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The Development of Western Canada Using Twitter

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Nathan Bugden

on 28 November 2011

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Transcript of The Development of Western Canada Using Twitter

The development of Western Canada
Using Twitter My reason for choosing Twitter to be used as a technological medium for enhancing the learning of grade 8 students in the History unit of The Development of Western Canada is more than not having used Twitter in the classroom. Frey and Fisher (2008) said it best when they wrote that “we were not teaching students to do the right thing with the technology they had” (p.39). This phrase inspired me to look a common everyday technology and how it can be implemented within the classroom effectively as a mind tool How does Twitter fit into the Curriculum? Frey and Fisher (2008) found that banning technology does not provide a policy that enhances student learning since most of a teacher’s time is then spent trying to reinforce the rules. By creating a courteous environment in which students actively use technology within the classroom has been found to promote learning and teach students how to use technology with a critical eye (Frey & Fisher, 2008). Twitter offers a distinct advantage over other social networking applications since there is an inherent code of conduct that has developed with the advent of the technology. Being that Twitter only allows 140 characters per status update, students must be concise and have little room for going off topic. Another notable feature that relates to the courteous inherent nature of Twitter is the retweet function which encourages users to acknowledge the original source of the information. This could influence student s to ensure that they accurately give credit to the appropriate source when the information is not theirs within academic sources as well. Let us now consider some of the specific goals of the grade 8 history unit. Curriculum Goals
• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about conflicts and changes that occurred during the development of western Canada;
• show how the history of the Canadian west has influenced both artistic/imaginative works and Canadian institutions.
Inquiry Research and Communication
• communicate the results of inquiries for specific purposes and audiences, using media works, political cartoons, oral presentations, written notes and reports, drawings, tables, charts, and graphs Within the bullet points taken directly from the grade 8 curriculum document I have highlighted three key phrases: variety of resources and tools, artistic imaginative works, and communicate the results. These phrases outline the skills and social artifacts that are related to the development of western Canada. First, Twitter offers a distinct advantage when considering how students must use a variety of resources and tools to process and communicate the information of the unit. By using Twitter students are able to incorporate videos, blogs, wikis and any other form of online medium through the use of url shortening. Url shortening allows the user to add a link to a variety of resources that enhance the rest of the user’s post. For example, if a student is making a case for how various treaties affected the First Nation’s people in British Columbia, a url to a YouTube video that documents the effects and history of these treaties can be linked to the Twitter post as an enhancement to the students argument (consider the following that follows). Similarly, teachers can provide links to video, blogs, and podcasts that enhance what is being taught in the classroom. Looking at how the history of western Canada has affected artistic movements and creative thinkers can also be uniquely documented on Twitter. No longer do students have to sit in class and look at slides of the paintings of Emily Carr, but links can be posted on Twitter that give students videos about Emily Carr as well as information about Emily Carr University (see the exmaple that follows). The information is now accessible from within and outside the classroom and is stored easily within many Twitter applications. A class can create a following by placing #EmilyCarr at the beginning of every post so that the students and teachers in the classroom can follow what everyone else has found in relation to the social artifacts that have been produced as a result of the development of western Canada. This provides universally accessible information that the students can then collaborate to form new threads of discussion. Furthermore, by having students post a short description of their link, other students can choose whether or not they should review the link based on the information being new to them or not. Lastly, communicating the results can be posted in an update and enhanced with a link as previously shown in the other two examples. However, Twitter can be used to appeal to specific audiences and purposes by changing the types of information linked to ones posting. Using podcasts or videos are two examples, but students can also produce graphs on the computer and upload them with Twitter and TwitPic or attach a link to their latest written report on blogger. Twitter can therefore be used to hand in assignments through the link function. This option is unique as it allows other students to comment back on another students post, rather than just having the teacher mark an assignment and return it. These skills and artifacts that are to be learned in the grade 8 history unit are enhanced by the on demand availability, and collaboration that Twitter provides. There were many other elements within the grade 8 history curriculum such as, explaining the factors that led to the settlement of the Canadian west and describing the role of the Canadian Pacific Railway in furthering Canada’s expansion, which could be brought onto Twitter by asking students to debate using their Twitter posts the reasons for the settlement of the Canadian west or the role of the Canadian Pacific Railway. However, I do not believe that this would be any more effective then staging an in class discussion. As stated by Bell and Kuon (2009), not all online tools are the best possible environment for a set of goals, we must use these tools to inspire students and enhance their understanding of the subject. Hence, being that Twitter offers no distinct advantage for the other areas of the grade 8 history curriculum, the focus will remain on how Twitter can enhance the students understanding of the skills and social artifacts associated with the development of western Canada. How does Twitter Inform Student Learning? The ways that Twitter enhances and informs student learning is threefold. First, Twitter enables students to participate in social learning. Social learning is when one’s understanding of a subject is constructed through conversations with others (Seely & Adler, 2008). Twitter offers a conversation tracking feature that allows users to respond to posts from other users, which are then tracked sequentially. This not only allows students to converse and develop a conversation about the development of western Canada, it also allows them to go back and review how the conversation progressed. Being able to go back really enables the student to understand the arguments formulated. However, how does this differ from social learning in a face to face environment? Twitter allows the conversation to take place at the pace of the user, therefore not all students have to engage in all topics nor do they have to respond immediately as they would in person. This affords students the time to think and formulate stronger answers to questions and ultimately better posting that relate to the unit. Students also learn to be rather than learn about as they acquire the practices and norms of practitioners (Seely & Adler, 2008). By allowing students to have the time to research their answers, they are building the skill that a historian would use, such as effective web searching and document analysis. Twitter also informs student learning by increasing reflection. Wright (2010) found that the 140 character limit forces student to reflect and be critical about their thoughts before they post. In many cases students were expected to respond immediately using the Twitter app on their phone, but could not as they had to wait and think before posting using a computer at a later time (Wright, 2010). Being concise is one of the hardest skills to achieve when writing effectively. There is often a discussion surrounding whether forced reflection is effective or not; however, in the case of Twitter reflection is not called reflection, it is simply a necessary component to being able to post one’s information. Hence, students are forced to reflect critically about the information they are about to post, which has the potential to increase retention of the events that contributed to the development of western Canada. For example, when students are posting about a significant event, they are forced to include certain key criteria which they must discern. Should a full date be included, what about a detailed description? This forces students to think critically almost inadvertently, as well as develop key words and phrases that trigger the memories of the information that was omitted from their postings. Lastly, it is not so much a function of Twitter, but a function of the popularity of Twitter that increases student learning. Since Twitter has become so popular in recent years, many applications have been developed to support the website. These applications set Twitter apart from other forms of social media since it allows users to customize their notifications. Not only are users able to follow groups of people or causes they believe in; much like other social networking sites. Users are given the option to receive notifications and develop lists that alert them of relevant postings. This is key to increasing student learning as it enables students to prioritize alerts for school related postings. For example, by using tweet deck on the computer or a smartphone, students are able to create a column with a specific ringtone for that column that will notify them when new postings are up for the class. This feature offers s reminder that other social networking sites do not have using audible cues that help students remember that something important is being posted. I have found from personal experience that setting custom notifications on Twitter has enhanced my use of the program by keeping alert and constantly aware of my surroundings. When I hear the alert, I instantly start to think about that topic and in many cases it has inspired me to post as there was a great picture or event that was related to my alert. The same effect is possible for students and if for no other benefit offers a reminder that the conversation is continuing. How does One Assess the Practices on Twitter? Assessing Twitter usage when implementing it in the development of western Canada unit in grade 8 is rather difficult; especially since the primary uses that have been documented in the preceding analysis are skill development and artefact finding. Students can be assessed on the quality of their postings and the quality of the resources they attach to their postings. For example, the more concise (possibly using less characters than 140) to effectively convey an idea would be highly sought after. Similarly linking quality sources and enhancing materials rather than adding a YouTube clip because it sounds good would be the desired result. Hence, evaluating Twitter postings in a similar fashion to posting on the course Ning or WebCT would be appropriate. Hence, I feel that the majority of the assessment of Twitter would take place in the form of participation and how effectively students use Twitter to support their learning. However, I feel that the real concrete assessment will come from the enhanced performance on graded in class activities and tests. It is my belief that forcing students to be critical of their postings with a limited space will increase retention of information as was found by Wright (2010). Hence, I would expect that students’ test scores would increase as they will have spent more time critically thinking about the material in the grade 8 history unit Reflections on the Development of Western Canada Using Twitter What started out as an inspiration to reinvent a common technology turned into a passionate discovery of how to integrate the social networking that many people love within the grade 8 curriculum. I have learned that technology and the curriculum is not about flashy effects or getting students attention, but enhancing the learning experience. I believe that by using technologies, such as Twitter, in ways that I have described develops an enriching experience for both the learner and educator. Despite the challenge of assessment, I believe that Twitter can be an incredibly effective tool when it is used in conjunction with other methods of teaching and evaluation. One of the downfalls of Twitter is the lack of control that is afforded to the teacher. Teachers are truly at the mercy of the students with respect to courteous use of Twitter during school hours. It is nearly impossible to regulate the tweets that are being sent out by our students. I do not feel that this downfall is enough to prove the service unworthy of the classroom. As Frey and Fisher (2008) found, we must teach our students to be courteous in person and online since this is more effective than banning all technologies. We as teachers have the obligation to prepare our students for a world that will involve more technology than we have today. Therefore, we must also prepare them by teaching safe internet practices as well as courteous online interactions. I do not see this as a downfall; it is more like an opportunity to teach our students more than just the curriculum. By integrating Twitter into the development of western Canada unit, we are teaching our students the lifelong skills of critical thinking and assessment of resources. References

Bell, M., & Kuon, T. (2009). HOME ALONE! STILL COLLABORATING. Knowledge Quest, 37(4), 52-55.

Frey, N. & Fisher, D. (2008). Doing the Right Thing with Technology. English Journal, 97(6), pp. 38-42.

Seely Brown, J. & Adler, R. (2008). Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0

Wright, N. (2010). Twittering in teacher education: reflecting on practicum experiences. Open Learning, 25(3), 259-265.
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