March 2014
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D. Stephanie Fuccio, MA ESL Candidate at University of Arizona. AZ, USA

This semester I am teaching two classes of first-year writing classes with international students. Similar to their American Freshman counterparts, they are very familiar with social media platforms in their home countries, like Weibo and Renren in China. However, they are, for the most part, unfamiliar with Twitter. Because of this, I knew that there would be a learning curve to using this social media tool for research later in the semester, so I decided to start the Twitter literacy tasks during the first week of class to get them ready. Thus, one of their first homework tasks was to sign up for a Twitter account and to bring comfortable shoes to the next class.

The purpose of this scavenger hunt was threefold:

  1. To familiarize students with tweeting
  2. Have them physically go to useful campus writing resources (tutors, tech support, etc)
  3. To create personalized visual material to use in our rhetorical analysis lesson

Using student-produced materials in class has worked well in the past, so I had a feeling that we could use the scavenger hunt photos a few days after to practice rhetorical analysis. By first creating these visuals (the scavenger hunt photos) and then rhetorically analyzing the circumstances surrounding them in a discussion forum activity, I hoped that the critical thinking component would be more personal and therefore more engaging. Additionally, the TESOL teacher in me has to admit that getting students physically active by incorporating reading and writing in the target language was a large part of the activity as well. This part was achieved by having all of the instructions and tweets available in English only. Lastly, students were directed to text after each photo instead of waiting until they were finished. This was done to stress the instant nature of this genre.

When students arrived in class, I gave them the following:

  1. A physical map of campus
  2. Information about the free university of Arizona app and its accompanying map function
  3. A one-page instruction sheet with the hash tag we were using, the four places to find, and a few scavenger hunt rules.

They were given 30 minutes to complete the task. All four places were relatively close to our classroom. A few days prior, I was able to visit the below four places in a 20-minute test walk:

  1. Tutoring: the writing skills improvement program
  2. Free laptop rental: fine arts library
  3. Tech help: UTIS (University Information Technology Services)
  4. Graduate teacher offices: CCIT)

Students were divided into groups of three or four, with one member assigned as the official tweeter. It was easy to keep track of group tweets when they were coming from the same person. students were instructed to go to the four places on the instruction sheet, take a photo of all group members in front of the building sign, and then tweet their photo with the given hash tag (#uawrtres—you can take a look if you wish).

Because it was the second day of class, students were asked to hold their nametags up in the photos (to which one student made a prison reference—I didn't see that coming!).

Follow-up activity
We were working on rhetorical analysis in this writing class, so we did a follow-up activity in which students rhetorically analyzed the activity and the author's intentions. We did this activity in a D2L Discussion Board. The hope was that analyzing an activity that they had done and were physically a part of (it was their faces in the photos!) would make it more engaging.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this activity. There were tech issues that I did not foresee that frustrated both the students and me. Some of their phones were fighting the twitter app and would not let them tweet the photos, although text-only tweets worked just fine. In addition, some students’ English level made this challenging in a 50-minute class period. If I were to do this again, I would spend more time with twitter setup in class, not just assign it as part of their homework. I think some students were signing up with their l2, and that made it hard to use my English language instructions.

The positive side is that even though the tweeting technical obstacles existed, students found the campus resources in the scavenger hunt. Since then, when I have referred to one of these resources in class they response has not been the usual "where is it?" but instead a look of recognition. Thus, there really should be an in-class Twitter set-up lesson before the scavenger hunt. But, even without that digital literacy training, all three learning outcomes were achieved.

In a technology class I am currently taking, another student mentioned doing a similar activity and taking it one step further by adding a component and an award component as well. This website turns twitter feeds into what looks like an online picture book. This is definitely something I will try next time I do this activity.

We have now started to use twitter for research purposes, and I look forward to writing about those lessons in a future newsletter edition. I welcome feedback or ideas on how to make this or any twitter lesson even more helpful to students.

Stephanie Fuccio spent 8 years teaching EFL overseas before returning to the United States to work on an MA TESOL. In MAY 2014 she will complete her MA and return overseas SHORTLY THEREAFTER. Her TESOL interests include CALL, MALL, L2 writing, and EAP. She welcomes feedback at LinkedIn or Twitter.

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