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NU professor teaching students history 140 characters at a time

by jmaloni
Tue, Sep 13th 2011 01:05 pm

With each passing Tweet, it becomes more and more apparent that people are turning to Twitter to access breaking news. But will college students turn to the social networking website to learn about events that have already taken place?

Dr. Mustafa Gökçek hopes so.

The Niagara University assistant professor has compiled a list of 90 major chronological events that took place between 1945 and 2005 and plans to disseminate them as tweets, beginning Sept. 13. Each Tweet, a post or status update on Twitter that can possess a maximum of 140 characters, will include a link to a primary source that provides more information on the event.

The tweets will be sent under the handle of NUHIS199, a reference to Gökçek's course on America and the contemporary world.

"A vast majority of our students already have Twitter accounts and I'm hoping that this will be a way of making learning about history more fun," said Gökçek. "I have always been interested in utilizing the latest technology in my class."

In the past, students in Gökçek's Middle East history class made short documentaries using video editing software. He has also used Skype to videoconference in his classes with students in China and Egypt. Several of Gökçek's colleagues in NU's history department have introduced Facebook as a tool to communicate with students.

For Gökçek's newest endeavor, he is adopting software that was developed by Dr. Murat Demirbas, an associate professor of computer science at the University at Buffalo. The program was developed to send Tweets at scheduled intervals, making it possible to cover 60 years of history by sending 90 Tweets in 90 days, the approximate duration of the fall semester.

Gökçek takes the project one step further. Instead of simply sending out one Tweet daily, the computer program can be manipulated so that one historical year translates to one-and-a-half days. Therefore, if two events occurred one year apart, the Tweets profiling those events will be sent one-and-a-half days from each other. If they took place two years apart, there will be a three-day difference between Tweets, and so on.

"The nature of this project will help students better understand the timeline of major events, the time difference between each one, and the historical context in which each event took place," explained Gökçek. "It will also encourage the students to follow the links to primary sources and contribute more effectively in class discussions."

Students enrolled in HIS199 have taken to the project. Those without Twitter accounts have registered with the site. At the end of the semester, they will prepare poster presentation based on what they've learned throughout the experience. Based on this project's success, Gökçek and his colleagues will explore making the format applicable to other courses and perhaps even adding a testing component.

"This is certainly quite a new project for all of us and we are all excited to be a part of it," said Gökçek. "We encourage anyone who is interested to follow us on Twitter."

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