Participatory Learning, Twitter, and Redacted by the “CIA”

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in COETAIL, Featured Content, Technology

Redacted (1)

REDACT: to obscure or remove (text) from a document prior to publication or release.


Background – This week as part of the COETAIL (Certificate in Educational Technology and Information Literacy) Course that I am teaching with Kim Cofino we wanted to give a thorough hands-on experience with Twitter and at the same time keep the dialogue focused on pedagogy that uses technology to benefit engagement and learning. We thought the article “How Can Teachers Prepare Kids for a Connected World?” would help set or, at least, reinforce the tone that it’s alright for the teachers in the course to let go and allow their lessons to get a little messy. We also realized that we hadn’t included this article in the week’s reading so if we were going to use it, it would have to be built into the session somehow.

Thinking about our two objectives of working with Twitter along with the idea of engaging with this article led to us splitting the group up in different rooms, blacking out some of the text like CIA agents and having the groups exchange information using Twitter (Only Rule – No finding the article online). As the redacting process unfolded, each team had 5 questions about the article that corresponded to the text that had been blacked out on their documents but only one group had the content visible that the other teams needed. The task was for all teams to be able to understand the full article and to be able to answer their unique set of questions. The dialogue that ensued can be found on this Storify. If you like the sound of this and want to try redacting an article for a class please read on.

Setting it up – The vision Kim and I had for the article was that each group would have certain information and need certain information. The context setting story was that the Education Division of the CIA had heard that COETAILers were getting their hands on some highly innovative ideas through articles such as the redacted one they would soon be given. To stop us from engaging with these new ways of thinking and doing, they had redacted the article only, much to their chagrin, blacked out text in the article differently in different parts of the world. Our team, who would be located in different parts of the world (different rooms at school), would be able to piece the article content completely back together using their separate versions and Twitter as the means of communication. After an brief explanation of tweets, mentions, replies, and hastags, we helped them find their rooms and turned them loose.

RedactedRedacting Articles – It’s hard to resist a redacted article but setting up slightly different versions took a bit of doing. While there could be a more efficient approach, the way I went about it worked pretty well. Since we were going to work in 5 groups of 6 people, I made five copies of the clean article. Then for each group I identified the piece of information that they would have access to that I would then redact on all the other versions. I numbered the versions of the articles to match the group numbers. As I did this, I wrote in a question about the redacted piece of information for all the groups who had that information blacked out. While this complicated things a bit, I intentionally didn’t include any questions on a group’s question list that related to the uncensored information in their article because I wanted to keep it a mystery about what information other groups would need until they Tweeted about it.

Logistics – The activity took about 45minutes but could have easily benefitted from a full hour with more time for an even fuller debrief. While the activity was really well received by the group, several people, who were completely new to Twitter, found the sudden implementation of the tool in a collaborative but slightly competitive environment a bit steep on the learning curve. If we could have allowed more time for group planning and self-instruction this may have not been as much of a factor.

Key Learnings – The activity successfully introduced this cohort to the function of Twitter. To help with that we discussed how Twitter was useful in obtaining information, how the hashtags worked, and if mentions were used. In addition to these practical take-aways, this activity brought to the limelight the reciprocal nature of Twitter. The redacted versions of the article were designed so that no groups would be successful unless all other groups shared. What this fostered was a dynamic very similar to a participatory role in the classroom and on Twitter – in both cases it is essential to give and take. – AC


  1. Mark Collard
    February 7, 2013

    Awesome Adam, nice cutting edge stuff. I’m glad that you added a definition of ‘redacted’ – I had no clue what this was until I read your article.

    Question 1: Did you have to set up a Twitter account for everyone, and then push notifications to their phones to make the exercise work?

    Question 2: Can I post your article on my playmeo blog?

    • Adam
      February 7, 2013

      Hi Mark – As part of this course everyone sets up a Twitter account so that wasn’t a concern but you would need at least one Twitter account per group in order to play the game. Please feel free to post my article on your playmeo blog. That would be great. The only thing I’d ask is for a link back to my blog so people can find me if they want. Thanks for your support and enthusiasm!!

  2. Merilyn
    February 7, 2013

    As a member of the “class” and a newbie to Twitter, I thought the exercise was great. My only suggestion is to have a shorter text. I took one look at the 3 pages of text and decided immediately that I wasn’t even going to begin to read it. Instead, I just concentrated on learning Twitter and helping the other newbies in my group (who were reading the text) to figure out how to use Twitter. If the goal of the exercise was purely to understand this tool – no problem. But it was a surprise to me to read in your blog that there was another goal which was to familiarise ourselves with that reading. For my part, I failed in the second but excelled in the first!

    • Adam
      February 7, 2013

      Thanks for your comment and input, Merilyn. When you have the inspiration sometime that article is worth taking another look at. I like how it reminds us that it is okay to let go and allow things to run a bit without worrying about exactly how we’ll get to the end objective.

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