I was a relative late-comer to Twitter: I set up a personal account in 2011 really just to see what all the fuss was about. Reading tweets from celebrities and comedians was of limited interest to me personally but it was through following newspapers, journalists and current affairs programmes that I realised just how many stories I came across that were directly relevant to my geography students.
I was aware that schools used Twitter accounts for academic, as well as marketing, purposes and I was keen to set one up for my geography department. I wrote a proposal to take to the Headmaster and the SMT which outlined the aims of a departmental account as well as the practicalities and issues such as online security.
I would recommend doing this to anyone thinking of setting up a department Twitter account: it will help you to crystallise your ideas and to foresee any potential difficulties that may arise. Your school will have an ICT policy, so you will want to refer to that and, of course, e-safety should be at the front of your mind.
I will focus here on how the use of Twitter can enhance teaching and learning of geography.
The main aims of my departmental Twitter feed are as follows:
- To encourage wider reading
Like it or not, many students are far more likely to read material online and on a mobile device than buy a newspaper or go to the library to take out a book. If using Twitter is a way of getting geographers to read more widely then I feel this must be a good thing. Tweets can be a valuable resource and serve to supplement knowledge gained in lessons. Students are also able to see the subject in new contexts and this may well stimulate their interest in geography beyond the curriculum/exam specifications. Twitter is great for the curious mind.
2. To help students keep knowledge up to date and track developments in case studies
I have found Twitter useful when beginning to teach the topic of Health Issues for the AQA AS specification: pupils are required to have an understanding of “health in world affairs” and so I set them a research task for homework where they made notes under that heading. A number of them found Twitter a helpful tool that guided their research so they were quickly able to identify current examples of the role of health in world affairs. A search using the hash tags #healthissues, #health and #aqahealth, as well as health-related Twitter accounts such @WHO (World Health Organization), highlighted articles on Ebola, HIV, type two diabetes and ways to tackle smoking in different parts of the world, for example.
Well-researched case studies found in text books and other publications are fundamental to geography: links to newspaper articles that appear in tweets cannot, and should not, replace these. However, Twitter can allow your students to keep pace with geographical developments and to learn further examples, beyond those discussed in the classroom.
3. To promote pupils’ work
What better way to share excellent work with other departments, your head teacher, parents and a wider audience? Both students and teachers find taking photographs of a great piece of work and showing them off via Twitter rewarding. If I tell the students their work may feature on the Twitter feed it seems to generate excitement and many of them take extra care over their work.
4. To recognise the practical applications of geography
University departments, professional bodies such as the Geographical Association (@The_GA) and the Royal Geographical Society (@RSG_IBG), and plenty of other organisations linked to geography (like the Office for National Statistics, @ONS, and the Met Office, @metoffice) have a presence on Twitter. Not only will retweeting from these accounts help you keep abreast of developments in the subject, but students will get to see the potential of geography in terms of academic pursuits and careers.
5. To publicise events and trips
Twitter is a useful way to show followers what exciting trips and events go on in the department. Tweets can serve to spread the word about term highlights and generate interest. Personally, I do not use Twitter to carry out any trip/event admin as not all students have Twitter accounts and I want to keep the organisation side of things more formal.
Each of these aims helps raise the profile of the geography department within the school and beyond.
So, I set up @ksggeog in March 2013 and have found it an interesting and useful tool which enhances my teaching and pupil learning. If I am honest, I have not got as many student followers as I would have hoped, but I think that this will increase over time. I certainly will not force any of my students to follow the account! A good way of allowing those without accounts to view your tweets is by inserting an RSS feed onto your departmental website or VLE. It is important that students who do not want to have an account do not lose out on resources so I would not set work or send out revision materials solely via Twitter, for example.
If you are new to Twitter a basic “how to set up an account” can be found here. If you would like to explore using Twitter for educational purposes, this website from Edudemic (an online education website based in the USA) is very useful. There are, of course, a host of such websites offering tips, so doing some research is certainly worthwhile.
Rebecca Veals undertook her PGCE at the Institute of Education, and went on to her first job at Eltham College in London, where she spent four years. She is now Head of Geography at The King’s School, in Gloucester, a position which she has held since 2010.