Twitter and Connected Learning

In my Twitter4Canvas workshop and in the CanvasLIVE Twitter Widget demo, I’ve mostly kept the focus on the what-and-how: what are Twitter widgets and how do you use them in Canvas? There are so many possible ways to use Twitter, and these instructions will hold true for any possible use of Twitter. My use of Twitter is very much about connected learning, so that’s what I want to write about in this blog post.

Here are the ways I think about Twitter as a space for connected learning:

CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS. I use a class Twitter account to connect with my students, sharing things that I find at Twitter which I think can be useful and/or fun for them. Because I teach fully online classes, I need to find online ways to connect with my students, and Twitter is one of those ways. Every time they come to Canvas or visit one of our class web spaces (the UnTextbook, our class wiki, etc.), they are likely to see a Twitter stream in the sidebar. Sometimes what they see in the Twitter stream will be related to the content of the class, but often it is something extra: university announcements, campus events, etc. As I work with the students and get to know them, I try to find Twitter items that will appeal to them, as well as sharing Twitter items that help them learn about my own interests. When I find a Twitter item that I am sure will be of interest to a particular student, I send them an email with a link to the Twitter item: that’s one of the best connections of all!

CONNECTING WITH THE WORLD. Both of the classes I teach have a big reach: World Folklore and Mythology (so, yep, that’s potentially the whole world!) and Epics of Ancient India (but I certainly don’t limit it to ancient India; the modern relevance of the epics is a key theme in the class). By using Twitter, I can connect my students to people in other countries, showing the living presence of the class content in people’s lives today. For the Myth-Folklore class, one of the best ways to connect is with the #FolkloreThursday hashtag (it is seriously amazing, week after week), and in the Indian Epics class, I am so excited to connect with authors that we read in the class, especially Devdutt Pattanaik, a personal hero of mine. I can also connect the students with Indian musicians, like Maati Baani, who are doing beautiful fusion folk music; check out their latest video here, honoring the farmers of India: Saccha Mitra (True Friend).

INTERNET CONNECTEDNESS. The strength of the Internet comes from linkiness, the way one thing on the Internet is connected to another and another and another. Even better are embedded links where the browser goes and fetches the linked content and displays it for you, as it does with images and videos. That’s why I prefer real Twitter widgets to the Canvas Twitter app which displays no images or video. The media displays for both images and video in Twitter are really good, even in the tiny widget version. As a general rule, I only reshare that type of “connected” content at Twitter: tweets with images or video, or tweets with links… including the hashtag links that are one of Twitter’s greatest strengths.

HASHTAG CONNECTIONS. Whoever invented the hashtag is an Internet genius in my opinion. The hashtag allows people to connect and find each other in the vastness of Twitter based on shared interests, like the #FolkloreThursday example that I shared above, and as in the phenomenon of Twitter chats, which teachers use so well (like in Oklahoma’s own long-running #OklaEd chat every Sunday evening).

CONNECTING A CLASS NETWORK. Some people also use Twitter as a way for students to connect with other students, which is a great idea in my opinion! In my classes, the students are connecting with each other through their blog network, but if I were not teaching writing (blogs are great for writing), I would definitely consider using Twitter as a platform for building a class network. If anybody reading this blog post uses Twitter for class networking, share your story in the comments!

TWITTER AS PLN. Although my primary use of Twitter is to find and share content with my classes, I also use Twitter as a personal learning network, especially for connecting with other people at my school (I live in NC but I teach “in” Oklahoma, and Twitter is a big part of how I stay informed about what’s happening on the Norman campus). So, to close out this post, I will share this fun infographic from Sylvia Duckworth about connected educators on Twitter:

And of course there are connected cats for that:

I’ll be crossposting this at the Canvas Community.

Learning about / with Twitter: Hashtags

I am really enjoying this Twitter4Canvas project: it’s a way to bring the power of the live Internet INSIDE the otherwise static LMS, and it’s also a way for me to think more closely about why I like Twitter so much as a space for learning. In this post, I want to write about the power of hashtags, looking at both their advantages and disadvantages.

The widget I created today for #DressLikeAWoman documents a provocative hashtag event. I don’t know who first used the hashtag, but it happened quickly, and I found so many funny, thought-provoking, and important tweets in the stream. I think it’s a fantastic example of a Twitter response to a political event, self-organizing and self-sustaining. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I will be watching, and having the widget is a good reminder to me about checking in to see how it’s going.

Even better, it seems so far to be free of trolling. One of the perils of open expression at Twitter is the way that trolls can take over a hashtag. That hadn’t happened when I scrolled through the stream just now, which makes it even better. If people object to something, I think they should create their own hashtag, not try to take over an existing hashtag. So far, so good!

Of course, even if trolls do invade a hashtag, that is a teachable moment of its own. So, in terms of how you might use Twitter for a class, it really depends on what you are looking to offer your students:

Hashtag. The hashtag gives you an unfiltered live conversation, with its ups and downs, and even with its trolls. For classes where the conversation medium is itself an object of study, like in a social science class or a journalism class, then looking at the unfiltered hashtag is probably a good option.

Curated Stream. If you don’t want the whole hashtag stream, you can use the hashtag to create a curated stream; to retweet is to curate. This is the main way I use Twitter for my classes. I have a dedicated account for my classes, OnlineMythIndia, and I retweet what I want to share with my students. I follow accounts and I follow hashtags in order to find good stuff to share.

Viral v. local hashtags. Of course, you can also have local, small-scale hashtags, unique hashtags that you yourself are promoting for a specific purpose, like the way hashtags are used for a Twitter chat or for a class. You don’t technically have control of them, but when they are local hashtags, you’re not as likely to see trolling or spamming.

For example, I’m having a lot of fun with the Digital Alchemy: Networked Narratives class right now, and members of the class are using the hashtag #NetNarr to connect. Plus, there is also a curated account by the class organizers @NetNarr. At least for me, Twitter is the glue that holds that class together, and I have already made some new online friends as a result of our Twitter connections.

. And here’s something ironic: I first started thinking about Twitter widgets in Canvas during a winter break two years ago (December 2015 / January 2016) when I participated in HumanMOOC. We didn’t have Canvas yet at my school, so one of my reasons for wanting to participate in HumanMOOC was to learn about how they were using Canvas as a learning space. I experienced a lot of frustration with Canvas then (you can read my blog posts here), but I really enjoyed the very lively Twitter stream associated with the course. At the time, I had suggested that the course organizers put a Twitter stream inside Canvas; that was before I even knew about the poor quality of the Canvas Twitter app. As it turned out, the organizers of the course decided not to put Twitter inside the Canvas space because their goal was to protect the Canvas users from the unpredictable Internet; their design model required that Canvas be completely controlled by the instructors, as opposed to the spontaneous sharing at Twitter.

If I had known then what I know now
, I would have urged them to create a curated stream in order to smooth out the hashtag chaos, and then to create a real Twitter widget in order to share all the tweets with images and video coming from that curated stream. I think that a Twitter stream curated by the instructors would have fit their requirement for total teacher control, while bringing some of the lively interactions from Twitter into the Canvas space (although that’s just a guess; I definitely did not get the point of separating the class into two cohorts divided by an LMS wall).

Meanwhile, I have learned a lot about Canvas and Twitter in the past year, very useful stuff that has led me to the Twitter4Canvas project. And of course the growth mindset cat asks… What can I learn next?  

Whatever it is, I will bring back and share here. 🙂

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Twitter in Canvas and the Occasional Hashtag

Since today is #MuseumSelfie Day, there are all kinds of fun photos showing up in Twitter, just the kind of thing that I like to share with my classes via the class Twitter feed at @OnlineMythIndia. The most likely place that students see that is when they log on to Canvas and see the announcements blog as the homepage, with Twitter in the sidebar! Here’s a screenshot:

Of course, they might also see the Twitter in the sidebar of another blog for the class, in the sidebar of the class wiki, or they might even follow the class Twitter if they are Twitter users themselves.

In any case, I really like the fact that on #MuseumSelfie Day, I can share fun pictures with my students, bringing both art and fun into their online course experience. 🙂

I’ve been thinking that to contribute to the ongoing Canvas training efforts that are happening on my campus, I’d like to create a totally asynchronous, come-and-go-whenever Canvas course on using Twitter with a special focus on how you can use Twitter in Canvas. The power of Twitter widgets is mighty!

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.