This can be taken in three ways. At least. Twitter can be a helpline for you, as an educator. There are thousands of educators, thousands of experts, and millions of people capable of acting as a resource. The right network, hashtag or tweetchat can help you connect with them.
It can act as a helpline for your students, in similar ways, and for similar reasons.
And it can allow you to operate as a helpline for your students.
It’s the last one here I want to focus on.
Twitter as a student helpdesk
You can use twitter in numerous ways, but one way is to allow you to extend your office hours and space. With twitter, you and your students can be available to each other anywhere, and, at anytime you both find convenient.
If your students need your help, while they are working on an assignment, or on a project, or doing the reading or research for the course, they can catch you on twitter, easily, quickly, and in a way that’s convenient for you both. The help you give can be topical, and can be given where and when it’s needed, while the question, context or problem is still fresh.
Why you should
The more you use twitter as a resource to help students, and the more available you are on it, the more they are likely to value and use it as a resource too.
If you want your students to engage critically, helpfully and constructively with each other on twitter, and other forums, one of the most useful things you can do, and most effective, is model that kind of interaction. If your engagement with students is prompt, respectful, meaningful, and constructive, they are quite likely to use that as a template for how they engage with each other.
Twitter can allow you to give instantaneous, useful and fast feedback. In online environments feedback is especially useful. Apart from helping students to conceptualise ideas or topics well, giving them corrective feedback, or directing them to useful resources, the act of feedback will tend to mean your students impart a greater sense of value to the course. Put simply, if you give good feedback, with a reasonable turnaround time, your students will tend to respond with greater motivation and persistence.
Twitter is both instantaneous, and asynchronous. If you are online, you caan respond immediately. If you are offline, you can reply when you come on. This makes it both rapid, and convenient. Students seem to value the convenience of just being able to send their query off, without having to schedule a meeting, or duck and dive to arrange convenient times.
In addition, you can bring in a larger team of experts to help you here. A twitter hashtag is an easy thing for multiple instructors to monitor, and lowers the admin involved in referring students on. If your project is interdisciplinary, and you have several instructors or mentors working with it, a question posted on the hashtag will find it’s own way to the person, or people, who needs to answer it. If this is well orchestrated, and people monitor the hashtag, feedback can become a quicker, more focused and more useful thing.
How to do it
Set up a class hashtag, or a project hashtag (make sure it’s not in use by someone already by searching it on twitter before you share it)
Make sure anyone who needs the hashtag has it, and knows how it will be used, and, if there are time constraints, what they are.
You may need, for your own sanity, to decide that you have offline times, when queries definitely won’t be answered.
Make sure all queries are answered, even if the answer is “I don’t have the answer yet, but I will”.
Encourage your students to pile in and help each other.
Think carefully about the type of interaction you want your students to have with each other, and you, and model that.
I find it useful to think about the likely problems or questions that are likely to come up during the lesson planning stage, and to marshall those resources that might help with these issues in an easy to access place. Typically, I’ll have a useful resources set of links at the bottom of my electronically storied lesson plan.
Twitter is instantaneous. It’s fast. It’s easy to update, and follow, from a smartphone. It won’t take much of a bite from your students data plan if they are out and about, and it allows you to ask quick questions, and post fast answers.