The project One of the main concerns in contemporary education studies is how we empower our students? How do we show our students that they can use their voices to make change? Many different answers came up for those questions and we can say that tech was responsible for giving really good ones. Social media is a good tool to use in class, since they are a great part of almost every students lives. Among the media options out there, Twitter caught my attention for many different reasons, Silvia Tolisano often talk about why this is a good tool for teacher, only recently, after having a conversation with Mark Engstrom, who encouraged teachers to have students make a difference outside their classroom, using social media in a more impactful way, I thought about using Twitter as a communicational tool in classroom Perhaps the main obstacle to that would be how to use it in a way that either enhances learning or serves the facilitation of learning. I hope, by describing this project, to inspire and maybe collaborate with others using Twitter as an educational tool. The subject was defined from the beginning: the water crisis in São Paulo, Brazil, the city where we live. It’s something that is affecting our enormous city and has many points of comparison to the water crisis that California is experiencing now. Although many of our students aren’t suffering from this shortage in their home, they are very aware of how big is the problem and how it could affect all of us. So, our first goal was to give them voice, or better, help them find a voice in this virtual world for them to express themselves. Our second goal was to make them see Twitter as a tool for both sharing research and finding resources. I can say that both goals share one thing, which I would call a long term goal: students have to realize that social media networks, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare, Flickr, Pinterest, etc. they all can be tools used to amplify student voice.
I started by asking them to create a Twitter account and mentioning the policy about age restriction (you must be over 13 to create an account on Twitter). Surprisingly, at least for me, the majority of them didn’t have one. So they created one just for this project. Looking back, I would have asked them to think about better names for their accounts. Most of them created one that is linked to the school somehow and that might be a deterant if they want to keep using their accounts for other reasons. After that I created a hashtag, something that would be easy to associate with our school and with the topic we choose. We, the students and me, came up with #aguagraded. This is the hashtag you should follow to see how our work evolved. The next step was to give them some minimal achievements: at least 30 tweets regarding the water crisis in SP, all of them would have to use the hashtag we created; they also would have to start a dialogue with someone, it could anyone, but the topic should be about the water crisis. To help them I gave a list of the most used hashtags about the water crisis, and gave them a list of people that might have helped them: politicians, journalists, teachers from our school and anybody else that I thought could help them. They were encouraged to look for more people to talk to outside this first list I gave them. We worked on finding links, doing research, looking for people they could talk to. This was a hard job, since we had to work on their research skills. But, surprisingly, the most difficult part was to find somebody that would answer their questions or respond. The politicians they tried to reach didn’t give any reply. That made us think about why they use twitter: just as a PR tool? Why not use that to communicate with the citizens? This was one of the good discussions we had in classroom: what kind of communicational skills a 21st century leader should have? Today we are using Twitter, tomorrow it certainly will be another tool. Can this skill be taught? Because it was so hard to find somebody we could talk to, every time one of them received an answer it was a big celebration. And we did a fine job on that. Sabesp, the company that runs the water in São Paulo, answered to one of our students:
This particular student post a link to a report about how, during this crisis, the company had paid more than R$ 500.000,00 (U$ 200.000,00) to each one of board members and, at the same time, they raised the water bill. In his answer, the company posted a link to the official note they distributed.
This is a list of the things I learned showing my students how to advocate using twitter:
Students know what to do when they have voice. We don’t need to teach them that.
Alternative tools can enhance students creativity. Take a look at this student who thought she could use the 140 characters (which is the limit set by Twitter) in a more effective way by using a screenshot, and leaving the 140 characters to reach more people and hashtags:
Digital Activism is an important literacy for 21st century. Teachers must know how to use social media in order to teach this literacy. It is more impactful for the students if the teacher actively uses the digital tool.
Twitter can be a very powerful communicative tool for students. We need to show them that, so they can be prepared to migrate to the new tools that will appear in the future.
It’s not that hard to make a difference in the world. If we teach students how to make small changes now, they will be better prepared for the future
If you want to join us on Twitter, we are still working with the hashtag #aguagraded. Most tweets are in Portuguese but students can communicate in English. Here is a Checklist if you are thinking about using twitter in the classroom. And if you are a teacher considering doing a similar project, here is the rubric, in Portuguese, to assess my students. Feel free to contact me with any questions or to share your own Twitter journey with you students.