How I learned to stop worrying and tweet, Part 2
In my previous post about Twitter, I discussed how I developed public lists in Twitter as a form of curation, an activity of organizing and giving meaning to the information available in the world. By using Twitter to curate, I discovered a natural progression to using it as a tool of professional communication with students and professional colleagues. I want to share some of the examples of how Twitter became a useful and effective communication tool for me and my students:
Posting Links: This is be done by tweeting an article or other link from another sources such as a newspaper, website or other online source. Other Twitter users can click on the link to access the article for review, and then respond by tweeting. For example, one student, who was interested in mental health issues, posted an article from a national newspaper about the overmedication of children in the US foster care system. This elicited several responses from their classmates as well as other Twitter users, creating a public and open conversation by the students and other professionals in the field. I frequently post links from Alabama and National newspapers about articles related to social welfare policies in the state as a way to get conversations started among my students.
Direct Messaging: This is a private message that you can send to another Twitter user. A student in one of my classes was working on a paper about foster care and adoption for a different class, and had developed a public list on the topic. She was following the Twitter feed of a federal child welfare agency and noticed the agency was tweeting about the latest statistics on adoption. She wanted to know about the data related to foster care, so she sent a direct message to the agency. She reported that she received a tweet back from a government official at the agency, sending a website link to the latest statistics on foster care in the US, just hours after posting her question. I have used direct messaging to contact other social work educators and colleagues from around the country when I have specific questions that I don’t want to share publicly.
Using Hashtags or Backchanneling: This is when the hashtag symbol (#) is used with along with a keyword or tag to help mark or label what a tweet is about. This allows Twitter users another way to keep up with an on-going public conversation by searching Twitter for the hashtag. This works best if everyone agrees on the hashtag and actually puts the hashtag in their post. For example, I designated a hashtag for each of my courses. The hashtag for SWK 420 Social Work Practice with Small Groups, Communities and Organizations is #SWK420UM. Students include this hashtag when they are tweeting something related to course content or an assignment, making it very easy to track their tweets or a class related conversation.
This is now a common practice at national conferences and other meetings for many disciplines, including social work. Over the summer I was unable to attend the National Association of Social Workers 2012 Conference: Restoring Hope: The Power of Social Work so I followed along with the conference on Twitter using #SWHOPE, which was designated by the conference organizers. The conference’s keynote speaker was Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Social Worker and founder of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, and I was able to follow her speech through the tweets of individuals attending the conference. It was not the same as being there to hear her words in person, but a good and cheap alternative.
I have also used this backchanneling in the classroom. Last semester, I took my SWK 420 class to the library for instruction related to their community assessment project. This project requires students to find statistics and data from such sources as the US Census Bureau and the Annie E. Casey Foundation about different counties in Alabama. Dr. Andrew Battista suggested that we use Twitter during the class to share data resources. So while Dr. Battista showed the class different resources for their assignment, I listened to the questions the students were asking and knowing their interests posted links that included relevant resources for their assignment. For example, one student was going to do an assessment of Jefferson County, AL and was interested in statistics on HIV/AIDS. I posted a tweet with a link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV/AIDS Statistics and Surveillance website. The student was able to access the website in class, decided to use it as a data source for her project and then followed the CDC on Twitter. Additionally, other students had access to the same information in real time.
I know there are many other ways that Twitter is being used to promote professional communication between students, instructors and the professional community. Do you have another example or idea? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.