Twitter holds many opportunities for increasing student interaction and engagement.  But many instructors don’t realize until it’s too late that Twitter doesn’t automatically archive your students’ tweets. That is, once your students get active and you’re tracking their tweets with a hashtag in Twitter, those tweets will disappear shortly (note that I use the term “disappear” loosely — digital footprints are permanent, live by that rule).  That’s because Twitter is intended to be a method for tracking the current pulse of the web’s consciousness.  And with millions of tweets flowing into this consciousness every minute, archiving the past isn’t a priority.

There are many methods, however, for archiving tweets, including applications that have been developed especially for that purpose (see this ReadWriteWeb post for many ideas).  But I had an “ah ha” moment this morning while reading a new post over at ProfHacker.  Mark Sample shared a simple way to “hack” an RSS feed for a particular Twitter hashtag.  I had always wondered if it was just me that couldn’t figure out how to locate an RSS feed for a twitter hashtag.  Whew.  Apparently, I’m not alone. 

Follow the simple process below to locate the RSS feed URL (http://…) for a hashtag.  Once you have it, plug the feed URL into an aggregator (like Google Reader, or Feed Reader) and BAM! you’ve got yourself your own archive in your own aggregator.

Here is the simple recipe shared by Sample which was construed by academic librarian Valerie Forrestal (thanks, Valerie!).  Copy the url you see below and simply replace the bolded “hashtag” with the hashtag you want to follow in your aggregator.

http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23hashtag

As Sample explains, “to follow the #MLA12 stream, this is the URL you need: http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23mla12.  The ‘%23’ takes care of the actual hash (pound sign), so you don’t need to include an “#” in the URL.”

If you don’t already use an aggregator and use Google apps (like Gmail, Google docs, Sites, etc.), give Google Reader a try.  It’s very simple and you’ll find a handy link to it at the top of your Gmail page which makes it convenient to access on the fly. 

Once you have Google Reader open, you simply click on the “Add a subscription” button in the upper left corner (see image), paste your customized Twitter RSS feed, and then click subscribe and you’re done.  All the tweets sent with your class hashtag will be fed into Google Reader and you can keep track of them there.  The additional benefit to this process is that Google Reader will allow you to link back to the original tweet, even if you can no longer find it in Twitter.

Thanks for sharing Valerie and Mark! 

I hope many of you can benefit from that simple trick.

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