English 503: The Twitter Assignment

Using Twitter in English 503 will help me gauge your reactions to the course material, and make my teaching more responsive to your questions and interests. My goal is twofold:

  • To use a social-network platform to build the intellectual network of our class, based on our shared knowledge of the course texts; and to situate that network in the world-wide intellectual network of writers, artists, journalists, critics, and anyone else who reflects on the history and future of reading.
  • To encourage you each to ask questions about the course material, questions that identify “trending topics” (as Twitter calls them) in the class at large. I also want to help you move toward more complex questions by the end of the course: questions that show not merely how much you know, but how well you think as a critic. With time, are you moving from understanding to analyzing, and from analyzing to evaluating? Do you read between the lines, make connections between passages, convey more than one layer of information?

You can’t do that all at once, of course: you only have 140 characters at a time. But just like the PechaKucha format, there’s a lot you can do in a limited space.

Getting started

  1. Get a Twitter account, if you don’t already have one. Your account must use your real name (see Profile Settings), or you can’t be graded on the Twitter assignments. Create a new account for this course, if necessary.
  2. Log in.
  3. Search the #engl503 hashtag > (+)Save this search button. Then from your Home page, your Searches tab will list this as a saved search; click on it to see what others using that hashtag have been saying.
  4. Optional: Start following Prof. Ullyot (@ullyot): search “michael ullyot” > People tab > (+)Follow button. Or go straight to my profile at < twitter.com/ullyot >. You do not need to follow me; I will always use the #engl503 hashtag in my posts about English 503.

And then

  1. As you read the course texts, make a list of the questions they provoke””but don’t tweet anything yet. (Tweeting while reading is like texting while drivingdon’t do it. It distracts your attention from what you should focus on.)
  2. Start with basic questions (Who is this character?) and move toward more complicated ones, toward questions that provoke further questions. What do you want to talk more about? What can you begin to answer on your own, but need more evidence to proceed? What seems to be the missing piece of your understanding?
  3. Tweet your best question(s) by the end of the weekend (Sunday at midnight), before the even-numbered weeks: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.  These dates are noted by a Twitter (bird) symbol in the course calendar. That means your first tweet is due on Sunday, January 13th.
  4. Always include the #engl503 hashtag. If you want to add/invent other tags like #TristramShandy (or #SterneStats, as I did in December 2012), go ahead. Find and use tags that other people are using for their tweets; that’s the whole point  — like #fail or #haiku: whatever works for you. You can even start new tags.
  5. Remember that everything you tweet is public, and archived forever. If you would prefer your tweets to be private (invisible except to your followers), just change your account settings. Click on your name (upper right) > Settings > Tweet Privacy. BUT you must tell me if you do so, or I won’t know that you exist. Send me a direct message, or e-mail me a link to your profile: < ullyot{at}ucalgary{dot}ca >.


  • Your six required tweets will be graded. For full credit, you will tweet a minimum of six times on or before the scheduled days.
  • Quality matters more than quantity: each of your tweets should pose thoughtful, provocative, detailed questions about the material we are reading that week (e.g. about Sterne or Manguel in Week 2). Each of your questions should require detailed analysis of the text to answer, and lead to further questions.
  • That is the goal, anyway. Even if your questions earlier in the course are more basic than that, I am grading the growth in your expert thinking over time.
  • This is a self-reporting assignment. To claim your credit, you must submit a print-out or screenshot of your course-related tweets at the end of the course (Week 13). Use snapbird.org to generate a list. Search “Someone’s Timeline”; under “Who?” enter your username; under “What” enter #engl205; and click “Find It.”
  • How else can you track your progress? Throughout the course, I will use an online program called Tweet Archivist to keep track of all tweets using the #engl503 hashtag. It shows me who has been tweeting, and how often. (This is an open-source archive: you can also access it here.)
  • Things that will lower your grade in this assignment include showing a lack of interest in its goals, refusing/forgetting to participate on time, or tweeting things that are dishonest or disrespectful.
  • If you miss a required tweet, there is no make-up exercise. But you can help your grade in a few ways, listed in the next section.

More options

  • I encourage you also to regularly tweet other responses to the course material, or anything related to the history and future of reading. Always include the #engl503 hashtag.
  • Here are some ideas:
    • Start new discussions; raise new questions; answer your peers’ questions;
    • post interesting links to videos, photos, blogs, or other materials on reading/bookshelves/authors we’re reading/anything else that enriches our network.
    • You can also re-tweet what others are saying about any topic/author we discuss. (I will talk about how to find them.)
    • Tweet a photo of the place where you’re reading; or your text with annotations and marginal notes; of something that reminds you of something you read (explain why); or of random things you see outside when you’re reading; of your book in an unexpected location (e.g. bar, bus, bathtub). Be creative, but don’t send any morally compromising photos!
      • For instance, when reading Byatt’s Possession, search Compfight for photos of the places she mentions: the London Library, the British Museum, the Yorkshire moors.
  • Consider using a free app like Seesmic or Tweetdeck, which are available as desktop clients, web apps, or mobile apps. (I use Tweetbot, but it costs money.) They make it easy to create multiple columns of Twitter activity. So your timeline can be in one column, any replies or mentions of your username can be in a second column, and our #engl503 hashtag can permanently occupy a third column.

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