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Using Twitter for Class Reading and Participation

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Instead of required blog posts or reading quizzes, I require my students to interact with each week's reading and each other by "live-tweeting" their reading process. This VERY informal method of participation takes lots of the pressure off of their responses and encourages them to engage more with the class texts. 

Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Literature: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Class participation, class interaction, promoting discussion. 

Required Materials: 

The participation assignment requires each student to either create a twitter account or to use an exisiting one; to show them how to do this there should be some available computer (ideally with an overhead projector). After the first day, though, most of the technological interaction will take place outside of class. 

Full Assignment Description: 

On the first day/week of class, I introduced the concept of reading participation, a way to show that every student is reading the course texts and thinking about them. I went through previous attempts to gague the student engagement, including pop quizzes (cue groans). I then announced that this semester I was going to try something different, and require students to live-tweet their reading process. This amounts to each student creating or using a twitter account to post responses to and questions about each week's reading. I explained that although I will read the tweets, my interaction will be minimal; twitter is to be a space for the students to feel free to express whatever, and to interact with each other. I emphasized that it is fine, even encouraged, to express superficial, banal, or even "stupid" reactions to the reading, as long as there are occasional thought-out and perceptive observations. I let them know that I expect around 3 substantial tweets a week (see instructions below), but that they should feel free to do many more. I also emphasized that, if they choose to use a personal account, I have no interest in invading their privacy or reading their personal tweets. To allow for some privacy, I do not follow students, but will instead check the class #hashtag every week. We came up with our class hashtag (ours was #disgustE314), and I told them to make sure to tag every post with it so I could see them all in one feed. Since we were in a compter classroom, I then gave the class a few minutes to log in or set up twitter accounts, encouraging the twitter-experienced students to help out the newbies. I had everyone send their first tweet with the hashtag, and that was that. Since then I have opened class by addressing one or two questions or comments from twitter, to show that I have been reading, and we have occasionally used a twitter question as a discussion starter. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

First, be familiar with twitter and create an instructor account for this class/other professional uses. 

Instructions For Students: 

Twitter: For participation and preparation for this class you will be expected to use twitteroutside the classroom. To do this you can use your personal twitter or create a new account; to respect your privacy I will not follow anyone. For me to see your tweets, be sure to mention me and/or use the class hashtag. I will expect a general output of around 3 tweets a week for this class; in general one of those tweets should be an interpretive question about the reading, and one should respond to another classmate. I will occasionally use student tweets to begin discussion on the week's reading, so be sure to have something before class begins. I understand that the semester can get very busy, and will allow you to miss a week or so, but expect consistent and engaged participation with the texts and class outside of class. If you choose to "livetweet" your reading process, all the better. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

My evaluation thus far has been very general, even abstract. I read the twitter feed at least once a week, and make a few notes of students who are making particularly insightful comments, and also noting anyone who isn't posting. Like most "participation" grades, I expect my process at the end to be very impressionistic and generous to those students who contribute. I also try to give individual students answers or feedback in class to reward more active participation. 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

So far I would say that twitter participation has been high and relatively engaged. Since I require students to tweet at each other, I hope to create more of a personal class community in the classroom. This is my first semester using this assignment, though, so it won't be for a while that I see long-term results. I may very well write a blog post about this later in the semester. 

Course Description: 

In this course we will examine books that have been banned in England and America for "graphic" or "explicit" content. What has offended in these texts is (supposedly) not distasteful political or religious sensibilities, but instead a depiction of that which "should not be shown": usually sex, violence, or depravity. This sort of literature raises interesting questions about the role of disgust (or horror) in literature. Are there acts, events, or cultures that should not be shown? Is disgust purely a negative reaction, or might it yield positive results? Is explicit material worth defending for its own sake (see, for example, the recent controversy over The Human Centipede 2 in Britain), or must it be serving some other artistic, political, or religious purpose? Does what an era finds disgusting reveal something about the culture's changing sensibilities?


Charting violent, sexual, and gory literature from the sixteenth century to today, we will examine both the thematic uses of explicit literature as well as reactions to it. In doing so, we will discuss the disgusting, the horrific, and the graphic as both a literary motif and a point of tension within a culture.

This course will combine close reading of primary sources with the study of secondary critical essays in order to understand how the historical and cultural contexts surrounding these works (and the controversies they sparked) relate to their formal characteristics as literary artifacts. In the process, students will also learn how to use library databases including such as the online Oxford English Dictionary as well as other resources essential to literary study.

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