Using Twitter in a face-to-face class

I have previously used Twitter in my class with good results, but I found it more difficult to capture information from the class than I would have liked. I recently found another tool that actually makes my previously problems go away. In this post I describe what I did in my previous class, the problem I had, and the tool that is making my problem go away.

I taught a class on finding information on the Web (known as “BIT330”). Almost every day we had in-class lab exercises. Once every week or two I would ask the students to tweet their answers to certain questions or to tweet observations on specific tools (that I was particularly interested in, for instance). Part of the instructions in the class exercise write-up that I provided was to include #bit330 and some question identifier hashtag in the tweet.

The reason for tweeting with the hashtags was three-fold:

  • I used Twitterfall on a screen at the front of the classroom. I couldn’t recommend this tool more highly. It essentially is a live search; I would set up a search for #bit330 and then the tweets would slowly scroll down the screen (like a waterfall — get it?!) so that everyone in the class (including me, of course) could see the progression of students, the answers they were giving, the observations they were making, and the questions they had. This is a really cool addition to a class.
  • The second reason was that I could then capture the tweets and use them as part of my basis for establishing participation in the class. One time a student was logged on from home (or someplace other than class) and completed the exercises and sent the tweets.
  • The third reason was that I could capture the tweets and use them as a basis for learning about what exercises worked well, which needed fixing, and which needed replacing.

The trouble was that it was labor-intensive to get the information as the basis for points 2 and 3 above. I would run a search in twitter, and then I would repeatedly copy pages of tweets to a text file, and then I would use a short python program to turn the text file into a CSV file which is a better format as a basis for future computations (e.g., importing into a database file, as the basis for a word cloud, or whatever). This was all less than satisfactory.

The answer to all this is found in SearchHash (brought to my attention by the always-awesome Patricia Anderson). This tool will perform whatever search you want on recent tweets and will create a CSV file of the results. Problem solved!

It really is as simple as that. I can definitely see myself using this approach much more often in the future now that I know it’ll be so much easier to access the data.

What about you? Do you have any twitter-related tools that you use to support a face-to-face class? Or have you used these tools (successfully or not)? Share your stories!

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