Live-Tweeting Assignments: To Use or Not to Use?

twitter in the classroom

We’ve written a great deal on using Twitter in the classroom at ProfHacker. Ryan has written on creating disposable accounts for classroom use, Erin on how to choose hashtags, Jason on how to disable retweets, George on twitter archiving strategies, and my post on suggested guidelines for livetweeting a class.

This post explores some of the benefits and drawbacks to one of my most successful teaching exercises using Twitter—getting students to “live tweet” films. “Live tweeting” basically means tweeting as students are watching the film, either by reporting on or commenting on what they are viewing. I’ve tried this with documentaries, films of famous speakers giving lectures, and feature films. Every single time this activity has massively increased student engagement and learning. You can see a sample assignment I’ve used here and and student reactions to the activity here. The assignment does not require that students follow one another to read their tweets. They simply need to use public accounts and write each tweet so that it contains the event hashtag.

I’ve tried this using two physical scenarios: an in-person one where I screen the film in a computer lab and have everyone live-tweet while watching, and a remote setup in which I give students streaming access to the film, and assign them to live-tweet from whatever location is convenient during the class period. Both methods have their advantages: the in-person scenario builds a lot of engagement and energy for an activity which is normally passive, and the out-of-class streaming scenario allows students to pause and rewind various scenes on their own if they have missed something. Whichever method you might chose to use, though, live-tweeting is an activity which has been extremely productive in terms of student learning.

Why? I list some answers below:

  • When screening a film, an instructor does not necessarily know how students are interpreting what they are watching. Getting them to live-tweet gives the instructor an idea of how the material is being received.

  • This in turn allows the instructor to intervene in the students’ learning, either by correcting misreadings, or pointing out and getting students to notice what they might otherwise miss without breaking the flow of the film.

  • Because this is an active rather than a passive activity, students feel more engagement with the film and ownership over the ideas that they generate.

  • To boost student learning, I often retweet or favorite tweets which offer good insights on what they are watching, which helps give students feedback that they are on the track I want them to be on. It also helps to shift the direction of students who may not be interpreting the film in the same way.

  • The live-tweeting results in a set of notes that can be storified and shared. Students who have had to be absent for various reasons have indicated how much they appreciate this, because it gives them a sense of what they missed.

  • Because these tweets are public, students get a sense of what it is like to perform scholarship in public. Occasionally we’ve even run into scenarios where students get to interact with the director/producers of the film because of the live-tweeting, a result which they find thrilling.

Some possible caveats to the activity:

  • Occasionally your event hashtag might get spammed or trolled. If it’s being spammed, the easiest way to change this is to switch to a new hashtag. Try to pick a unique hashtag so you won’t include tweets from people who are not involved in the activity. If it ends up being trolled, this presents a unique teaching opportunity to train students how to deal with negativity in general. Alexis Lothian’s experience getting her class hashtag trolled provides a good example here.

  • Some students can get overwhelmed by the barrage of tweets on the class hashtag. This can also be turned into a good learning opportunity—training students how to filter a great deal of information such that they only retain what is most salient, and teaching them that it isn’t always imperative to consume every bit of information that comes by.

In all, live-tweeting films is one of my most successful activities in terms of digital pedagogy. The caveats I mention, while challenging, are useful in getting instructors to think creatively about teachable moments. This is an activity which I can see myself using for a long time to come.

Have you ever gotten a class to live-tweet as an activity? Share your experiences below.

Image by brunsell on Flickr

Return to Top