Facebook, Twitter and blogging in teaching: an update

First, if you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll know that I’ve discussed this topic previously. But some really interesting chats on Twitter with @cynicaltj and @TMBSScience have prompted me to revisit it (my last posts on this subject were in 2011, so an update is overdue).

The theme of our discussions concerned the relative merits of Facebook and Twitter in teaching. My position on this is that I’ve had a qualified success with one, but haven’t really got off the starting blocks with the other. I’ve had my Facebook teaching pages (www.facebook.com/robjteaching) for about 15 months, and this is the second academic year in which they have been used. I use them to provide useful/relevant weblinks and sometimes explanations to support my lectures, and as far as I can tell, they have been well-received (150+ ‘likes’ for the pages plus more for the individual posts). Most of my students use Facebook; it’s easily accessible, and considerably less clunky than the VLE server we use (at considerable expense to the University!) All you have to do to get my Facebook notifications is to ‘like’ the pages; there is no login process needed once you’re on Facebook. Contrast this with what you have to do to access course material on the ‘KLE’: you have to be registered for the particular module, so it’s not accessible, say, to students in the year below who may be interested in the module content. All in all, I think it has been a worthwhile project which I will continue to use.

So, what about Twitter? I love Twitter and would be delighted if I could use it in teaching. But, as I see it there are several obstacles to this. First, currently not many of my students seem to use it – maybe 10% at most. I base this on evidence from both my own account and our Keele Chemistry account. Secondly, there’s the 140 character limit, which is fine most of the time, but is a severe limit when it comes to wordy explanations! OK, you can add weblinks and use hashtags to link Tweets with common themes, but it’s still an issue. In our discussions, @TMBSScience challenged me to find an example from my FB pages that couldn’t be ‘translated’ to Twitter. Responding to this challenge, I’ll take an example from my current 2nd year module, where I have a link to a demonstration of the photoelectric effect. Facebook allows me to write quite a few words by way of introduction, and then the link appears below, with some text/icons which give more information. So even before clicking on the link, you have an idea of what it’s about. Try to do this with Twitter, and you have considerably less text, followed by a URL. Depending on how you view the tweet, you might have a preview of the weblink, but not always. But it’s the text limitation that I feel is a problem here. I would welcome suggestions of possible workrounds from people who have managed to overcome this!

Finally I should mention blogging. I don’t use blogging ‘per se’ in my teaching, but my blog links to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts automatically, and if I write a post relevant to teaching, like this one, I’ll put a link on my FB pages. I have considered starting a teaching blog, but that’s something for the future. As it is, full sets of lecture slides are available in advance for all my modules, coupled with links on the FB pages, so it’s not clear what a blog might add to this. Comments as ever are very welcome! Thanks to @cynicaltj and @TMBSScience for prompting me to write this, giving my brain much needed activation on a Sunday evening!

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