This is the fifth installment of a monthly series showcasing innovative teaching practices in the Department of Hispanic Studies and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.
In her second-year German conversation course, Dr. Anne Reitz, Lecturer in German in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages, utilized the microblogging tool Twitter to encourage student interaction outside of class. Since the class, which meets once a week, is focused on oral skill development, there are no reading or writing assignments. This presents a challenge: how to get students to continue to practice German conversation outside of normal class hours? Dr. Reitz hoped that Twitter would provide the students with an accessible, easy platform to engage with each other and the German-speaking world in an informal way.
About the Activity
Dr. Reitz and her students each created their own Twitter account, if they didn’t have one already, using either their real identity or an alter ego (Dr. Reitz, for example, named her account after a fictional character known to German speakers). Each week, they were required to tweet at least twice, but they could choose the format and content of their tweet according to their own interests: a short observation, a joke, a link to a German video or song, etc. Students were free to respond to each other, which they frequently did, sending each other supportive messages and responses. Since the purpose of the activity was to communicate in German, spelling and grammar were not corrected.
Dr. Reitz found that there was a range of Twitter styles within her group. Seasoned Twitter users tended to not tweet in German much (opting instead to post photos or quick comments from their daily lives), while new users’ productivity varied. Some of these students exploited the medium, seeking out and retweeting imaginative German memes and links. For them, Twitter afforded them access to the German world–access which they might not have otherwise enjoyed and shared with their classmates. And interestingly, age and social media savvy did not appear to have a relationship to Twitter productivity.
In the future, Dr. Reitz intends to continue using Twitter, but plans to modify her use of the tool by counting tweets as extra credit, or sending students automatically generated weekly reminders to keep up with their tweeting. She sees the value of Twitter as a way to increase students’ contact with the German-speaking world, outside of the classroom.