WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — One hundred and forty characters may not seem like much, but that's what Westborough High School history teacher Steve DeBoer takes full advantage of on his Twitter account, communicating with his students in the format they know so well.
"For those who actually follow me or make use of it, I think it pays great dividends," said DeBoer, now in his 12th year at Westborough High School. "It's been kind of interesting how it's evolved over the past year."
DeBoer said he'll Tweet out anything from upcoming assignments, reminders about test dates, current events or interesting stories he finds online. His Twitter name, @WHS_Mr_DeBoer, is permanently on display in his class room and is handed out with his contact info to every student in class.
DeBoer also uses a service called Edmodo, which allows teachers to set up a secure server for classes. Assignments, readings and other educational materials can be posted and discussed online through the free web service.
"There are so many tools out there that are available for teachers, you can get overwhelmed by them and maybe not use them the right way," DeBoer said. "But if you do use them correctly, they can be very beneficial."
He said some students have been hesitant to allow him into their Twitter world, but he "couldn't care less" about prying into anybody's personal information.
The idea was first presented to DeBoer through a distance learning class called Learner's Edge he enrolled in during the summer of 2011 through St. Thomas University. It was a program that taught 21st century learning skills, and encouraged teachers to communicate with students the way they communicate with one another.
Deboer ran with that idea and even conducted a workshop last year at WHS titled "Teachers Using Twitter." While he said 15 or 16 teachers began utilizing Twitter, he doesn't think it's caught on quite yet.
"It was really the course that opened my eyes. I had been teaching for 10 years and I had begun to contemplate how I was teaching," he said. "If you can just continue to reinforce the importance of trying to communicate properly and being engaged, children will benefit."