Disposable Twitter Accounts for Classroom Use

Twitter comes up frequently on ProfHacker. We write about Twitter in the classroom, Twitter for conference (and unconference) backchannels, and using Twitter as part of a web presence strategy. One of my first ProfHacker posts was all about how and why academics should consider using the service. When it comes to the classroom, however, there are complications with requiring Twitter. These include:

  • Some professors are uncomfortable requiring students to use a commerical service for their classes. Requiring Twitter is different from, say, requiring a textbook printed by a commercial publisher, because Twitter requires personal information of students.
  • Some professors are uncomfortable with the public nature of Twitter. They don’t want to require students to create content that significant others, family members, or potential employers might discover—not necessarily because they expect students to write controversial material on Twitter, but because they want students to feel free from such concerns within their classrooms.
  • Twitter in the classroom can seem to students like a creepy treehouse. Most academics who require Twitter do it for other reasons than to have their students interact socially with them, but it might seem otherwise to students.

In my digital humanities classes, I do require students to use Twitter so they can follow the most dynamic conversations happening among practitioners in the field. Love it or hate it, digital humanists are talking on Twitter. Here’s the assignment:

I. Social Media Engagement
Scholars in the field known as the “digital humanities” are, not surprisingly, active online. Many share their scholarship through blogs or social networking sites such as Twitter. In the Digital Humanities Compendium (which drives Digital Humanities Now), you will find lists of notable blogs and Twitter feeds. You must choose at least two blogs and at least four Twitter feeds to follow during our course. You should bring the insights you glean from these sources (insights into digital humanities theory and methodology, insights into a historical period, insights into the technologies of text) into our course discussions, and you should reference specific posts when composing your class blog entries. Midway through the semester you will compose a short (3-4 page), informal paper in which you describe how your chosen social media feeds have influenced your thinking about our course discussions.
You will need a Twitter account for this class, so you can follow the accounts of other scholars. If you have one already that you want to use for class, then go to the next step. If you don’t yet have a Twitter account—or if you prefer not to use your personal account for classroom work—then sign up for a new account. I strongly encourage you to create a disposable account if for any reason you prefer not to share your personal account for classroom activities.
When we tweet about this course, we will use the hashtag #s12tot.

The second paragraph of the assignment lays out the way that I manage some of the potential problems with using Twitter in the classroom. I give students explicit permission to keep their personal and academic lives separate, even when we’re using social media in the classroom. Jason mentions this strategy in his “creepy treehouse” post, as well. I like the phrase “disposable account,” which evokes disposable cameras, pre-paid cell phones, and the like—something useful for a purpose and easily discarded once that purpose is fulfilled. Students can use an alternate email to sign up for a class-specific Twitter account (or even sign up for a dummy email address for this purpose), use that account to meet the requirements of the social media assignment, and delete or abandon the account when the semester ends. Students can even create entirely pseudonymous Twitter accounts for class. So long as they tell me which account they’re working under, I do not care if the account reflects any of their personal information. This provision solves concern #2 above.

This strategy has worked pretty well in my classes. Some students are active on Twitter and want to use their personal accounts for class, which this setup allows. Other students are active on Twitter and do not want to use their personal accounts (one of my students said, perhaps too honestly, “Professor, if you read what I tweet about you’d probably lose respect for me.”), and this setup allows them to keep their personal and academic personae separate. Finally, some students have no interest in Twitter beyond this class assignment, and this setup respects their preference. I should add a practical note: during the first week of class, I asked students to add their accounts to a Google Docs spreadsheet, and I added them all to a Twitter list for the class. This helped me keep up with their class-related accounts through the semester.

How about you? If you use Twitter in the classroom, how do you manage the concerns listed above? Tell us about your social media strategies in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Thomas Anderson.]

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