Twitter is often heralded as the new golden tool of interactive education which is a must for any lecturer in the 21st century.

I must admit I have dipped in and out of Twitter over the past few years but since using it with my first year SHU students I am thoroughly addicted once more. I introduced Twitter to the students as part of their online journalism module Writing the Message Online in January 2011 in the vague hope that they would embrace it and use it to communicate, collaborate and engage one another. And to my surprise it worked.

It took a month or two to take off and for students to remember to use the course #msg11 hashtag but now I am seeing a regularly stream of messages everyday. The first few weeks it was rather embarrassing as just myself and one other staff member put out our lonely tweets but now the scenery has changed. OK so not all 70 students are active tweeters but there is a core of about 20+ who promote their blogs, link to interesting stories, argue about stealing ideas, update their social status and even chat to me.

In fact the nicest element has been the amount of interaction I have had with students. Not only can I give them instant and rolling feedback on their blogs, which are part of their marked assessment, but all the other students can see these remarks and therefore I can give collective advice. I also get students tweeting me questions if there is a problem with the timetable or they are stuck with coming up for an idea for an assignment. There is also a bit of mild mannered banter with me asking students why they weren’t in lectures or seminars, or asking if I can use them as examples in lectures. It can be useful for formal information sharing and for building good relationships. They even sometimes comment on my blog.

It is the most communication I have ever had with a group of students and I hope they have gained from it too. They seem to enjoy Twitter and one commented the other day that they now use it far more than Facebook. This is something I have also noticed as the module Facebook page which initially got some likes and comments is now getting less response as it seems to have shifted onto Twitter.

The live, real time nature on Twitter along with its openness also make it a great tool for using in seminars, as I discovered this week when I set up a live-blogging competition between students. Groups competed for the coveted prize of a box of chocolate muffins and got hugely competitive, tweeting away their findings on breaking news stories. With a live Hootsuite feed on the plasma screen and me keeping score on the whiteboard it turned out to be “the best seminar” according to some students. Although perhaps they were biased as they were on the winning team.

Even on a non-online course I would encourage using Twitter as university social-type networks (Blackboard, uSpace, MyCourse) can be clunky and unpopular with no link to the outside world. The beauty of Twitter is that students can follow their lecturers but also football stars, TV pundits, journalists, politicians etc. For those still unsure I would urge you to give it a go, I guarantee you will soon become hooked.

And I am by no means a wishy washy lecturer who wants to be my students friend, but I do think treating them like adults and having a normal non-university related chat with them every now and then helps to get the best out of everyone.

Do you agree?