I am sorry, but I am really not for the use of twitter in my teaching. Although my eyes have been opened to its potential uses as a learning tool, I feel that the cost of using it in a classroom that teaches evolutionary biology far outweighs the benefits. And because I am a list person be prepared!
1) 140 characters. I will admit that this does ensure that the posts are concise and thought out (you can’t just go on a ramble like you can in a blog) as well as having the added benefit that they are simple and not very time consuming to read (who wants to read the 3 page post of a student or professor?). This would be great to ask a question or post an opinion (as was shown in the video in class). However, can I really answer a question in 140 characters? For instance if a student asks me for the phylogenetic tree of cervids (deer) the best I could do would be to give them an image or a link to another page. Or what if they asked about what exactly is operant conditioning? That would take a good 2 paragraphs of text to explain in the simplest detail.
2) That is another issue that I have with answering questions via electronics (email or blog posting or even facebook): it takes more time and energy to type it out then it would be to answer it in person. And yes I could just give them a link, but this is only teaching students to be lazy and not to engage their minds and learn to find out things on their own. As teachers we are not there to just give them the answers, we are there to show them how to think or how to find information. I would rather take the time to show them how to properly browse through articles or google to find what they are looking for.
3) Having students ask questions via twitter during class does aid for those that are too shy to ask a question and enable a class of 300 to be able to ask a question. However, at least one TA must be hired for the sole purpose of answering these questions (possibly more if too many questions are coming in at once). I also fear that the continual texting will distract students and cause them to miss vital parts of the lecture. Also if the class is small and this method is used, I fear that this is only breeding and environment of slothfulness. There is something to be said about raising your hand and asking a question. It builds self-esteem and gets the student familiar with public speaking.
4) I do believe that I might employ another form of technology to help with answering questions within the class. I saw one of the biology teachers repeatedly do clicker surveys in her lectures. These enabled her to see if a majority of the class understood the material and could cover it in another way if they did not understand. I do believe that a shorter feedback loop is necessary to improve teaching and keep the students engaged. However, I don’t think this has to be instantaneous, but occasionally doing a clicker survey would enable the teacher to adjust her teaching halfway or quarter way through her lectures. This would also make the students feel that they were being heard without the necessity of having a TA answering their twitter questions (which might still foster this ‘the teacher doesn’t notice/care about me’ attitude since it isn’t the teacher answering them).
5) Although the video from Grey’s Anatomy showed a fascinating use of twitter, I do not believe that this instantaneous feedback is necessary outside of class. I cannot for the life of me think of a question that would require an immediate answer. Not to mention that a platform like twitter has little to no moderation and the people answering can be from anywhere and little to no credentials. That means that students could be getting incorrect answers (unlike on a blog which can moderate the comments and posts). I will say that I have changed my mind on using facebook though. By having a private group only for the class and seeing who is posting allows the students to help each other but also realize that they could give incorrect answers.
6) When I go to a site like facebook (or twitter, but I don’t have experience using this site) I could very well use it for an academic or professional reason. I remember when facebook first came out and it enabled me to connect with friends in my classes and across other schools. However now, when you mention facebook I think about games and memes. I primarily use facebook to look at memes or play games, and I fear that this may prove too great a temptation for students. While they may initially log on to ask a question they then spend an hour looking up funny pictures.
Overall I do not see myself using twitter, but there is something to be said with some type of networked communication, at least on a smaller network for a classroom setting. Something like a facebook group would enable a closed and safe community for interaction outside of the classroom and a way to connect with students you may never have had the chance to even meet because the class was too large. It could foster study groups both online and in person (I’ve had instances when students wanted to get together with the people at their lab table but didn’t have their contact information). If the teacher was the creator of the group they could moderate the responses (if time allows) as well as have a continual presence within the student group. Because facebook is more widely used, it could be a better avenue of communication then blogging. And unlike a blog which although two sided is an unbalanced relationship (while students can respond, only the poster makes the original blog), a facebook group allows for equal postings from student and professor allowing students a greater say. Networking is also easier to do on facebook, and this can be beneficial for setting up the connections these students may need for after graduation.