Twitter and Learning

Several studies at Michigan State University over the past couple of years have produced some fascinating findings about college students and Twitter:

  • A 2010 study led by Jeff Grabill found that college students value texting more than they value all other written forms of communication -- and that students value texting because "it's fast, it's efficient, and it's second nature in an age of instant connectivity"
  • A study out this month, led by assistant professor of education Christine Greenhow, documented that students who tweet as part of classroom learning are more engaged with their peers and with the instructor, and achieve higher grades

The key was that the classes studied approached the integration of Twitter intentionally, using it as a tool to empower students to engage in information sharing, collaborative learning, brainstorming with the instructor in real-time, seeking real-time feedback from the instructor, and even texting with authors and researchers in the field.

Twitter in the Classroom

In our March 2011 article "Twitter in the Classroom," Academic Impressions interviewed experts such as Ray Schroeder, professor emeritus and director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service (COLRS, formerly OTEL) at the University of Illinois Springfield, on the unique pedagogical affordances of Twitter, including increasing student engagement in a larger class or student group and encouraging sharing of information and resources among students.

We also surveyed pilot projects at an array of institutions in order to assemble a few intriguing examples of effective uses of Twitter, including:

  • A foreign languages course that used Twitter to connect students with native speakers; students conducted real-time text conversations in Italian with Italian speakers
  • A faculty member at Pennsylvania State University at University Park who set up two screens at the front of the classroom, one showing the lecture material and another showing a class Twitter feed, where students could ask questions of each other or indicate what lecture points were "muddy" for them, in real time
  • A course in which students "met" on Twitter outside of class hours during the US president's State of the Union address, to discuss the address together while it was happening

Beyond Collaborative Learning

Each of the cases cited above allowed students to pursue collaborative learning outside of the scheduled class time and location. There are also ways to use Twitter to address longstanding challenges in the logistics of teaching and learning.

For example:

  • Faculty have historically noted under-usage of instructor office hours. Often, those times when students are most likely to have questions for faculty are outside of standard office hours -- during evening study, for example. At the University of California, Berkeley, Howard Rheingold uses Twitter for what he calls "student-to-teacher-to-student ambient office hours," holding individual or group texting sessions with students over Twitter to answer questions and ask -- or encourage students to ask -- provocative questions as they pursue their studies
  • Recent courses at Baylor University and Michigan State University have embedded a librarian via Twitter, or via both a physical presence during a class session and a Twitter feed outside the class. Twitter's 140-character strings allow for succinct Q&A as students seek resources or ask research questions.

And for faculty, outside the classroom:

  • William Kist at Kent State University's college of education teacher uses Twitter as a “digital faculty lounge,” an online, any-time opportunity for faculty to network. Note that this idea could be extended outside of the college to facilitate networking between faculty at your department and faculty at other departments nationally or globally. You could offer a digital faculty lounge to share teaching practices ... or support faculty in developing more focused social media channels for sharing research and information in a specific area of their field.

Finally, one agricultural communications professor at Texas Tech University posted this video, noting that Twitter can be used not only to increase student-to-student or student-to-teacher communication, but can be a key tool for helping students and faculty monitor trends in their field. Students can monitor conversations on key issues as they emerge in the discipline or can tweet questions to experts or organizations and often receive a much quicker response than if they had written a letter or tried a phone call.

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Here are two Academic Impressions showcases of examples of twitter and other use of mobile and social technologies in the classroom:

Showcase: Examples of Mobile Technology Use for Teaching and Learning
Twitter in the Classroom