Twitter Project for HBSE Course

Dr. Becky Anthony

Dr. Becky Anthony

Ms. Bobbi Arrington

Ms. Bobbi Arrington

Dr. Becky Anthony (@becky_anthony) is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at Salisbury University and Ms. Bobbi Arrington (@bobbielle) is an instructor at School of Social Work at Monmouth University.   In this blog post, they write about how they developed and managed an assignment using Twitter in their Human Behavior and the Social Environment Courses.  In another post,  Ms. Arrington interviews Ms. Nadia Jeter, a BSW student who completed the assignment.

As professional users of Twitter, we understand how social media can be utilized to share knowledge, resources, and information.  As professors, we wondered would students be able to gain similar professional benefits if they utilized social media, specifically Twitter, in the classroom.  To help us answer this question, we created the “Twitter Project” for our Human Behavior and the Social Environment (HBSE) students.

Based on the course design where the content of each week is about a specific diverse community, we assigned students into groups and gave each group a specific diverse community. These communities included: religious communities, people with disabilities, social classism in the United States, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and LGBTQ populations. Each student was asked to post, using our classroom hashtag, two tweets per week about their assigned community. They were encouraged to post about news, current events, and advocacy opportunities, focusing on examples of social and economic injustice. Learners were graded based on writing two posts (or tweets) per week.  The assignment was worth eight points.  A student received a point each week they posted two tweets that advocated on behalf of an issue that affected their particular population.

At the beginning of the semester, we presented information about Twitter, specifically, what it is, how to use it, and the need to use our project’s hashtag.  We utilized a PowerPoint presentation, with examples, to help engage conversation.   As Twitter limits each tweet to 140 characters, we practiced creating tweets during class with the students about previously learned subject matter.   During this class, we also discussed using Twitter in a professional setting (i.e. the classroom) which provided us the opportunity to discuss social media etiquette and ethics. In class, students spent time discussing and creating guidelines to utilize Twitter.   We asked questions such as what are appropriate posts; and what are appropriate pictures?  Some students already had separate professional accounts.  However, other students chose to create new accounts realizing that their professors and their peers could see their personal Twitter comments about on daily activities and personal photos was not appropriate for this particular assignment.   Additional basic guidelines for using Twitter during the course included:

  1.  Don’t post “Selfies”(unless you are currently engaged in advocacy).
  2. Don’t tweet pictures of yourself or others semi-clothed.
  3. Refrain from tweeting about celebrity and personal gossip.
  4. Statements that are demeaning and sarcastic in nature about others or anything that is a bullying statement should be avoided.

After this initial class discussion, each student was required to sign up for a Twitter account. Though we attempted to go through this on a step by step basis in the classroom, we found it difficult for many students to follow in the classroom.  There is a difference in how Twitter operates on a desktop computer verses a mobile device, which can create confusion for new Twitter users.  Many students simply stated after a few attempts in one of the professor’s class that they would rather just play around with it at home.  By the next class meeting, they all found setting it up a free Twitter account to be a rather intuitive process.

A sample tweet from class

Sample tweet from class

Throughout the semester, we had to be actively engaged on Twitter. We monitored the course hashtag, graded the posts, and discussed the posts in class. Each week, we both checked Twitter multiple times.  One of us was already active, the other was not.  However, we both found that we had to be intentional about our own Twitter usage each week and make sure we were monitoring what the students’ tweets each week.  While it was relatively easy to follow the posts, bringing the discussion back into the class proved to be a bit of a challenge.  Time constraints and choosing a topic that tied in directly with that week were two of the main challenges.  At times, a student would post something on immigration or the mass incarceration of black men and we would be able to discuss it.  Other times, students would bring it up a tweet in class.  This, however, we did not build this into the class structure and would definitely recommend this to ensure maximum integration of Twitter into the classroom.  Not always incorporating their articles into the class also meant that we needed to remind them to post, even though it was graded.

We found the end of the semester feedback from learners mostly positive. All students stated that they preferred to use Twitter over discussion board posts. Others suggested that this project increased their knowledge about diverse communities, raising their awareness about specific social injustices affecting these communities and their members. They also stated that they were able to hear from different voices, not just those in the mainstream news, but voices from within the diverse community. Students also noted that they would like to utilize this social media tool in more social work classes, specifically in policy classes and macro social work classes.

One of the limitations of this particular assignment structure was the lack of engagement between peers. Both the learners and the professors noted this limitation. Students suggested that the assignment be changed so that learners were required to interact with one another on Twitter. Suggestions for increasing engagement included:

  1. In addition to the two posts per week, students would be required to reply to at least two other students in the class each week.
  2. Include an in-class presentation by each group about their Twitter experiences. Each group would be responsible for creating a presentation about the most memorable post affecting their assigned community. These in-class presentations would occur during the week where this community is the topic of the course.

In the future, we would incorporate both of the suggestions mentioned above to allow the “Twitter Project” to integrate more with course content.   Overall, the “Twitter Project” was a success in our HBSE classes. We felt that it increased interest in the subject matter and allowed for learners to have access to a wider variety of voices, including those in the specific diverse community.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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