Students Network via Twitter During Global Peace Week

The way students learn today is completely different than how students learned five, 10 and 20 years ago. As social media platforms continue to grow and integrate into our everyday lives, we have to find ways to evolve in this uncharted territory. This is particularly true for English Professor Robin Simmons who has worked Twitter into her curriculum and used events during Global Peace Week to immerse students in the social media world. 

Below, read an essay by Robin as she reflects on the curriculum and how her students exceeded her expectations during Global Peace Week. 

By Robin Simmons, Professor, English

Many students believe that a good writer is someone who consistently earns A’s on academic papers. I, however, find that definition too narrow, so in my composition classes, I try to expand my students’ audience to include more readers than just their professors. I explain that academic papers are a very small percentage of the writing that modern life requires. Moreover, the professors who give those A’s are contractually obligated to read the papers, as evaluation is part of their job description. Given a choice between a Stephen King classic and a stack of student essays, most professors would pick the former. Students need to keep in mind that an A indicates good academic work, but the paper itself might not have been a pleasure to read.

If an A is not the best indication of writing ability, what is? I tell my students that good writing gets an authentic response from its readers. Being engaged with a writer’s ideas—not getting a paycheck—is the incentive for a real audience to keep reading.

To gauge what impact my students can have on readers outside the classroom, I make a Twitter timeline a 100-point graded assignment in Freshman Composition I. Students must set up profiles to showcase themselves as up-and-coming professionals. Instead of tweeting whatever they want, students complete sixteen specific assignments that allow them to experiment with all of Twitter’s features. Eleven points of the grade—essential for earning an A—is making five professional connections, which I define as likes, retweets, or replies from the organizations, businesses, or people they must contact.

For example, a tweet assignment might require a specific hashtag and username, as when my students wrote Valencia College using the hashtag #MyBestMoment. Sometimes I require students to engage a brand with a specific rhetorical strategy such as good description. Another assignment might ask students to tweet an author we’ve used in class with a reaction to what they read.

At first, students believe that I have rigged the assignment to keep them from earning A’s, that no stranger will interact with them. But they soon learn that an effective presentation of their point can inspire professionals other than teachers to read and respond to their work. They get competitive about how many connections they have made. Sometimes they can brag that they landed a really impressive contact. I consider this exchange evidence of good writing.

This year’s Global Peace Week gave my students a great opportunity to use Twitter to connect with a professional outside our class. We attended the two workshops hosted by Daryl Davis, a musician who not only has toured with Chuck Berry but also convinces klansmen to leave the KKK. My students had a choice of tweets they could write for the event: contacting Valencia College to explain what they had learned, live-tweeting important moments from a workshop, or introducing themselves to Mr. Davis to thank him for the experience.

Before his visit to Valencia, Mr. Davis did not have a Twitter account, so that morning we could not direct tweets to him specifically. I did hope, however, that the College might interact with my students, allowing them to earn another one of their required professional connections.

As I was sampling my students’ timelines the next day, I was surprised to see that Mr. Davis had interacted directly with them. He had created a Twitter account that day and retweeted and replied to a number of my students. I cannot be certain that this specific class project inspired his joining Twitter, but the very first tweet on his timeline is a retweet of one of my composition students who attended the “Klan We Talk” workshop.

This year’s Global Peace Week workshops gave my students the opportunity to have a world-class musician read their work. They were able to network with a person who is making the kind of inspiring contributions to the world that I want each of them to make in the future. Global Peace Week provided the forum, but Twitter allowed this exchange to happen.

Using Twitter in class is an easy and fun thing to do. It requires only a few minutes of class time, but the payoff is huge. I am convinced that one of the best things we can do across all the disciplines is encourage students to make contact with the celebrities in our fields. When that larger audience responds, it is proof that the students have produced something worth reading.

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