During a recent adventure to the attic, I found a box of
old newspapers and magazines from touchstone moments of the past — the cover of
Time magazine when Nixon resigned, the Los Angeles Times
the Challenger explosion and many more. As someone who is fascinated by history,
I continue to collect records of historic moments but find myself exploring new
methods as media have evolved.
In 2009, the elections in Iran marked a change for me. The world was
captivated by news reports about what appeared to be a stolen election. All of
the major networks carried early reports of events in Iran with reporters
sharing stories and images from the field. However, the Iranian government
quickly sequestered all networks, and the only reports coming out of the country
were those floating on the wings of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook,
YouTube and various blogs. The people of Iran — not the journalists — became the
eyes of the world.
Witnessing the first rough draft of
The story was as much about the medium through which the story flowed as it
was about the people’s struggle. I followed multiple Twitter feeds and hashtags,
starting with #Iran, then #IranElection. As time went by, a new tag appeared,
#gr88, and finally #Neda for the name of the young lady the world watched die on
a street in Tehran. Early on, I captured images of interesting tweets and saved
all of the associated links. This form of electronic paper clipping took me to
multiple sources, stories and media environments as the story spread across the
Eventually, it became clear that I had a large collection of content from the
social web that was crying out to be arranged in a way that I could share with
the world. Organizing the content chronologically by theme, I used XMind, a mind-mapping tool, to
arrange each tweet, blog post, Facebook page, photo and video. It became clear
to me that this method of capturing news content from the social web and
arranging it with mind-mapping tools was a powerful way for any teacher or
student to retell stories from around the globe and illustrate their
understanding of events.
Teach a new way of storytelling
Exploring issues as they happen is a powerful way for students to delve into
history, science, social studies, journalism and more. This exercise promotes
higher-order thinking and addresses many of the ISTE Standards for Students,
including Research and Information Fluency, Communication and Collaboration,
Creativity and Innovation, and Digital Citizenship. Here’s how you can get your
Set up a Twitter account. Twitter is the starting point for this type of
work, as it is an efficient way for millions of people to share stories quickly
by providing links to sites with additional content. After students create their
Twitter accounts, have them set up an account with a feed-reading tool, such as
readers allow you to monitor several hashtags simultaneously.
Find the best hashtags. When an event unfolds, show your students how to set
up search feeds using obvious hashtags. For example, when a large earthquake
struck Chile, I started with #earthquake. As the tweets started coming in, I
looked for other hashtags people were using and figured out which ones were
getting the most mileage. Constantly refine your hashtag search criteria as the
relevant tags will often change over time. Most feed searches support Boolean
strings, such as AND, OR and NOT.
Don’t limit yourself to tags only in
English. When I searched for #earthquake
to learn what was happening in Chile, I found relevant tweets, but most were
from English speakers not connected to the region. When I searched for
#terremoto, I found content in Spanish from Chile as well as surrounding areas
of South America. Google Translate allowed
me to get a good picture of the content and stories shared by people more
closely connected to this event. In addition, the ability to follow tweets in
Arabic allowed me to monitor the story of the Arab Spring in ways not available
through traditional media outlets.
Save what you find. Have students use screen-capture software to gather
tweets along with blog sites and additional content. Snagit
and Jing are
two examples, but there are many free and low-cost tools available.
Additionally, they can use the Print Screen button in Windows or press
Command+Shift+3 on a Mac to capture a screen. Have them save each image and
place it in a folder along with web links associated with each tweet so they can
incorporate them in their final presentations. Let them know that if a tweet
takes them to a collection of photos or a video, they can bookmark the website
and capture a couple of the images in case the site “goes dark.” I use the
bookmarking site Diigo, but many social
bookmarking tools are out there for you and your students to explore.
Document your impressions. Ask them to keep simple notes about the type
of content they have captured and their personal reflections of the event as
they follow it from afar. This is important because, as stories unfold rapidly,
it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. You might think you’ll remember
everything that’s going through your head, but you probably won’t unless you jot
down notes. Whether your students use desktops, laptops or mobile devices, they
can use a note-taking app like Evernote to save and access
notes, photos, recordings and documents across devices.
Assemble your story. Students can use any presentation software, but I like
mind-mapping tools because they maintain the digital thread of the content: A
tweet leads to a blog that has a video and a photo gallery. While I assembled my
first story chronologically by theme, there are really no hard-and-fast rules.
Allow your student storytellers the creative freedom to choose the structure of
their stories. As they assemble their accounts, remind them to refer back to
their notes to review their ideas and reflections in order to formulate a
narrative that works for them. When finished, have them share their stories with
their class, the school and the world.
Many educators consider Twitter a powerful tool for professional development
because it allows them to build personal learning networks. However, by hacking
the purpose of Twitter, educators can harness the power of this tool to let
students capture human stories as they play out across social media and share
their understanding with audiences across the globe. What kind of stories can
you and your students capture and share with the world?
Chris Bigenho, Ph.D., is director of educational
technology at Greenhill School in Texas. He is also an educational researcher,
consultant and international speaker. His research interests include emerging
technology for learning, cognitive aspects of learning technologies and games