eCitizenship at Emporia State University: Using Twitter to Engage Students in the State of the Union Address
By Guest Blogger Rob Catlett, Emporia State University
Any doubt about the acceptance and infusion of electronic social networking in aspects of the democratic process would likely diminish after watching Twitter activity surrounding the president’s State of the Union Address (SOTU). Technology has the potential to enhance and potentially detract from the dialogue related to major policy issues depending on its structure.
We experimented with using Twitter to engage Emporia State students in the SOTU. The idea was to have students watch, listen or somehow follow the State of the Union address and simultaneously engage in dialogue about its content. Francie Grace from Public Agenda in New York acted as moderator, catalyst, and discussion leader by posing questions before the SOTU and throughout the speech, along with the Republican and Tea Party responses.
Like our initial foray into political activities this last year, some students had to be away from campus due to work, athletic events, and other responsibilities. They still had the opportunity to participate through cell phones and other technologies from virtually anywhere. All one really needed to participate was a text-messaging-enabled cell phone; however, access to the Internet was easier. Using the hashtag #FiscalFuture, students, and anyone else, could find see our discussion and enter the dialogue. Francie did a superb job of keeping the conversation organized with numbered questions; students entered her question numbers (e.g., Q3) along with the hashtag which allowed the discussion to go into more depth as new threads emerged.
Can you envision a student on the cheer squad with headphones plugged into her cell phone listening to the State of the Union and engaged in Twitter dialogue in down times and following a basketball game? We joked about student athletes contributing from the bench; however, most students watched via television or streaming video on the Internet and contributed from computers in the comfort of their leaving units.
At times the traffic was so heavy on Twitter that it seemingly came to a standstill. An incomprehensibly large volume of traffic was related to the SOTU; all one had to do was use the hashtag #SOTU to see rapid-fire tweets and the reason for the sluggishness. Another challenge was most students were new to Twitter and were caught in spam filters.
Most students had not seen or heard a SOTU address before and even fewer had Twitter accounts. It was inevitable the dynamic would be different because experienced alumni participated who were involved last year as ADP students. This was not unexpected because we asked if they would like to be involved in the future and many were eager.
We estimate an ideal number of participants is somewhere between 20 and 80 and we hovered in the middle to upper end of that range both years. It would be easy to have too many participants; the downside is more scattered discussion along with delays in seeing student responses. The most positive outcomes were the level of interest and the discussion that carried over into class discussion over the next several days.