Twitter's greatest contribution to information management is the humble hashtag. Previously, most social media information was organized by source. Think of how Facebook is organized around the content contributors rather than content category. But hashtags introduced a method for organizing information by type. I can search on #OnlineLearning to find all of the posts in the Twittersphere on this topic.
This ability to organize information by topic creates an opportunity to improve student learning by teaching them to organize information by type. For instance, active reading requires concept organization. When students read material, many look for facts, but they should be looking for underlying themes. Hashtags assist students in actively reading material by offering a means of organizing the themes that they identify. For instance, an instructor can establish a number of hashtags related to themes repeated across content in the course, such as #findinghome, #newdiscovery, and so on in a literature course. The instructor can then require students to post a certain number of tweets while reading each work that identify where those concepts appear. The students would begin each tweet with the hashtag of the concept that they discovered and then describe where it is found. The instructor might also want to set up a hashtag for the course itself to include in the tweet so that students can isolate course-related tweets from others that use the same hashtag in their searches, such as #NCUMedicalEthics.
Students can also be asked to search on the hashtags to learn how other students saw certain themes emerging in the work. In this way, students are teaching one another. This helps improve motivation, with students knowing that they are contributing to one another's understanding. Plus, the tweets also become a searchable repository of shared information that students can use for their research. When students find outside information, they can send a tweet with the reference in a hashtag noting its topic. This will provide students with good sources of information for their research.
Tagging outside sources also helps students develop the mindset of summarizing, organizing, and preserving the information that they find. Unfortunately, we often do not teach students how to preserve and organize information, and as a result, what they find for a class is basically lost once the class is done. But building a knowledgebase on a topic requires organizing and preserving information. When I encounter an interesting new article, I tag and preserve it using Diigo, Evernote, or another information management system. That way, when I want to write an article on a topic, I can quickly draw up all of the good information I have found on it. Students also need to start preserving the information that they find for future use, and incorporating a hashtag concept organization into a course will introduce them to the process.
Another option is to have students create their own hashtags as they go through course content or outside resources. We all know that a good way to take notes on a text is to summarize themes in the margins, essentially sketching out the argument turns in the work. Students often do not do this and so do not pick up what they should from works. Faculty members can require students to post a tweet with a hashtag that they create related to each new topic in a reading and then stating where it was found in the tweet. The mere fact that students are forced to create the tweets with hashtags by concept helps hardwire the information into their minds.
A further possibility that uses the same principle, though not public tweets, is to provide students with readings in PDF form and require them to use the commenting feature in Adobe Reader or some other PDF reader to tag the topics covered in the reading as they appear. Students are required to make the margin notes that they should and can be asked to turn in the annotated PDF with their own work. By looking at how students take notes on readings, the instructor will better understand if, and how well, students understand the readings. This can lead the instructor to make interventions such as providing information about a work or change future assignments. The tagging provides a portal into student thinking that does not come through in the final assignment.
Try hashtag organization to force better reflection and understanding by your students.