For my Media Copywriting class this semester, I added Twitter use to the syllabus. I didn’t add it for the sake of saying I was using Twitter to teach — after all, I preach goals first, tools second. My particular goal involved trying to boost and broaden class discussion.
A perennial challenge is that, while my students are bright and articulate, they often prove reluctant to participate in, or initiate, class discussion. I decided to start them 140 characters at a time. Their homework, on most class days, includes an assignment to answer via Twitter with a class-relevant hashtag. These work best when cultivating more thinking than a simple quantitative response. Top tweet topics so far include:
- Name a Super Bowl™ ad you thought was effective and why. As I’ve said before, having the Super Bowl™ during a class that involves advertising is a boon. Using students’ Twitter responses, I could call on them directly, show the ad they mention and ask for their analysis. When I tried this without Twitter, even as an official assignment, drawing participation was more difficult.
- What do you think your brand’s biggest weakness is? Students tend to select the brands they’ll work with their semester (Nike, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, Wegmans, Fender, etc.) based on strengths or qualities they like. But knowing a brand’s weakness, or perceived weakness, can inform the creative process as well, and provides a nice entree to critical thinking. It also ties into a research assignment I give them that involves a SWOT analysis, finding target demographics/psychographics and critiquing their brands’ current campaign.
- Tweet about the first thing you encountered on Thursday that annoyed you. They looked at me funny when I assigned it, but nonetheless talked about roommates, landlords, sinus headaches, slow drivers and other professors. I was providing practice in InDesign, so my in-class assignment was: Do an ad for a product (real or imagined) that would solve your problem (which also illustrates the suffering point concept). The students came up with all kinds of products including landlord repellent, traffic-beating hovercraft and The Shrink Ray, which neutralizes annoying psychiatrists. The amount of ingenuity many put into it was impressive, and the opportunity to blend creativity with problem-solving quite valuable.
As with the creative process itself, the quality of answers are only as good as the questions asked, so my challenge is to keep coming up with good questions. And I’ve noticed the class doesn’t interact with each other (although they do with me) on Twitter — though those accustomed to interacting via Facebook probably do so that way, and I’m not going to require them to cross-converse via Twitter unless I have good reason. But their rate of completing Twitter assignments exceeds 95 percent. And, strange but true, Twitter assignment completion actually runs higher than class attendance.
So Twitter — or any social media platform — can work in the classroom, as long as you tie it to goals you want to reach and are willing to put the time into it to make it relevant.