Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Teaching diplomacy with Twitter?!

Katharina Hone, "Teaching diplomacy with Twitter?!"

Image from, with observation: The CIA’s first tweet was a “tweet heard round the world” as it attracted much media attention.

New information and communication technology (ICT) not only changes the practice of diplomacy, it also can, and should, influence how we teach diplomacy, and in particular public diplomacy. In June, I attended the annual conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA) and was inspired by a panel on Teaching with Twitter. I use the insights shared there and some of my own reflections to make the case for including Twitter in teaching public diplomacy.

In doing so, it’s important to address the position of the sceptics. Why would we consider Twitter for teaching in the first place? The first panellist, Jenny Mathers (Aberystwyth University) gave a succinct answer. She argued that Twitter allows us to continue the conversation from the classroom and engage participants in a different format. Twitter is a great tool for gathering as well as sharing news. Participants develop social media contacts and can interact with practitioners.
Taking this a step further, Twitter allows for breaking the barrier between teaching, research, and active engagement. Mark Shanahan (Reading University) emphasised this ‘learning by inquiry’ approach. In his classroom, he uses Twitter to engage candidates in US elections. Their responses become part of the class discussion and offer material for further research. Similarly, Jack Holland (University of Leeds) emphasised this synthesis of teaching and research that can be achieved by bringing Twitter into the classroom.
Steven Curtis (London Metropolitan University) shared ideas for integrating Twitter in the classroom through research-focused activities. These include: assessing the content of tweets, compiling and curating tweets, shadowing Twitter users, critically analysing the use of Twitter, and applying big data analytical tools.
Developing this further, here are three steps, three guides, and three tools for using Twitter in the classroom.

Three steps

Based on the insights shared at the BISA panel, there are three specific steps that can be taken to begin teaching with Twitter.
The first and most important step is learning to use it. This includes learning
  • how to create and maintain a profile.,
  • how to find and curate useful information.
  • how to connect and debate on Twitter.
The second step is to engage practitioners directly and in relation to current events – an election, a crisis, or pressing foreign policy developments.
A third step can take the form of using Twitter for research. Much can be learned about the practice of public diplomacy through analysing tweet content, hashtag use, and Twitter networks. Best practices as well as pitfalls become obvious and can enrich the practice of the students themselves. Similarly, students are enabled to use Twitter for research. More advanced research can move away from only looking at content and begin to focus on the relations and interactions between Twitter users.

Three guides

There are many guides on how to use Twitter, from the very general introduction to advice on using Twitter for business success. Here, I suggest one general introduction and two guides for using Twitter in higher-education settings.
  • The first is a basic introduction to Twitter that guides you from setting up your account to creating your first tweet.
  • This introduction by Jack Holland describes how to begin using Twitter for higher-education teaching. After outlining the basics, he focuses on connecting participants from the same class and across higher education institutions through the use of hashtags.
  • This guide from the LSE Public Policy Group, written by Amy Mollett, Danielle Moran, and Patrick Dunleavy, looks at ‘Using Twitter in University research, teaching and impact activities’. It walks the reader through setting up the account, basic terminology, and tweeting styles. It then moves on to suggestions on how to use it for teaching and research.

Three tools

There are plenty of tools to begin curating and researching Twitter. For beginners, I suggest the fist two as starting points; the third is more advanced.
  • Storify lets you curate Twitter content by searching for users or hashtags and assembling results into a story. I find storify great because it creates visually compelling storylines that can be saved and shared with others.
  • Chorus Project  describes itself as ‘a free, evolving, data harvesting and visual analytics suite designed to facilitate and enable social science research using Twitter data’. I have not tested it yet, but it was recommended by Steven Curtis.
  • Collective Action and Social Media Lab offers more tools for the analysis of Twitter. Here, things get more technical. These are great tools but they will require practice.
I am grateful to the speakers of the BISA panel Teaching with Twitter: Dr Jenny Mathers, Dr Mark Shanahan, Dr Jack Holland, and Mr Steven Curtis for sharing their insights and experience. Special thanks to Mr Curtis for putting the panel together under the BISA Learning and Teaching Working Group and for continuing the conversation with me.

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