Twitfessor is a collaboration with my brother, Rob Szumski, to create a website utilizing Twitter in the classroom. From our own experience in university courses, we observed that professors routinely try to combat the problem of shy students who don't ask questions. Many times a student has a question that is shared by other members of the class, but not a single person will ask it. Most professors come up with their own solution to remedy the problem, but the custom approach may end up confusing or frustrating the students even more. Twitfessor aims to break the ice between lecturers and shy students using Twitter, a service with which students are already familiar.

Twitfessor screenshot

Every participating class is assigned a unique hashtag (e.g., #UVACS1001 for UVA's Introduction to Computer Science course) that students will use for background discussion about the course. These tweets are updated in real-time in the left column. Good examples of background chatter would be links to related material, tutorials, supplementary YouTube videos, or anything else useful to students in the course that is not directly addressing the current lecture.

The center column displays questions asked by students directly to the professor's Twitter account, which can be monitored by a Teaching Assistant (TA) or used as reference after the lecture has ended. If students see a question they also have, simply retweeting that question will increase its priority with the professor. The professor gets real-time feedback and can answer those questions immediately or can later use the tweet stream as a record of topics to revisit in a future lecture.

As the lecturer (or TA) identifies notable questions, those tweets can be "favorited" and shown in the right column. A favorite tweet could indicate an especially insightful question/observation, or simply an acknowledgement that the question will be answered shortly.

A future plan is to have a PowerPoint or Keynote plugin that records timestamps of each slide as it is shown, allowing you to tie tweeted questions to the slide that prompted them. Students could later replay the lecture and see the tweets pop up in-sync with the slideshow.

Technical details: The site uses a hacked-up version of Twitter's real-time search widget and OAuth to let a logged-in user send new tweets and favorite existing ones.