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Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media

May 17, 2011

This is an interesting use for Twitter in the classroom, featured in the NYT and later in the Washington Post

Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, uses Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion.

By Trip Gabriel

Wasn’t it just the other day that teachers confiscated cellphones and principals warned about oversharing on MySpace?

Now, Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, is among a small but growing cadre of educators trying to exploit Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Last Friday, as some of her 11th graders read aloud from a poem called “To the Lady,” which ponders why bystanders do not intervene to stop injustice, others kept up a running commentary on their laptops.

The poet “says that people cried out and tried but nothing was done,” one student typed, her words posted in cyberspace.

“She is giving raw proof,” another student offered, “that we are slaves to our society.”

Instead of being a distraction — an electronic version of note-passing — the chatter echoed and fed into the main discourse, said Mrs. Olson, who monitored the stream and tried to absorb it into the lesson. She and others say social media, once kept outside the school door, can entice students who rarely raise a hand to express themselves via a medium they find as natural as breathing… More

Other articles covering this same topic can be found at Spotlight,, News in Sydney, Gigaom

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2011 2:57 pm

    I think there’s two interesting parallel narratives going on in regards to tech in the classroom: tech as distraction and tech as enhancement. It will take more than single instructors giving social media a try to uncover the help and the harm in this new integration.

    It seems likely that some students are better able to use this social media than others are; some will be more distracted and less able to focus than others.

    That means that our key question must become: who are the students who are helped and who are the students who are hurt? If the best performing students are helped and the worst performing students hurt, then we must conclude that this new tech in the classroom is making things worse overall.

    Of course, that might not be the trend, but it seems unlikely that we would find that social media in the classroom universally helps (or at least, does no harm).

    • May 17, 2011 3:12 pm


      I agree that we don’t want to create or exacerbate an achievement gap in the classroom when using social media. I did find it intriguing to consider the shy student who does not want to comment in class, but whose digital comments will ultimately add to the conversation in meaningful ways. Hopefully someone is researching the addition of this tool in the classroom even as we discuss it in blogs and news articles.


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