Twitter in education: Practical solutions

We talked at EDB about using twitter with students: the benefits, the drawbacks, the logistics – including the 48 hours of twitter assignment that Karen Russell and Kaye Sweetser use. One logistical issue was to help the students find and follow each other among the professor’s long list of followers. Karen Russell solved this problem by getting a new account to use with her class. However, one thing I like about twitter is the help I sometimes get from other people who jump in the class discussion. Creating a new account would make it impossible for my students to meet my twitter community.

Here are the 2 solutions I found, and I document them here so other instructors can use them (and so I don’t forget them!).

1) – ask students to use a specific number (or other set of characters) as part of their twitter user names. For example, the course number, or any other random number. Then, they can scroll through the list of followers and follow all the other people whose user names contain that number. This works well, but sometimes students dislike interfering with their freedom to create a user name they like. The second solution solves this problem, too:

2) – e-mail students a distinct, clearly different image that your other followers are unlikely to use and ask all students to upload that image as their twitter icon. Instruct students to scroll through your list of followers and follow all the people identified by that particular image. After the students have identified and followed all the other class members, they can upload their own photo to their twitter profile.

Another challenge is to keep track of a conversation students carry on a particular topic. Their tweets might get lost among the tweets of others you’re following. Ask your student to use hashtags (#) followed by a specific code so that Twemes will collect all (in theory, at least) the posts on that topic. For example, we discussed symbolic interactionism in my Communication Theory class and marked all tweets about it with #si. You can see the resulting conversation indexed on twemes. I noticed Twemes didn’t pick up ALL students’ posts, so I wouldn’t rely on it to assign participation points, at least not yet.

Do you have other practical solutions or ideas for using twitter in higher education? Please share them in the comments!

Need more on twitter? Here are some of my favorite links:

Recommendation letters and references

I’ve had some conversations with students lately and I noticed they know very little about recommendation letters. In the spirit of transparency, I thought I’d provide some information that can help students make the best decision about asking for recommendations and references.

What goes into a recommendation letter?

When I write a rec. letter, I’m expected to mention how long I’ve known the student and in what capacity. Hint: If I don’t know you well enough (i.e. you haven’t taken a class with me, you haven’t worked closely with me on PRSSA or something similar), it’s best not to ask for a letter.

Next, I’m expected to explain why I recommend the student. What are the student’s demonstrated abilities that make her/him right for the job? By demonstrated abilities, this means that I have to support my claims with specific examples from your performance. This often involves talking about your assignments and class performance. In fact, Clemson now requires you fill out a FERPA waiver* stating you allow me to discuss this confidential information in the letter. Hint: If you haven’t performed very well in my class, it’s in your best interest not to ask me for a letter.

Often, I’m expected to rank you among my other students. For example, I can state that “this student was in the top 1% of her class” or “in the top 5% of students I’ve ever worked with.” Hint: Ask for a recommendation from a professor who can rank you (very) high.

What should you send me along with your request for a letter?

First, think about who can give you a great recommendation based on your great performance. If you ask me for a letter but you’ve not done great in my class, you put both of us in an awkward position. I usually avoid to write letters if I can’t say that I highly recommend you for a position, without any reservations.

Second, contact the person and ask if they could write you a letter by a certain date. Or, ask if they agree to be listed as a reference. Never, ever list someone as a reference without getting their approval first! If they do agree, then:

Third, send a formal request including the items in the FERPA waiver*. Attach a current resume and the information about the position you’re applying for. Include a firm deadline by which the letter needs to be received (no, that cannot be “tomorrow” – it should be at least one week).

If you’re an employer and you read this, can you help out? What do you look for in recommendation letters professors write for their students?

FERPA waiver*

Your request for a recommendation letter should include the following information (which you can type in the body of an email):


I, _______, am currently or have been a student at Clemson University. I hereby give Clemson University permission to disclose the following student education records under the following conditions:

1. Student Education Records to be disclosed:

2. Person or entity to which the above-referenced Student Education Records can be disclosed:

3. Purpose for which the Student Education Records can be disclosed:

4. This permission to disclose Student Education Records will remain in effect until _______________

Student Name

Student Signature


Edelman Digital Bootcamp

I’m live-blogging EDB, look for several updates throughout the day.

Other EDB updates: twitter, EDB website & blog

Session 1 – Social Media 101

Erin Caldwell kicks off the day with her personal story. As an Auburn student, she became familiar with the PR blogosphere (see this blog’s blog roll for a start), she started the Forward Blog and built her reputation online. Edelman contacted her and by the time she interviewed, they pretty much knew they wanted to hire her. Being able to use social media & building your professional reputation online can help you get a job in public relations, whether you want to practice online or offline PR.

Team Edelman introductions and personal stories about social media a-ha moments. Different stories, different people, with technology backgrounds varying from tech guru to “barely able to turn on a computer” – but all share passion, curiosity, and love for their work [9:05 am].

Who’s here from Edelman: Chris Broomall, Erin Caldwell, Steven Field, Phil Gomes, Jena Kozel, Monte Lutz, Stephanie Wasilik. Bios here.

Educators’ track

Session 2: How PR practice uses social media

PR educators introduce themselves and talk about: helping students establish connections between social and professional uses of social media; motivating students to learn social media; disparity between expectations (students know all about social media) and reality (students are not familiar and even intimidated by new communication technologies – RSS what?!) [9:50].

Phil Gomes provides the big picture of current social media use in PR.

Phil saw blogging as the ultimate media relations tool – you can demonstrate journalists that you’ve read them, and have reacted to their work.

Don’t think of it as a technology problem; the technology in social media is easy to learn.

Phil describes his approach to teaching social media in the Chicago T4 lab. They spend one day immersed in online conversation analysis. Phil doesn’t believe in teaching products, so he teaches his students to use free tools to analyze existing conversations about a client. Tools you can use: bloglines, technorati, alexa, blogpulse, etc.

Job description for an entry PR job (assistant account executive):

  • administration
  • coverage + conversation tracking
  • list building + community & member-list generation
  • editorial/speaking calendar building + identifying client conversation-entry opportunities
  • list & opportunity qualifications + deep-dive analysis
  • team knowledge mgmt
  • AP + web style
  • etc. [10:20]

Phil loves the advanced search in technorati that identifies all links to a specific URL. For example see who links to this blog.

What Phil looks for in a job candidate:

  • intellectual curiosity
  • up-managing skills (free of CLM -career limiting moves-)
  • an examined, omnivorous media consumption life (facebook or myspace? why? WSJ or NYT? why?)
  • basic knowledge of social media tools

== Tired : Pitching :: Wired : Engagement ==

Don’t write self-referential posts (what I did/wore today) – be useful.


The ideal job candidate would have:


  • perspective; understanding of online communities – Phil loves this Wired article
  • good online writing skills: concise; interlinked
  • online law & public policy (DMCA)
  • communication, technology & society
  • critical consumption of media
  • an understanding of rules/culture of online engagement [10:40]

Session 3: Social Media Tools in the Classroom

Session 4: Social Media Assignments

Educators shared assignment ideas that make use of social media in various PR and communication courses. [4:15 pm]

Session 5: Wrap-Up – Best Practices

Students sum-up some of the lessons that stood out:

  • transparency
  • there are many free social media tools out there!
  • update your site/blog often
  • blogger relations require a different mindset

Edelman practitioners were impressed to see students taking time out of their weekend to learn these skills – there’s hope they’ll have new colleagues with the right skills set.

Phil Gomes wrapped-up the day.

Congratulations UGA students for organizing a great event! You’ve worked very hard and it definitely paid off, it was a very successful day!

[5:30 pm, signing off]