Google Docs in the Classroom

Creative commons photo by Mark Knol on Flickr.

I’ve worked a lot with Google Docs in the past.  I’ve used it to collaborate with colleagues, formally taught educators how to use it, researched ways to incorporate it into teaching, and I’ve used it on a small scale with students.  This was my first term regularly using Google Docs on a large scale with all of my classes.  It was an interesting experience and I thought I would share some of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

I want to note that my university uses Google Apps, and all students have a Google account.

Purposes for incorporating Google Docs into my courses:

  • Help new freshman develop technology skills needed in future classes.
  • Provide students with effective collaboration tools.
  • Increase the quantity and quality of feedback I am able to give students.
  • Enhance my own organization and efficiency as I move between working in the classroom, my office, and my home.

As I went into this venture, I realized there were some other handy benefits.

  • Students who use the computer labs on campus have useful file storage right on hand.
  • Revision histories are very helpful for a variety of reasons.
  • Easily archive student examples.
  • I’ve become more efficient at grading, taking less time to provide a greater amount of feedback (I type WAY faster than I can write!).
  • My desk is cleaner, with less physical paper to shuffle.
  • My backpack is lighter, since I wasn’t carrying as many stacks of paper between school and home.

Whenever you try something new, there are some roadblocks.  Here are some of the issues I ran into:

  • Formatting problems both with GDocs itself and when uploading MS Word documents or PPT files.
  • Student complaints of “imploding” email in-boxes when I began giving feedback.  GDocs sends a separate email for each individual comment added to a paper.
  • My own email in-box imploding with GDocs notifications for every student assignment turned in.
  • Students constantly asking if I received their assignments either because they didn’t trust GDocs or their own skills with the technology.
  • Issues with students forgetting to share their assignments (one place where the revision history came in handy).
  • Not enough class time spent in the computer lab for initial instruction on how to use this and other important technology.

Here are some of the ways I approached the use of Google Docs.

Sharing – Instead of using the big blue Share button, each student created a course collection (or folder) of their class assignments that they shared with me.  I chose to use the collection route to help students better see the development of their work throughout the term.  One of my classes also includes a portfolio, and I hoped this would help make that process easier.  Using collection sharing was a problem at times, since the big Share button is so tempting to push.  When students would use the Share button instead of sharing documents into their collection, it caused organization issues.  Most of these were ironed out by the end of the term.  A handy tip for using student collections: Color code the collections for each class with a different color. Then you can quickly look through the GDocs home page to see the documents for each class.

Naming Conventions – To help both students and myself with organization, I instituted a system for naming files.  The search box in GDocs makes it very easy to type in part of the file name and get the list of student assignments that need feedback.  When students used their own file names, don’t use spaces, or abbreviate file names, it caused organization headaches for me.  Instead of quickly and easily using the search box to get assignments, I had to go through student collections or the long list of GDoc files and search for individual student assignments that were named incorrectly.  I hate being picky about such little things, but I think I need to really stress using correct file names for my own sanity.  I spent a LOT of time just searching for individual assignments at the beginning of the term.  Originally, I had students add their last name and first initial to the end of a file name.  I realized this was an unnecessary extra step since each document is already tagged with the owner’s name, so I stopped requiring students to do this.

Templates – I found in the previous term that students had issues including everything they needed in the handwritten reflections for class.  To help with this, I created a template for each reflection with a small grading/feedback chart.  The chart serves as a checklist for students, as well as a way for me to quickly organize and give more detailed feedback.  I use templates for other assignments in class as well.  I make these files so they can only be edited by me.  Students make a copy of the document and type their assignment into it.  This would sometimes cause me to receive panicked emails from students who told me GDocs wouldn’t let them type their assignments.  I just had to remind them to make a copy of the template and all was well.

To-Do List – I realized pretty quickly that I needed an easy way to handle incoming assignments.  The approach that I came up with worked pretty well for me.  I left documents “unviewed” on my Home page until I was able to provide feedback.  Once a document received feedback, I used the “Don’t Show in Home” option to move it off of my to-do list.  I could always click on “All Items” to see all of the documents I had access to.

GMail Filters – When I first started using GDocs on a large scale, I knew the deluge of email notifications had to go.  I set up a GMail filter to keep any GDoc notifications from ever hitting my inbox.  However, I chose not to set the filter up to delete them so I have a time-stamped record of submissions (I’ve been told students can tamper with submission times that show up on GDocs itself).

Some things I would like to work on in the future with Google Docs:

  • When I have an assignment that needs a more specific length requirement, I will be switching to a word count range rather than page numbers.  This will help with the formatting issues that students and I encountered this past term.
  • One of the main topics of my courses is time management.  I see potential in using the time stamps in the revision history.  Students could use this tool to be more reflective about how they use their time and they could also use it to evaluate their own writing process.
  • Use the comment feature to encourage more two-way dialogue with students.  Right now I get an occasional comment back from a student, and I see the potential of this feature as a two-way communication and revision tool.
  • I would like to use the computer lab more during class to help students learn the ins and outs of this technology.
What questions do you have about using Google Docs with students?  Do you already use GDocs and have some suggestions or thoughts you’d like to share?  Thank you!

Internet Safety: How to be Safe and Savvy in the Classroom

During our kick-off week of professional development for the 2009-2010 school year, I did a presentation for our staff on being safe and savvy on the internet.  As of this year, we are drastically reducing the number of websites that we filter (yes, this includes Facebook and MySpace).  I was tasked with presenting this new direction to the staff, how to keep our students safe on the net, and how to help them be effective consumers of digital media.

I have been asked by several people to post my presentation on SlideShare.  I am choosing not to do this and write about it here on the blog for two reasons.  1) Most of the information in the Keynote is tailored to my building and my district and 2) I don’t put a great deal of information on my slides.  I use them primarily as an aid for visual learning and to keep myself on track (I’m a big fan of Presentation Zen).  So I hope you don’t mind that I don’t post the Keynote.  I believe writing about the ideas in the presentation here would be more helpful and easier to understand.

The following is an overview of the main topics included in the presentation.

Essential Question: How do we teach students to be safe and savvy on the internet?

  1. Explanation of new district internet filters
  2. Internet Safety
  3. Effective consumers of digital media
  4. Classroom management strategies

District Internet Filters

This year, our district has decided to minimize internet filters. A district email explaining this decision outlines the 3 main points for our new direction:

“…the reason for opening access is multifaceted: One, school should be a place where kids can stay engaged and network, both of which help creativity. Two, broader Internet access gives students the opportunities to learn responsibility, acceptable Internet behavior and time management. A third reason for increasing access is for staff to be able to better communicate with kids on their channels…”

We discussed the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements on libraries and school computers.  A portion of this federal law states the requirements for libraries and schools with computers as follows:

An Internet safety policy must include technology protection measures to block or filter Internet access to pictures that are:
(a) obscene
(b) child pornography
(c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors)

I spoke about the complexity of this process and how our IT people can’t just “flip a switch,” as it were, and make all the good sites appear and all the bad sites disappear.  It will be something we will have to work on as we go.  Also, in an effort to preserve bandwidth, we will be limiting sites with streaming capabilities.  Sites such as Facebook and MySpace will be “squeezed,” meaning they are only allowed to use a certain percentage of the bandwidth.  Teachers were asked to be aware that laptops are not the only devices that students will be using on our wireless network.  Student’s personal cellphones and iPod Touches will also be present and should be monitored for appropriate use.

Safety Tips

It is our responsibility to support parents and to help our students use the internet safely.  With this in mind, we discussed the idea of a digital footprint, along with its implications for teachers and students.  I asked teachers to check their own digital footprint by Googling themselves, including an image search.

A question that I had gotten from teachers earlier in the week involved whether or not it was appropriate to “friend” students on social networking sites.  Our district does not have an official policy on this issue, so I presented my own opinion with a large disclaimer that our district does not have an official policy on the issue at this time.  I’ve sent a request for a “district approved” response up the chain of command and it is in process of being considered.  I feel strongly about this issue and I am choosing not to elaborate on my perspective here at this time so I can stick to the point and make this a shorter read.  I may post more on this issue in the future.

I believe the most effective way to help students use safe internet practices is to involve and encourage their parents.  They are more involved than we are and understand things about their child that we never will.  Making sure that parents are educated and involved can make a huge difference.

The following is a list of more specific tips that were presented and discussed with reference to teen internet use:

  • Avoid posting identifying information.
  • When posting pictures, use the “Grandmother Rule” (would you want your grandmother to see this picture?)
  • Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings of the site you are using and select the appropriate choices.
  • Keep your passwords secret! (with the exception of providing them to your parents)
  • Download with caution.
  • Meeting online friends in person: Probably not the best idea for minors, but teens need to be educated on two things to help them stay safe in the future.  If you are going to meet an online friend in person you need to 1) Meet in a public place and 2) Bring at least one friend.
  • Be able to spot the signs of internet scams.

We discussed the issue of cyberbullying and I presented the following reaction steps to teach our students if they are being bullied.

  1. Do not respond.
  2. Take 5: Walk away from the computer for 5 minutes so you have a chance to calm down a bit.
  3. Keep a record of the incident.
  4. Inform a trusted adult.

I was asked to address another concern that unfortunately seems to crop up anytime you have laptops and cellphones in a high school: pornography.  We discussed the issue from our school’s perspective and I outlined the appropriate teacher response if they spot this type of material on a student laptop.

We encourage teachers to use internet sites that enhance instruction.  However, in doing so, the teachers need to ensure that students are safe and their privacy is protected.  With that in mind, we went over the following tips for using class sites on the web:

  • Never use a student’s full name.
  • No “real” pictures – Students are welcome to alter their photos so they are not recognizable with fun paint and warping tools.
  • Avoid any identifying information of students.
  • Teachers may identify themselves and their school (this is helpful for allowing collaboration and sharing of examples between educational colleagues and PLNs).

Effective Consumers of Digital Media

What has search overload done to our students? They are exposed to so much content, it is difficult for them to analyze what is useful and what is not.  I used the above clip to introduce the concept of “Filter Failure.” While our students need us to teach them how to find resources, I believe it is more important for us to guide them on how to find and analyze useful resources.

“The difference between good and poor learners is not the sheer quantity of what the good learner learns, but rather the good learner’s ability to organize and use information”
-Frank Smith, B. Keith Lenz Et al. Edge Enterprises

As educators, it is our duty to teach our students the critical thinking skills needed to analyze the different types of media they encounter.  We also need to teach them the skills necessary to “organize and use” their information.  Otherwise, they can be either overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information or they could just use the information that is the easiest to access (which is not always accurate information).

As an activity, teachers worked in groups to complete a website analysis using the instructions and the form listed below.  They had the chance to familiarize and re-familiarize themselves with internet domain names such as .gov .com .edu .net.  This knowledge is helpful when analyzing the usefulness and accuracy of web sources.  (Note: This assignment was adapted from the assignment found at the bottom of the page here.)

Website Evaluation Instructions

Website Evaluation Form

There are many aspects of a web source students can analyze, much like a primary document in history or English.  Aspects to consider when analyzing for accuracy and bias include:

  • Source and/or Sponsor
  • Publication Date
  • Audience
  • Ads
  • Purpose

“There is a good use for Wikipedia.” I’m not sure I have ever uttered those words in public before, but I did say them!  I explained a little about Wikipedia and focused on the references section found at the end of every entry.  This is where the controversial “research” site can be a useful tool.  If a student is having a hard time finding resources on a subject, they can check the references on the Wikipedia article and use them as a spring board to locate more appropriate sources.  As long as they are aware that these sources can be biased just like any other, it can be a good starting place.

209 References on Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's Wikipedia article on the day of access.

Classroom Management Tips

The following is a list of classroom management tips for students using laptops.  These tips were sprinkled throughout the presentation and were modeled for and with the audience.

  1. Do students have a specific reason directly related to instruction for having their laptops out and open?  If not, please put them away.
  2. Will students be doing an activity on their computers? Have them wait until you have finished with your directions and answered any questions regarding the assignment before opening their laptops.
  3. Be present.  Whenever students are on their computers, move around the room. This helps you better monitor their learning and on-task behavior.  Bonus: Students tend to ask more questions if you are in close proximity.
  4. Consider your learning environment.  Can you easily see every students’ computer screen? If not, consider rearranging.
  5. For students on the Mac Side (We have dual platform laptops) – Use the Expose and Spaces options to easily see the windows a student has open.  You can also see which programs are open by the small dot under the icon on the dock.  For Windows – Observe which program windows are open in the task bar.  Remember that there are ways of hiding the Mac dock and the Windows task bar, but it is good to know some of the things you can look for.
  6. Be Aware.  Familiarize yourself with the websites your students regularly use.  Note: Recognize that you can’t know everything about technology, so it is ok to focus on a smaller number of sites that you know your students regularly use.

I realize that many of these strategies may seem like “gotcha” strategies.  I informed teachers of these ideas so they are aware of some different options for classroom management and can choose what will work best for them and their students.  Please feel free to add other ideas in the comments section.

I concluded the presentation with a quote that comes to mind whenever I think of bringing down the internet filters:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

-Stan Lee

As with everything, there are good and bad things about offering our students more access.  Overall, I feel that this is a great opportunity to teach and learn with our students.  We are now able to provide more guidance in order to better prepare them for the world beyond our school walls and the time when we can no longer protect them.  It is my hope that they remember the lessons we have taught them about critically analyzing sources.

This is an ongoing process in my district and far from a smooth road.  We are working our way through things for which there seems to be little precedent.  I would love to hear from people who have undergone a similar process in their district, along with the challenges and rewards of that process.  I may be posting here on the blog about our own experiences in the future.  Please feel free to leave comments, questions, suggestions, or anything else that you think would be helpful in furthering our collaborative understanding.

Works Consulted:

Twittering with a Purpose: A Starter (or Restarter) Guide

Over the past few months, I’ve been learning and connecting with other educators from around the world using Twitter.  This has become a very valuable collaboration tool for me and I would like to share some more of the things I have learned along the way on how to effectively use Twitter.

According to a Nielsen report, 60% of people who sign up for Twitter fail to return to the website the following month.  There has been much discussion and speculation about the reason behind this.  Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with one simple thing: purpose.

While many of us found ourselves on Twitter out of curiosity, I believe those who stay and are able to find meaning in the chaos do so for a specific reason.  My own reason is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators.  I finally decided it might be worth while to try out Twitter at an Instructional Coaching workshop.  The presenter, Jim Knight, explained the potential of Twitter in the world of collaborative education.  With this purpose in mind, I dove in.

I have many friends and family who have dabbled in Twitter.  Mostly, this was to satisfy curiosity and and to see what all of the hubbub was about.  They made an account and sat back to watch the “Twitter magic” happen…only it didn’t.  The vast majority of my non-professional contacts have tweeted 5 times or less, have never written a bio, and still have the brown and light blue o_O icon as their profile picture.  The other thing they don’t have?  Purpose.

“What are you doing?” I believe this input prompt is misleading.  Honestly, I really don’t care how many cups of coffee you’ve had today, how many times your dog threw up, what you had for lunch, or what you’re watching on TV (Sorry, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance fans!).  I see why the Twitter guys started out with this question.  But to get anything meaningful out of this service, I believe more meaningful queries would be “What are you wondering?” or “What have you found worth sharing?”  This is where the moniker, “follow ideas, not people” comes into play.  Being on Twitter isn’t about who you follow.  It’s about conversations involving your interests.  It doesn’t have to be professional.  I’ve seen some pretty interesting conversations about family cooking and dogs.  Find an idea that interests you and that you are passionate about.  If it’s worthwhile to you, I’m sure there are more people out there who feel the same and are willing to connect and share ideas.

So once you have a purpose and an idea you would like to follow, how do you go about finding people connected to that idea/purpose?  First, you start with yourself.  If you want to engage people in conversation, you need to let them know who you are and what you’d like to talk about.  Go to the Settings option in the Twitter menu, then look over the information you have entered for your account profile.  Now, I understand the trepidation many may have about putting too much information out on the net, especially on something you are just trying out.  So please stay in your safety comfort zone, but do the following:

  • Name: Please put at least a real first name
  • More Info URL: If you have a public website of any kind (esp. if it is related to your Twitter purpose) please include that here.
  • One Line Bio: This is important!  Please write 1-2 sentences or a list that tells something about you and what your purpose/interests are.  By telling others the ideas you are interested in following, you will be able to easily connect to more like-minded people.  Remember that you can always revise this later.  This also helps people realize that you are not a spam account.
  • Location: How specific you would like to be is up to you.  At the very minimum, I would include your country or state/province.  Twitter is a global community and it’s fun to know how far your conversations can reach.

o_ONow that you have let people know the types of ideas you are interested in, you need to add a picture.  Yes, I said you need to add a picture…   o_O By the way, the symbol on the default picture is an emoticon which  means “bored, annoyed or awkward; concerned; ‘what?’ face.”  Many people out there won’t follow someone who has this symbol because it is seen as a sign that the person isn’t serious about using Twitter to collaborate.  It also helps people determine more easily if you are a spam account.  Are you uncomfortable with putting a real picture out there?  That’s ok.  While some would disagree, I would argue that any picture is better than no picture.  So feel free to use a cartoon likeness, your dog, something that represents your interests, or play with a photo of yourself in Photoshop or iPhoto.  If you are using Twitter for professional purposes, I would highly recommend a real picture of yourself.

Now that you have a basic profile set-up, start writing a few tweets about your interests/purpose.  You can include your thoughts, write about the kind of information or collaboration you are looking for, ask questions, include a few websites that you have found informative and helpful, etc.  How much you tweet is up to you, but you want people to see that you are actively using the site when they take a look at your profile.  This gives them more incentive to interact with you.

Now you are ready to find people who also follow the same ideas.  Please remember that you do not need to follow everyone.  It’s ok to be selective and to stop following someone if they’re not sharing the kind of ideas you are looking for.  There are a few ways to do this.

  • If you know someone who actively uses Twitter for the same purpose, browse through their following list.  Find a few people you think sound interesting and follow them.  Then you can look through their following lists, and repeat the process.  I prefer to use following lists instead of followers because they are less likely to be people who don’t share the same interest/purpose.
  • Use Twitter Search and input keywords related to your interest/purpose.  Click on the profiles of people who have tweets that interest you and decide if they are engaged in the conversation you’re looking for.  If you like the ideas they are discussing, then follow them.  From there you can use the first step to branch out and find more people.
  • Search for related hashtags.  Hashtags are words that are preceded by the “#” symbol.  Their purpose is to make it easier to search posts related to that idea.  For example, I am currently able to follow the protests in Tehran by searching for the hashtag #iranelection.  There are also scheduled chats such as #educhat and a growing number of professional conferences such as #TED, #NECC, &  #GLS09.  Anyone who is talking about this subject can include a designated hashtag in their post so others can see it and be part of the conversation.  You can learn more about hashtags here.
  • Check out services such as WeFollow.  Look up topics that are related to your interest/purpose and find people to follow that interest you.

Once you have a few people you’re following, feel free to jump right in or watch and get a feel for how people use Twitter.  It is still a good idea for you to keep posting questions, resources, etc. to help people decide if they want to follow you.  Feel free to “retweet” good ideas that other people have written.  Just be sure to give them credit by starting the post with “RT” (short for “retweet”) and then writing their @name, followed by their post.  See an example here.  Or you can write “via” and their @name at the end of your post.  See an example hereYou want to be sure you credit the ideas of other people. RTs from others also give you a chance to find more people with the same interests/purpose.  Just click on their @name and it will take you directly to their profile.

Once you feel comfortable, start responding to other people’s posts.  Answer their questions, provide resources, and comment on their ideas.  To reply, you can hit the reply button on their tweet or type their Twitter name into your dialogue box with the “@” symbol in front.  Feel free to include hashtags if they are appropriate.

You can also respond privately by using the Direct Message feature on the right hand side.  Just click on the “Direct Message” link.  Then choose the person you want to communicate with from the drop down menu, type your message, and send.  Please note that you may only send Direct Messages to people you follow and follow you back.

If you have a website you would like to share, but the URL is way too long to include in a 140 character tweet, you can use a service such as to shorten the URL.  Also, many Twitter clients provide a URL shortening service.  I am currently using Tweetie.  All I have to do it type my tweet, and then hit option+command+s to automatically short the URL.  It’s very handy.

A note on spam: If you gain followers who have a limited, non-existent, or general bio, only a few tweets, tweets that are all about advertising (such as how to gain 3,000 followers in a week), or they follow 5,000 people and only 100 follow them back, then they are more than likely a spam account.  It is best to block these by going to your follower page and hitting the “Block” button by their name.

I hope these tips will help you find the “Twitter magic” and put it to good use.  If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to let me know.  I’ve been trying to find the best way to describe this unique service and the best way to help people get started in leveraging its use.  I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks!


Adventures in Twitterland: Twitter in the Classroom Update

An update on my exploration of Twitter. Includes PLNs, Twitter clients, #hashtags, synchronous events, privacy issues, & more teacher resources.

I have been playing around with Twitter a lot lately.  Mostly, I have been using it to help develop my PLN, or Personal Learning Network.  I’ve enjoyed delving into my professional interests in a new and different way.  My experience has ranged from “Huh, what’s the point of this?” to “How will I ever process all this great, but overwhelming amount of information?”  In an attempt to congeal my experience thus far into something more comprehensible for myself and my friends, here are the highlights:

Not long ago, I attended a live Classroom 2.0 session on Twitter for educators by Rodd Lucier, The Clever Sheep.  You can listen to the archive of the session here and see the Sharetabs page here.

Twitter Clients – I think that once you hit a certain threshold of people you follow, trying to make sense out of everything on Twitter is a bit like herding cats.  This is where applications such as TweetDeck and Twirl come in.  These are two different Twitter clients that you can download onto your computer and use to sort the furballs from the choice morsels.  I am currently using TweetDeck, though either client seems to work fairly well.  I have my incoming tweets sorted into several columns, making it easier to peruse though the information.  This organization changes whenever I get whatever seems to be a more efficient idea.  Here are some resources for TweetDeck:

HashTags – I am still playing around with the possibilities of this idea.  Without throwing a lot of net jargon at you, hashtags (or #hashtags) are keywords included directly in your posts to make searching easier.  I have seen this used mostly for conferences (#TED), synchronous events (#educhat), and keeping track of topics (#edreform).

Synchronous Events – This is when people use #hashtags to have a discussion on Twitter at a specified date and time.  I participated in the 2nd #Educhat last night and I rather enjoyed it.  Since the amount of tweets can be overwhelming, I tracked them using TweetGrid and its Twitter Party function.  I will play with Monitter next time around (April 6th) to decide which I like better.  Please feel free to check out #Educhat and consider joining the conversation.

Privacy Concerns – Since Twitter is a public venue, there are student privacy concerns. The easiest way to address this is to have your students make their Twitter accounts private using the settings.  Another option is to use Edmodo instead of Twitter.  Edmodo is an education version of Twitter which strives to protect student privacy.  Also, remember that anything you type is a part of your digital footprint.  This means it is public and searchable.

Overall, I am enjoying the resources and community I am finding on Twitter.  I get good ideas and thoughts from people everyday.

More Resources:

The Worth of Educational Technology

I wanted to direct you to Digmo’s blog post titled “Is Educational Technology Worth It?” This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit and I appreciate his post.  I added a comment about the two things I think are crucial to effective technology integration: training on how to integrate tech into your content (beyond the on/off switch and fancy do-dads) and time for teachers to figure out how it will work best for them.  Also check out other posts on Digmo’s blog.  He has some good information.

Tweet Tweet! Twitter in the Classroom

“Twitter may either be the greatest prank ever played on the internet community or it may be the best thing since sliced bread.” -Phil Bauman, 140 Health Care Uses for Twitter

In the past day or so, I’ve been researching and experimenting on Twitter with a specific focus on its potential use in the classroom.  What exactly is Twitter, you ask?  It’s a social networking and micro-blogging site.  Ok, so what does that mean?  Basically, people continually post small snippets of information in 140 characters or less.  I’ve found that many of these “mini-blogs” are mostly either like Facebook Status updates (a statement of what the person is currently doing) or a link to another piece of information (like a news or journal article, online resource, picture, etc.).  Twitter “feeds” are posted by individual people, corporations, clubs, universities, NASA, presidential campaigns (Obama & Nadar), celebrities, and even governments.

Twitter has been put to some interesting uses including NASA updates on space shuttle missions and to break the news of the discovery of water on Mars, coordination of political campaign workers, live sporting event updates, public updates from the office of the British Prime Minister, a part of university emergency alert and other institutional systems, updates on evacuations, meeting points and other needed information during the 2007 California wildfires, and many used it during the Mumbai siege of November 2008 to gather information on the safety of friends and coordinate responses.  With the ability to update and read Twitter feeds from mobile phones, the uses can be even more intriguing.

How can it be useful to me as a teacher?  I’m still figuring this one out and I would love to have your input.  Since I work in a “high access” school (every student has a laptop) I realize I’ve been thinking about applications mostly in this context.  But what else can we do with it?  Here is a list of possible applications that I have considered so far:

  • Assignment Log for homework and make-up work
  • Entrance and/or Exit Slips
  • Class Polls
  • Reading Discussion – This has different possibilities.  Students can ask the teacher questions about reading hang-ups they have at home.  They could engage is a Cris Tovani style of reading dialog with their teacher and peers, teachers could have students respond to open-ended questions and to classmate’s responses.  Students could write summaries of reading in which Twitter would force them to be concise (140 character limit) and put it into their own words (students could divide up sections/jigsaw, have their own feed, etc..)
  • Resource Sharing – Teaching APUSH makes me think of this.  I always want students to share the resources they’ve found online to facilitate awareness of historical scholarship, broaden research skills, learn about individual interests, find study resources, and more.
  • Current Events – Many teachers do different activities with current events.  This could be used creatively in that area.
  • Homework Help “Hotline” that everyone in the class can benefit from.  Teachers can respond to students.  Students can respond to their peers’ questions and help each other out.
  • Clubs/Activities – Keep your members in touch with events and share ideas with students who are unable to make it to meetings.
  • Coordinate collaborative group work outside of the classroom
  • Post web resources for students to use
  • Develop a class’s sense of community and connection
  • Creative feedback (from teachers and students)
  • Writing – There seems to be a plethora of writing applications for teaching grammar, rules of writing, helping students to be concise (important in history), “continue the story” activities, etc.

I don’t have all of these worked out of course, but it is just a brainstorm list of ideas.  Just remember that purpose and content always come before choosing a technology to integrate into your classroom.

Twitter Resources

Web 2.0 Primer for Newbies

The Wired Campus


Tame the Web

Twitter Fan Wiki

5 Things to Get Your Twitter Network Off the Ground

I’ve started my own Twitter feed so I can learn the ins and outs in order to see what can be done with it.  If you are interested, you can find the feed here.  I invite you to create your own feed and experiment with me on what can be done with this technology.  If you already have a feed, please feel free to follow mine.  I’ve already learned some rather interesting things.

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • What do you want to know about Twitter?
  • Do you use Twitter?  Do you have any advice?
  • What are your concerns about Twitter?
  • How have you used or seen Twitter used in the classroom?  What ideas for possible applications do you have?
  • General comments?