Many of today’s students are using Twitter on a regular basis. It’s convenient and easy to use on a smartphone or tablet, so they can access it any time. By using Twitter for your courses, you’ll have a great opportunity to connect with your students.

You can use Twitter as a channel for communication to your students, as you would e-mail or any other communication source. The advantage is that it will send the information in real time, and because many of your students are already using Twitter, it will make things easy for them. You could send messages to communicate homework and test reminders, notifications about class changes or cancellations, or links to relevant sources that you want to use in class. Students can also interact with each other directly to share ideas.

If you are new to Twitter, you might not be aware that one of the main differences between it and Facebook is that almost all information is public on Twitter. Your students don’t need to actually follow your account in order to see what you are posting. In order to make information searchable on Twitter for your students, you’ll want to create a hashtag for your class—a unique combination of letters and numbers, such as your school name and course code, preceded by the “#” sign (for example: #ABCU123). Try to keep it short, because you’ll need to include it in every tweet, and you want to have as many characters as possible left over for your message. Your students will find your messages by searching this hashtag. Conduct a search for it yourself before you begin to make sure that no one else is already using the same hashtag for a different purpose. On the first day of class, let your students know your Twitter handle and hashtag; also, include it on the syllabus.

Now that you’ve figured out how to set up the tweets for your class, now consider what information you’ll include in them. You may want to just post short messages that are below the 140 character limit, such as “Reminder: Read Chapter 7 before Tuesday’s class #ABCU123”. However, you may have more lengthy information that will require linking out to another web page. In that case, don’t worry about the character limit; Twitter will automatically shorten the link for you. Another option is to use a third-party link shortener, such as bit.ly, which will allow you to see how many people are clicking on your link—a way to monitor your student’s engagement with the material you’re posting. You’ll also be able to communicate privately with an individual student using the Direct Message function.

Finally, have a little fun with it! This is a chance to connect with your students and get them to engage with what you’re posting. Share links to relevant articles or interesting images that might grab students’ attention. There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter, so try different things and see what works with your own students. And then, let us know how it goes.

We’d love to hear your stories of social media in the classroom. Comment below to share your stories with us and our other subscribers, or tweet us @CengageLearning .