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Using Twitter to investigate geographical events in real time.

Social media, such as Twitter, allows young people access to events around the world, as they happen.  This presents the geography teacher with a powerful opportunity to drive geographical enquiry.  The Slideshare embedded above supports a lesson I taught to a range of students a few weeks ago.  Apologies for the late posting, it’s been a busy few weeks! This lesson allows young people to evaluate Twitter as a source of information.

The first images are taken from the Twitter language maps of London and New York.  They link to the work of Professor Paul Longley, who received a medal at the RGS(IBG) ceremony earlier this term. The images are a great starter, and the maps can be explored in detail from following the links.

Next, we explored the use of hashtags and some (at least they were then) recent news events.

The photo complete introduced the study area. I always enjoy these activities as it allows young people to use visual evidence and allows their imaginations to run wild.  It’s vital to explore the justification behind the images.  I tend to use a visualiser to show a student’s work and ask them to justify their reasoning.  The image was taken from a news article linked to the Toronto flood event.  Young people work in small groups (this is important to allow collaboration and to allow teams to argue and evaluate the information). They has around 25 minutes to explore the hashtags given.  Bear in mind that these were coming through in real time, as the event was happening.  What followed was an opportunity to extend and practice the skills of evaluation and critical analysis of information. For example, the class were able to ascertain that this flood event wasn’t considered too serious from the tone of many tweets.  They also found it difficult to verify the information, although this often doesn’t stop real media outlets from using tweets to drive stories!

Students also found that certain brands were happy to cash in, with Pringles suggesting that those stuck at home could enjoy a tube.

All in all, a worthwhile activity and an excellent introduction into flood events.  The real time nature of the activity was very powerful, especially in illustrating the time difference.  Although we didn’t on this occasion, there is even room for interaction. The lesson worked well even though most of the classes hadn’t covered flooding yet. Certainly the causes were picked out very quickly and backed up with clear evidence, with some groups even using climate information to compare the rainfall event with average conditions.  In this way, a useful tangent was a discussion around the differences between weather and climate.

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