University of Calgary

Project Engage

May 31, 2011

To tweet, or not to tweet, there is no question

By Jennifer Allford

Take a social network and make it an intellectual network to further student engagement. Image courtesy of Michael UllyotTake a social network and make it an intellectual network to further student engagement.
Image courtesy of Michael Ullyot
Students signed up in English 205 next year will need a few works by William Shakespeare, a notepad and a Twitter account.

Dr. Michael Ullyot, assistant professor of English, is planning to use the social networking site to further engage students learning about the Bard’s works. Ullyot is one of the instructors involved in Project Engage, a two-year pilot project aimed at improving the learning environment of first-year students.

Teaching Shakespeare over the years, Ullyot has peppered his students with questions such as: “What are the three words that best describe your ideas about Shakespeare? What’s your favourite line so far? What’s the strangest moment in the play so far? What are your problems with the story?”

Next year he plans on asking his 90 students to answer these and other questions over Twitter.

“Their answers are going to be necessarily short and sweet—140 characters—so you can read through all that and get a good sense of the climate of ideas that they’re operating in,” says Ullyot.

He has used Twitter in the actual classroom before, but Ullyot found the live feed projected on the screen behind him was too distracting. This time, he’s going to be tweeting to his students on Saturday afternoons, Tuesday evenings or anytime in between.

“It’s an alternate communication channel that can be going on all the time,” he says.

“I’ll be meeting students in the networks they operate in and in a sense, taking something that is a social network and making it an intellectual network, because that’s what you have every time you all come together in a class. You’ve all read something, you all have a common experience, you’re already in an intellectual network.”

Students can create new and private Twitter accounts for the class as Ullyot says neither he nor his students are interested in following each other’s social activities. Using a course-specific hashtag (information marker), the students’ ENGL205 tweets will be accessible to the other people in the class.

Ullyot suspects the Bard himself would approve of the structure.

“There is a lot you can pack into 140 characters. You have to be succinct, like a sonnet in 14 lines,” he says.

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