Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Tweeting literature

Twitter meets literary theory in ENG 290

“@Ava290 @AlPalz87 so both meaning AND gender are social constructs? #Eng290.”

“@corinne_manning @Ava290 Yeah I would say so!”

These are just a few tweets posted between students during a Tuesday morning session of  English 290: Approaches to Literature and Culture. Twitter—the short-form online social networking service—is not considered a distraction in Professor of English Paula Krebs’ classroom. In fact, she requires students to regularly write and respond to tweets as a way to engage with assigned readings and class discussions.

English 290 introduces students to literary and cultural theories, as well as topics such as authorship, readership, and cultural consumption. For Krebs, who has taught the course for 20 years, the idea of blending cutting-edge “web 2.0” technology with scholarship seemed like an effective way to foster robust learning inside and outside of the classroom.

“I wanted to make the class more interactive and less about a lecture from the front of the room,” said Krebs. To ease students into this new approach, she told them “to just tweet about what they found interesting.”

What I love about the course is that it defies the traditional boundaries.... —Andrew Dominello '14Krebs didn’t stop at Twitter in order to integrate new technology. An Academic Technology Funds grant from Wheaton enabled her to provide each of her 20 students with a Kindle e-Reader. Early in the semester, students read Coraline (a contemporary children’s book) three times using a Kindle, a physical book, and an audio book. They then blogged about how they approached reading using each medium, and how their consumption of the text differed each time.

Inside the classroom, Krebs uses a projector to show course texts and the live stream of the class’ Twitter hashtag, #Eng290. Hashtags are commonly used on Twitter to organize tweets by subject, and Krebs has found that implementing one for this course has led to “real records of what happens during classes” that serve a similar purpose as traditional class notes.

Many of Krebs’ students had never used Twitter before taking English 290. Though the experience has been rewarding for some and challenging for others, students recognize how innovative the tool can be for academic collaboration and exploration.

“At first, I was pretty skeptical about using Twitter in the classroom and I’m still getting used to it,” said Montana Rogers ’14, but she noted that, “it offers opportunities for shy people to speak out and have their thoughts heard.”

Andrew Dominello ’14 has found classroom tweeting to be “remarkably ahead of the curve,” and he believes the course’s focus on technology accurately reflects the rapidly evolving literary industry.

“What I love about the course is that it defies the traditional boundaries that many students and even faculty members believe are designated to English classes,” he said. “I’m a traditional reader, and I like to have a hardcover book in my hands. However, Professor Krebs has opened our minds to technology’s possibilities and prevalence in society. She encourages us to use a radical change that is so daunting to our advantage.”

Adara Meyers '08