Q. How can I make use of Twitter in my history classroom?
A. Critics have characterised social media platforms as 'the enemy in the classroom'. My school is one that has a ban on student use of social media at school; a ban that I am campaigning to overturn. I believe that a #TweetingPompeii project conducted with my Year 11 Ancient History class provides strong evidence that Twitter can be a powerful learning tool. According to @margokingston1, Twitter has "…become the labour and delivery room for information". Certainly, I recall first learning about the death of Mandela on Twitter. An event such as the destruction of Pompeii would surely have been the breaking news of the day. So, what if the citizens had used Twitter to deliver this news? However, before journeying into this uncharted territory, I had two genuine concerns to address. Firstly, I needed to ensure that the project would be conducted in a student safe environment. Further, I needed to ensure that it became an authentic learning experience. I began by creating a class account using the name Gaius Plinius (Yes, Pliny the Younger) I also established a range of characters for what would become an extended historical role-play. Each student then set up an account in the name of their role; Stephanus the Fuller, Modestus the Baker, Celer the Slave and more. These characters were either known figures from Pompeii or plausible historical inventions. With an ancient name and the hashtag #TweetingPompeii the students could protect their real world identity. I provided each character with a number of details and resources, including an address in Pompeii and a specific artifact. The students were given time to conduct further research but I also asked them to spend time considering how their character, given their background, might react on the day. The project was then conducted across three lessons on consecutive days in order to correspond to August 23-25 of the year 79. To create the sense of immediacy I prepared a series of unseen Pliny tweets relating events across the day. I am delighted to add that we created a great deal of online buzz. Amongst those that followed were other classrooms, universities, museums, authors and even field archaeologists. As their subsequent examination revealed, the students learned a great deal by 'being there'. They seriously enjoyed receiving outside feedback: "Congratulations @connectedtchr and the whole Yr 11 group- Brilliant tweets of the cities' destruction across society. We loved following!"(@NicholsonMuseum, March 19). Only enough space left now for a shameless plug. Yes, there will be an iBook with all the instructions and resources included; watch for it later this year. Twitter can be an engaging tool within your History classroom, give it a go. Simon McKenzie is learning technologies coordinator at Aquinas College, Queensland. Follow him on Twitter @connectedtchr