Considering Twitter for “Essay” Writing

In her contribution to the Digital Pedagogy Lab, “Twessays and Composition in the Digital Age,” Donna M. Alexander, American Studies lecturer at University College Cork, makes a case for integrating Twitter into the college essay writing process. She likens Twitter and essay-writing to haiku and poetry. Twitter and haiku both rely upon the writer to be focused and adept at conceptual imagery in a succinct presentation format. Alexander and researchers she cites, believe Twitter can “contribute to student learning in terms of critical thinking and engagement”. She provides interesting examples of assignments in which her students were asked to provide a 140 character response to a writing prompt; even her assignment description was provided as a Tweet.

I must confess that I had to re-read Alexander’s article¬†a few times and then spend some time reviewing the examples of students’ responses before I actually “got it”. I put this struggle directly on my own aging shoulders. I have not grown up with social media, nor have I tweeted much of anything in any seriousness. To start to consider the potential of a writing “tool” with which many students are not only comfortable, but fluent, took a bit of suspension of my own disbelief and a bit more critical thinking. But I now have a glimmer of an idea of how I might try to integrate a “tweessay” into my own course, in a meaningful way. Currently I require several one minute papers on course content or readings, for which the student response is provided in a Canvas survey posting. Students are asked to identify a “muddiest point” and a “salient takeaway” related to the content. I am envisioning replacing one of these surveys with a Tweet in which students provide feedback in 140 characters, visible to and shareable by all. It will then be interesting to get their feedback on their perceptions on the effectiveness of these formats for providing me with their feedback.

Old dog, new trick. Yes, I think I can be taught…even though it is nearly impossible for me to communicate in 140 characters or less!

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