Twitter? Tweet? Hash tag? What does it all mean? Well to Louise Ackerman, in Health & Human Performance, it means a way to transform a traditional current events assignment into something more fluid and relevant using Twitter *.
The Old Assignment
So here’s the old assignment: The goal is for the students to stay abreast of what is happening in global health. Before each class period students must:
- Find a health related current event in a reputable publication.
- Read it.
- Copy it, print it, or cut it out and bring it to class.
- At the beginning of each class, if called upon, come to the front of the class and talk about the event or article.
- Class will discuss the issues from the article.
Sound familiar? Given that the field of public health is ever changing this method was feeling stale to Professor Ackerman. In addition, most of the students were going to the same publications (Washington Post, New York Times, etc.) so there wasn’t much breadth in the articles and topics being discussed. It just wasn’t delivering her desired outcomes.
The New Assignment
When Professor Ackeman decided to revamp the assignment to make it more current she selected Twitter as the vehicle. Here’s the new assignment:
- Each student must establish a Twitter account
- Each student must follow 8-10 people (experts) or organizations in the health field (see Twitter Tips and Getting Started) – those followed can (and should) change over the semester as the student’s interests evolved. (Students were not required to Tweet, only Follow.)
- Each student must check their Twitter feed daily. They could set up notifications if they desired to keep them informed when new items were posted.
- At the beginning of each class, if called upon, the student must speak for 2-3 minutes, from their seat, about what they learned from the their Twitter feed. (3-5 students were randomly selected each class).
Louise was thrilled with the results of the makeover. The amazing discussions, sparked from these topics, were so engaging that she often had to stop them in order to continue with the class. She states, “(Stopping the discussion) was killing me because it was exactly what I wanted to happen.” Only one student over the entire semester was not prepared when called upon. All the rest were ready and waiting to be selected. As the semester went on, she found that the students branched out from the obvious organizations, such as the World Health Organization, into specialized areas and were really able to expand their knowledge. They began choosing articles and events that related to the topics currently being discussed in the class and made connections between the two.
She didn’t give a lot of direction on who to follow as she didn’t want to influence their choices. She instead gave direction on how to search for appropriate people to follow. This resulted in a much broader collection of articles and topics. In addition, they were able to follow subjects and organizations that interested them so it made the assignment more relevant to the students. As the class progressed Professor Ackerman would mention people in her lectures and encourage the students that were interested in the topic to follow them on Twitter. In addition, as they did research for other assignments in the class they would follow more people based on that research. The current events assignment became relevant to the students in a way that the old assignment never did.
It’s important to note that Louise had never used Twitter before embarking on this adventure. She tried it and felt that it was easy to use so she had no qualms about asking her students to do it. When asked what she thought of her assignment makeover she said, “Twitter made it straightforward and simple. I loved it, just loved it.”
*Twitter is an online, social, microblogging application that allows people to read and “tweet” short 140-character messages.