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Twitter helps Baldwin teachers connect with students

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Keith Harrison, English teacher and Purbalite advisor at Baldwin High School, learns how to create a website to enhance his classroom content on Nov. 2. Staff at Baldwin High School are creating websites and Twitter accounts to enhance classroom activity and better communicate with students during the 2012-13 school year. Laura Van Wert | The South Hills Record

Bonus points were awarded to the first three of Christine Gedid's advanced French students who could write last weekend — en français — who the president of the country is and for how long he will serve his office.

How did Gedid, who also serves as the chairwoman of the world languages department at Baldwin High School, communicate with her students? She sent the message to her students via Twitter, of course.

“There's just so much information for the students that I say I'm putting that onto the Twitter ... I do it all in French,” Gedid said. “Once in a while you have to throw in something interesting. It's something fun.”

“I also like the way — bing — it's there,” Gedid said.

Gedid and about a dozen other teachers and clubs at Baldwin High School started using Twitter, the social-media outlet that allows users to post 140-character messages and interact with each other, to communicate with students outside of the regular school day. The facility and staff strictly use Twitter to post educational or extracurricular messages, to remind students of assignments, extra credit or club meetings.

The point is to have another outlet to reach the students in a quick and easy way.

“(The students) have informed me that we are terribly out of date,” said Daniel Harrold, an English teacher at Baldwin. “The kids are leaving (Facebook). Where are the kids? They're on Twitter.”

Harrold and fellow English teacher Michelle Jenkins held a workshop on Nov. 1 with the high school's staff to promote using Twitter, building class-specific websites or podcasts to enhance the curriculum. The duo spent last Thursday and Friday morning getting staffers signed up for Twitter and walking them through Weebly, a free website-creation program.

“Realistically, they are connected to their phones at all times,” said Jenkins, who also serves as the drama club's advisor. “It is their world, and they love it.”

Harrold and Jenkins created professional Twitter accounts in August after Harrold's teenage brother informed him that “no one” is on Facebook anymore, Harrold said. Harrold put his Twitter handle on the blackboard one day, and by the evening, he had 70 followers.

“Once you get the followers going, it's really efficient,” he said.

Harrold said he enjoys playing up his teaching persona on Twitter.

“It makes them feel more comfortable with us without breaking that professional barrier,” Harrold said.

Twitter's public forum is beneficial for teachers to extend a message further and reach more students, while safely interacting with them, Jenkins said.

But Jenkins cautions her fellow teachers to stay away from “following” students and reading the messages that they post, which, as teenagers tend to do, include every thought that comes to their heads, whether well articulated or not.

“Don't go on their pages and read theirs,” Jenkins said.

Janeen Peretin, vice principal at Baldwin High School, said teachers are not to follow students on Twitter so that there is a necessary boundary between academic and social use. A student using his or her own devices is a policy issue that administration must discuss.

Peretin joined Twitter last year as a requirement for a graduate-school class, but tries to follow all of the teachers and clubs at Baldwin, she said. The results, so far, are positive.

“It really extends the school day,” Peretin said.“We're definitely excited about it.”

Another issue with encouraging students to interact with their teachers through Twitter is when parents don't allow their son or daughter on the social media site, Jenkins said. All of the information Jenkins posts to Twitter also appears on her website and was presented to the students during class.

Lisa Klein, English Department chairwoman and the da Vincian Society's adviser, said she requires her students to follow her on Twitter.

“I want them to respond to it,” Klein said.

Twitter is a great way to post messages quickly that might otherwise not reach students during the school day, she said.

“Students might not hear the announcement,” Klein said.

Despite the optimism of using this new medium, Klein and the other teachers are acutely aware that their presence on the site could taint its coolness.

“Eventually, I think we're going to dorkify Twitter,” Klein said.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

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