Dartmouth students are learning the finer points of Twitter searches.

Foreign language professor Tania Convertini is thrilled to catch her Dartmouth College students complaining about homework or upcoming tests. She’s not eavesdropping _ she’s reading their tweets, written in Italian and assigned as part of an effort to immerse students in the language 140 characters at a time.

Convertini, director of Dartmouth’s French and Italian language program, requires students to follow prominent Italian individuals, companies and organizations on Twitter and to tweet among themselves in Italian. And while the approach is a nod to the younger generation’s obsession with smartphones, Convertini says she is not embracing technology just for technology’s sake.

Instead, she wants put students in charge of their learning, expose them to authentic language in real-life, real-time situations and create a community that extends beyond the classroom.

“We ask students to always use the Italian language in class, but then, when the class is over, what happens? They have homework, we have a lot of activities, but Twitter gives them one more opportunity to interact with each other,” she said. “And students are constantly using this tool. They are constantly on their phones, on their BlackBerrys. … So my challenge was to come to terms with the monster and make sure that the monster was actually working with me instead of against me.”

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