Teaching with Twitter

Even at seven years old, Twitter still has a reputation as a forum for minutiae by the minute. But this popular platform boasts more than half a billion users, and as more people sign on, the ways in which Twitter is leveraged continue to diversify.

Increasingly, members of the education community — from students to professors to universities themselves — are connecting and tweeting, and Twitter can be an effective tool for engaging students in learning at the college level.

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First of all, why Twitter?

Enthusiastic anecdotal evidence for educational tweeting abounds, but as Nobel Laureate and physics educator Eric Mazur noted in a 2010 TLC talk: “The plural of anecdote is not data.” So what does the data say about tweeting for learning?

In a 2012 analysis by Gao, Tuo, and Zhang, which examined 21 selected studies, tweeting was found to encourage participation, heighten student interest, and spur reflective thinking as well as collaborative learning when used in pedagogically sound ways.

In 2011, Junco, Heiberger, and Loken conducted an experimental study on the effects of Twitter in sections of a first-year seminar for pre-health professions majors. Students who completed a series of Twitter assignments had significantly higher engagement scores for 19 select items from the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) than those in the control group. (The control completed the same activities but through the class’s networking website.) The tweeting activities included continuing class comments past the meeting hour, asking questions of the learning community, and precisely answering the professor’s questions about the course material.

The research is in its infancy, but it is encouraging: Twitter is a productive, useful resource that enables students to invest in the course content and actively engage with course material and with others in the learning community. Furthermore, its dynamic nature allows for a variety of implementation strategies. Here are some ideas for consideration:

Build learning community. Continue discussions beyond class time by tweeting questions and inviting responses. Invite students to share their knowledge with the larger learning community through directed tweets and the use of hashtags.

Deliver course content. Share relevant links and resources with your students, or tweet other course-related ideas.

One novel implementation is to “live tweet” historical events to the class as they unfolded from yesteryear. A real-world iteration of this practice is the@RealTimeWWII account. Started by Alwyn Collinson, a history graduate, the events of WWII are tweeted in their historical, chronological order, but as if they were occurring “right now.” What a way to bring history to life! It’s difficult to argue with its impact as the account has nearly 300,000 followers. Another example: The Massachusetts Historical Society has created an account named for President John Quincy Adams, where single lines of his diary are tweeted every day.

Projects such as these offer knowledge of important sequences, or a sense of the times, that cannot be captured as easily with a lecture. You might also invite or require students to research the dates and times of relevant events and take responsibility for live tweeting themselves.

Apply course material with tweets. Give students a discipline-specific term or concept and have them tweet in real time when they see it illustrated outside of the classroom. For example: Tweet when you see an example of surrealism (art history), operant conditioning (psychology), or a fatty acid (chemistry). The immediacy of the tweet encourages students to apply course concepts as they go about their day.

Assess student learning. Ask students to tweet their takeaways from the day’s class or from assigned at-home readings and projects. Students’ learning is reinforced by recalling and rearticulating key points. This strategy will also give you feedback about whether your lessons are as clear and focused as they need to be. Allow yourself to be assessed in return by asking students to tweet the “muddiest point of the day.” This will help you determine if you need to revisit a concept in lecture or offer more opportunities for practice with that course material.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

How will you use Twitter to enhance your pedagogy?  What other ways can you see to implement this tool into your courses?

Once you create a Twitter account, or if you already have one, be sure to follow us @TempleTLC!

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This post was co-written by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, and Assistant Director Carl S. Moore, and edited by Alexa and Pamela Barnett, Associate Vice Provost and Director.

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