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Why Twitter Matters in the College Classroom

posted: 1.29.13 by Traci Gardner

Last week there was another shooting on a college campus. This post isn’t about gun control however. It’s about Twitter—and about why we should use Twitter in the classroom.

Obviously, I am not arguing that we need to teach students about social networking tools like Twitter because one day they may need to communicate in an emergency. That’s just silly. You learn to do CPR in case of emergencies. You don’t learn to Tweet.

Sometimes however, Twitter is how people communicate in emergencies. The news stories about the shooting at Lone Star Community College in Texas covered not only what was happening on campus, but also how students used Twitter to tell readers what was going on (LA TimesHuffington Post). Here is the information posted on Twitter by Lone Star student Amanda:

View Traci’s story “Tweets from Amanda at LSCC” on Storify

On a humorous note, I notice Amanda capitalizes her sentences, uses proper grammar and style, and even correctly punctuates her updates. So much for Twitter being the ruination of students’ literacy skills.

This Texas shooting is not the first time that I have seen college students take to social media as their campus was dealing with an emergency. Two years ago, I wrote about students at Virginia Tech turning to online resources to share what they knew and reach out to family and friends. Just as was the case in Texas last week, when a shooter made his way onto the Virginia Tech campus in December 2011,  faculty, staff, and students turned to social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know they were okay.

Bits blogger Andrea Lunsford noted a similar move to social media as people turned to Tweeting in Times of Crisis as they sent out updates during Hurricane Sandy in October. Lunsford describes the way that Twitter updates became a “powerful . . . medium of information sharing”:

Tweets came by the thousands: news as it happens. Right at the moment and moment by moment we could follow the storm and, more importantly, the people experiencing it.  This contemporary form of communication seemed to eclipse ordinary TV and radio because it was so unedited and often so raw.

As Lunsford explains, as we saw at Virginia Tech in December 2011, and as we found again at Lone Star Community College last week, people, college students included, rely on social media tools when they need to reach others.

The lesson I shared in 2011 is still critical and relevant: tools like Twitter matter, and leaving them outside the writing classroom door is a disservice to students. It remains important to help students learn to navigate the ways that we communicate in the modern world, to learn new tools while staying current with the old, and to learn new ways to connect with their digital audience of readers.  In short, writing instruction must take on the literacy skills that matter in students’ daily lives—and not because it may be handy in an emergency, but because these are the skills that matter every day.

How do social media tools figure in your writing instruction? Please leave me a comment below or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+ and let me know what role you think Twitter should play in the composition classroom.

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