#Hashtags. We all know about those. Those obnoxious tic-tac-toe (or, rather, pound) symbols that us 90s kids remember as being the symbol for number. Heck, I still use it in place of the word “number”! So, what is it with the recent increase in using hashtags?
According to Gigaom, now Google employee Chris Messina “invented” the hashtag (in its current usage, anyways) on August 23, 2007 as a way for Twitter users to engage in group conversations. again according to Gigaom, hashtags provide metadata markers about themselves and not the tweet content. For instance, several million Americans watched the Super Bowl, quite possibly the biggest sporting event in the United States. Some of the popular hashtags included #SuperBowl and #SuperBowlSunday. So, if you were searching for tweets about the Super Bowl, inputting either of those hashtags would bring up all tweets using those same hashtags.
So, why am I talking about hashtags? Well, this semester at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I am studying for my Master of Arts in Public History, I am taking a digital history course. And, we have our very own hashtag (#HIS717S14)! Our professor is encouraging the usage of Twitter as a method of participating in the course. We are allowed to live tweet in class as a way of asking questions and taking notes.
But, you might ask, does this take away from class discussion?
Not necessarily! Microblogging, and Twitter especially, may be a good way for quieter students to participate in class without feeling overwhelmed or nervous of ridicule from their fellow classmates. Using a custom hashtag will also allow students and educators to keep track of class discussions and may even serve as an archive for students to look back and reflect on the class once the semester ends.
Personally, I have used hashtags in the past as a way of taking notes. I attended the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in August 2013 and live-tweeted the event using the hashtag #dtl13. What was interesting was that the conference encouraged the hashtag usage and even streamed the tweets as they came in. This may not be the best practice in the classroom setting, but it is certainly an option.
On the whole, hashtags do have educational benefits. As with all social media, it can be abused or used in unconventional ways that may be detrimental to learning. That being said, it does not hurt to experiment!