Reaching Millennial Students: Strategies for Using Twitter in High School and College Communication Classrooms

By Jennifer T. Edwards
Tarleton State University


This article provides several strategies for high school and college educators who are interested in incorporating Twitter in their classrooms. Through this article, readers will discover how to: a) use Twitter to disseminate information to students/parents/community members, b) build professional relationships with students through Twitter, c) connect with companies/educational institutions/non-profit institutions through Twitter, and d) engage students in the classroom environment via Twitter.

Twitter and High School/Higher Education Classrooms, a micro blogging website, enables users to post messages in 140 characters or less (Helvie-Mason & Edwards, 2010). Through the website and various computer/mobile phone applications, Twitter users send messages based on their current thoughts or experiences. This website enables people to sign up for the service, create a profile, follow others, gain followers, and send tweets (short messages of 140 words or less) on the twitter website. Most users usually send tweets related to what they are thinking or doing at a particular time. Twitter users have the option to keep their profile and tweets public (which enables anyone to read their messages) or to make their profile and tweets private (viewable only by followers).

High school educators are optimistic that they can use Twitter to engage the students in their classroom and their high schools (Manzo, 2009). College educators usually incorporate Twitter in their physical and virtual classrooms to engage students in the classrooms and to establish an increased form of social presence with their students (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2009).Twitter enables college educator to become “actual people” in the eyes of their students by simply keeping the students informed of a professor’s day-to-day activities. This social media also enables educators to have a glimpse into their students’ lives to see how the student is transitioning to the college environment and how the student is reacting to a certain assignment. This informal interaction between professor and student is one aspect of increasing student engagement and social presence in online and face-to-face environments (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2009).

Millennial Generation: High School and College Students

Born between 1982 and 2002, millennial students comprise a majority of high school and college classrooms in the United States (Howe & Strauss, 2000). Students from the millennial generation are accustomed to working together using innovative technologies (Howe & Strauss, 2007). According to Stapleton, Wen, Starrett, and Kilburn (2007), millennial students grew up with widespread access to technology, use a variety of IT devices, are more visually literate than previous generations, and are more likely to use the Internet for research than the library.

In addition to their grasp on technology, millennial college students are virtually connected with others. These students have lived in a technologically connected world in which they utilize a range of digital devices to maintain communication with others. These students are also focused on immediacy and expect to send/receive messages synchronously. Therefore, social media websites may be important to millennial students in high school and college. As a result, many high school and college educators are striving to find ways to use Twitter in their classrooms (Weed, 2009). The following section provides suggestions for educators who are interested in using Twitter to engage their students.

Using Twitter to Disseminate Information to Students/Parents/Community Members

1. High school and college educators can use Twitter to remind students of homework assignments, upcoming examinations, and other pertinent information.

2. High school educators can communicate with their students’ parents and members of the community by keeping them informed of curriculum updates, items they need in their classrooms, service learning events, and other pertinent information.

3. College educators can communicate with members of the online scholarly community to disseminate undergraduate and graduate student research endeavors, service learning activities, conferences, and other pertinent information.

Building Professional Relationships with Students through Twitter

1. High school and college educators can create personal/professional Twitter accounts which enables them to post daily/weekly tweets on their lives outside of work (in a professional nature). This small effort enables educators to establish themselves as “actual people” in the eyes of their students.

2. High school and college educators can view their students’ updates to gauge their reactions to certain assignments and activities. Students usually post candid tweets pertaining to the classroom environment.

3. High school and college educators can post a sample study plan for examinations and instantaneously respond to students’ questions related to upcoming examinations.

4. High school and college educators conduct an informal poll to discover the most important concepts from classroom lectures and small group discussions.

Using Twitter to Connect with Companies/Educational Institutions/Non-Profit Institutions

1. High school educators can have students follow undergraduate institutions and university educators can have students follow graduate/professional institutions for which they are interested in attending. This activity can provide students with a glimpse into the higher education environment of their selected institution(s) and can provide students an opportunity to connect with higher education recruiting personnel.

2. High school and college educators can have their classroom twitter accounts follow museums, zoos, hospitals, etc. to discover new exhibits and to view minute-to-minute updates on such events as births as zoos, surgeries at hospitals, and the creation of new art exhibits.

Using Twitter to Engage Students in the Classroom Environment

1. High school and college educators can create and post a twitter widget on the screen while teaching a lesson in the classroom. Have students post tweets to respond to open-ended questions related to the classroom lesson.

2. High school and college educators can use tweets on a particular subject as writing prompts or impromptu speech topics.

3. High school and college educators who teach the same subject area can pair with other educators who are interested in teaching similar content on the same day. Through a shared hashtag (i.e. - #texasspeechclass) on the twitter website, these classrooms can view one another’s tweets in real-time.

4. College educators can assign Twitter interviews through which they would connect with national or local celebrities through this social networking website to conduct virtual interviews.

5. High school and college educators can provide their students with opportunities to connect with authors, writers, scientists, selected professionals, or speakers by providing their students synchronous interview sessions in class. The students can view minute-to-minute updates through hashtags on twitter.

6. High school and college educators can show minute-to-minute twitter updates from state/local government speeches and debates and current events (i.e. Olympics, national/international disasters) to students in their classrooms.

Final Items in Consider When Using Twitter in the Classroom

High school and college educators have several items to consider when using Twitter in their classrooms. These educators should actively screen tweets before revealing them to students, periodically save tweets, and become aware of district/university policies regarding social media. One strategy of protecting classrooms against potential problems on Twitter is actively screening tweets before revealing them to students. For example, if the educator decides to show tweets through a digital projector, he or she should use the “blank/pic mute” button on their digital projector remote. This enables the educator to view the tweets before revealing them to students. Educators can also benefit from saving tweets to their computer by printing the tweets or saving them to a PDF file. Sometimes, business and non-profit accounts delete tweets after a certain amount of time and educators may find some of the older tweets are beneficial to their classrooms. Educators should also become aware of school district and university policies regarding social media. Some school districts block the social media website and some high school educators may need to ask for permission to access the website.

Overall, Twitter can offer many benefits to educators and students. Educators can use the suggestions in this article to reach millennial students by using Twitter, a type of social media.


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