Thursday, February 3, 2011

Twitter Makes Right Now Events Come Alive in the Classroom

The most memorable part of the evening news about the protests (revolution?) in Egypt yesterday was a tweet from a peaceful protester caught in a crowd of "Mubarek thugs." She said, "oh my God, oh my God, we are in Tahrir Square, they are killing us. The thugs have killed us."

It is one thing hearing this hours after it happened on the evening news; it is quite another thing reading it seconds after it was posted by a real person in the thick of events. It's chilling and riveting, actually, and an amazing opportunity for students to learn about world events first-hand, right NOW, real-time. So how can you make this happen in your classroom? Here's the simplest way to get started . . .

1. Go to and type in a search term. For example, Egypt, then look for "hashtag" terms among the Tweets. Hashtags (words preceded by #) are used to help you find and follow topics. In this example, we'll find "#Tahrir," that's where all the action is happening right now. Now we have two search terms. Let's search at the top of our Egypt page for #Egypt #Tahrir. Now we're seeing a live feed of posts with both these terms.

The great thing is that that's it. You're done! You've used Twitter to view a world event in progress. If you want to take it to the next level, read on!

2. For an even better view, use a Twitter tool, like TweetDeck. With software like this, you'll get an impressive view on all your terms that's great for displaying on the projector in your classroom as students work. Here's a screencast showing how to get started with TweetDeck (add columns, delete columns, control notifications).
3. As your knowledge of Twitter grows, imagine using this tool with your own hashtags, like #MsMayersClass. Students can Tweet in comments, questions, answers, or anything at all they're too shy to say face to face. Does this take a leap of faith, yes it does, but the teacher who will try letting students have a say stand to gain so much more than they stand to lose.

Additional Links:

This New York Times article tells some stories that show how powerfully back channels can work in classrooms. Today’s Meet makes it easy to set up a backchannel for your classroom topic.

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