Last week we explored Social Media Basics for the College Classroom, briefly mentioning hashtags on Twitter. If you have never used a hashtag (the # symbol followed by a descriptor topic like #edchat or #cybermonday), they can occasionally seem superfluous and confusing. Some of this confusion stems from the ways hashtags are used for different purposes including search tools, curation techniques, spaces of conversation, and contributors to the tone of a message. This week we’ll further explore what a hashtag is, how hashtags are used, and provide some tips for using hashtags in your teaching.
What is a Hashtag?
While most commonly associated with Twitter, hashtags have existed before the social media site. Starting in 1988, hashtags were used to delineate topics for Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network channels. In 2007, American actor, Chris Messina was inspired by the ways hashtags allowed IRC users to congregate around distinct topics, and argued that hashtags could be used on Twitter to organize and curate content and images.
How are Hashtags Used Today?
Today, hashtags have become commonplace on Twitter, as well as crossed over to other social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest as a tool to generate metadata by tagging and collecting conversations, images, and content around movements (#BringBackOurGirls), topics (#selfie), and people. Hashtags have proliferated to extend beyond simple tagging as identification. The hashtag function creates spaces for conversations. Most recently, these conversations have begun to encourage social movements like the #yesallwomen and #ICantBreathe campaigns.
How Do I Use Hashtags in the Classroom?
Because hashtags allow you to see all content associated with them, tracking trends of contemporary concerns and conversations within your discipline becomes much more accessible. In your classroom, you can have your students track a disciplinary hashtag for a few days to see what conversations are currently valued and why that matters to your course now.
You can also use a hashtag specifically for your class (like #WRA202) and ask students to post questions, comments, quotes, and concerns using the class hashtag. Not only does this allow you to track conversations in the class, but it encourages productive note taking, as well as a participatory space that compliments what happens in your classroom. And remember, as with any digital community for your class, make sure you spend time co-constructing community guidelines with students so that you’re engaging with one another in a safe, constructive space.
In addition to facilitating discussion among your students, hashtags also allow you to bring colleagues from your discipline into classroom conversations. Using hashtags popular in your field to ask questions provides valuable interactions with a community of other experts: showing students how the content of your course lives outside the classroom.
We’d Like to Know: How do you use hashtags in your classroom? How do you use hashtags for yourself? What works? What doesn’t work? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
|Heather Noel Turner is a PhD student in Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures (WRAC) and an Inside Teaching Fellow at MSU. She is most passionate about computers and writing. Her research seeks to answer questions concerning visual rhetoric, digital pedagogy, community engagement and knowledge making (in both physical and digital environments).|
|Kateri Salk is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the environmental drivers of microbial nitrogen removal processes in aquatic ecosystems. She is also interested in teaching and learning approaches that emulate the practice and scholarship of science in the classroom. Kateri serves on the steering committee and is the student mentor for the Future Academic Scholars in Teaching (FAST) fellowship program at Michigan State University.|