isn't always privy to the most current resources, Legaspi said social networking has helped expose students to information, news, and tools that they wouldn't otherwise have access to.

It's also helped this history teacher become more productive in his classroom, engage pupils, and reach shy students who wouldn't typically participate in open discussions, he said. "With the active response system [which Legaspi still uses], I wasn't getting 100 percent engagement," he said. "When I started using Twitter, students just gravitated towards it. It was too cool for them to ignore."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].