Tweeting Responses: A Failed Experiment

As a writing instructor, I am constantly working to try and get my classes to synthesize information and communicate it out as succinctly as possible. It’s one of the main parts of my job, to be honest. That’s why, when I first came up with the idea of “tweeting responses,” I thought maybe social media was finally going to make a big difference in my English 1301 and 1302 classes.

I was wrong.

The idea of tweeting responses came from Twitter’s 140 character limit. My hopes for the assignment were that students would read an assignment from their text (generally an essay on composition studies or rhetoric) and then condense a main idea of the text into a single tweet. For years I’ve had students write reading responses of half a page to a page, just to ensure they were doing the readings. I had planned for this tweeting assignment to take the place of those mini-essays. This way, not only would they end up stripping excess information down to the brass tacks of what was going on in an assigned reading, they’d also end up writing less filler information when they went to transfer that knowledge to their writing assignments at the end of each unit. It was a perfect plan!

Unfortunately, students really didn’t get it on the whole. A few did, and executed the tweets almost perfectly – but these were students who weren’t struggling with how to synthesize the readings in the first place. The vast majority of students ended up either writing multiple tweets that might as well have been the mini-essay I was trying to get around assigning, or they tweeted so vaguely about the reading that it was impossible to tell if they’d actually done it or not.

I’ve now abandoned the idea of tweeting responses – it was an interesting experiment, but ultimately it didn’t work for my students, and thus, there’s no point in continuing to assign it. Instead, I now have students blog regularly on tumblr, a text and visual blogging platform, and ask them to include responses to readings in their progress blogs. This doesn’t quite get at the need to efficiently synthesize information from their texts, but it’s getting close.

Have you ever tried something with technology in the classroom that ended up being a failed experiment? Sound off in the comments about your experience!

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