UM-Flint Professor Uses Twitter to Teach About Writing

Can tweeting teach us something about good writing? Dr. James Schirmer, assistant professor of English at UM-Flint thinks so. In fact, this semester he’s assigned his two English 112 classes with creating and sustaining conversation by maintaining an active presence on Twitter for a minimum of four weeks.


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He explains, “There are a great number of ways of writing and Twitter is a new one (kind of). Perhaps Twitter can help us learn better clarity and concision. Furthermore, employers in a variety of fields and industries are interested in hiring employees who are social media savvy. Knowing how to use Twitter could very well help you get a job someday soon. I’m also curious, though, to see if using Twitter changes the culture or society of the class in any appreciable way.”

At the beginning of the semester, students were provided with a class-specific hashtag (#eng112) to track classmates’ tweets. Dr. Schirmer was also readily available for students via Twitter (@betajames). And at the end of the four weeks, students blogged about the experience, evaluating their use of Twitter and determining as a class whether the project should continue.

Evaluations from students can be found on Dr. Schirmer’s ENG 112 Posterous blog. Most students embraced the Twitter assignment, and some expressed a desire for more class-related interaction from their peers. In the end, both classes elected to continue using Twitter, with modification to the requirements. Dr. Schirmer says, “The most interesting change is that now class days (Tuesday and Thursday) are ‘tweet heavy’ days. There’s no longer a weekly requirement, but all students are expected to engage each other on Twitter on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the rest of the semester.”

As far as Twitter’s influence on good writing, one English 112 student wrote, “…I feel that Twitter is allowing me to find a way to get closer to my point than normal writing has. Since we are only allowed 140 characters per ‘tweet’ we are made to get to what we are trying to say in fewer words. … I feel it has had some effect on [my writing style] because I am paying more attention to not just the quality of my writing, but how long it is taking me to get my point across.”

Alaina Wiens

New Media Communications Specialist