If Twitter is a classroom, what are your followers learning from you?

“I could never get people to speak up,” Professor Chakravarty said. “Everybody’s intimidated.”

“It’s clear to me,” he added, “that absent this kind of social media interaction, there are things students think about that normally they’d never say.”

Twitter and other backchannel technologies have begun to take foot in the nation’s classrooms. One of the biggest plus-factors that Twitter has going for it is its ability to increase participation and student engagement – especially among shy or average students who would otherwise defer to more boisterous or confident classmates.

Teachers and administrators who “get” Twitter are quick to point out that increased engagement leads to better academic outcomes, pure and simple. And the conversation can continue, even after class is over. There are literally hundreds of ways to use Twitter in the classroom.

But rather than pushing adoption of Twitter into the classroom, we should be thinking about bringing the classroom metaphor back to Twitter.

Think of your Twitter presence as transporting you to the front of the lecture hall. You’re talking to a diverse group of people about something they’ve signed up to hear. Some of them are eager learners – you’ll see them bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the front row, hanging on your every word. Some of them will wander in 10 minutes after class starts, take a seat in the already-crowded back row, and spend most of class surfing the web. Most of them will be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Your job is to engage all three of these groups of followers. Twitter can help you do that, but you’ve got to target your outreach appropriately. As Professor Chakravarty points out above, the biggest immediate gain may come not from the front-row loyalists but rather from the rest of the lecture hall. Give them a chance to be heard (with a poll, an open-ended question, or an encouraging reply when they bravely reach out to @ you), and you may just find them sitting a few rows closer in the metaphorical lecture hall the next day. And you may be surprised to see what they have to say!

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