Twitter in the Classroom: Studies Find Increased Student Engagement

With interest in Twitter on the rise, many instructors continue to grapple with the question of whether the social networking tool has a place in the college classroom. And, if it does, what is the best, most effective way to use it? So perhaps it comes as no surprise that we’re starting to see studies on the use of Twitter in both traditional and online classrooms.

In one such study, Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal from the University of Colorado at Denver used Twitter as a way to enhance social presence in an online course. In an article that appears in the Journal of Information Systems Education (see reference below) the authors discuss the ease in which Twitter can enable “free-flowing just-in-time interactions” and describe the instructional benefits they discovered in using the micro-blogging service.

Based on their experience using Twitter with their students, the authors also offer five guidelines for using Twitter in the classroom:

  1. Make it relevant: Following celebrities on Twitter can be fun, but make sure students understand how Twitter will help them meet certain learning goals for your course. Show them examples of how you have benefitted from using Twitter.
  2. Define clear expectations: The authors required students to use Twitter two-three times a day for two weeks. After that time, if the student decides he or she doesn’t see a value in Twitter, then they are not required to keep using it. However, the authors found that most continued participating in the Twitter discussions for the duration of the course and beyond.
  3. Model effective and appropriate Twitter use: Demonstrate for your students Twitter best practices by showing them how you use the application to connect with colleagues, share information, and ask and answer questions. It’s also a good idea to remind them that Twitter, like other social networking sites, is a public forum.
  4. Build Twitter activity into assessment: To reinforce Twitter as a valuable resource, the authors encouraged students to use information and resources gathered through Twitter participation in their research papers and presentations, and assessed them on the accuracy and relevance of this information.
  5. Stay active in Twitter: Continue to participate in the Twitter community you created even after the course ends. The authors found this enabled them to achieve a social presence needed to support ongoing student engagement.

Using Twitter to Keep Students Connected
An experiment on the use of social media at the University of Leicester in the UK has shown that Twitter can act as a valuable communication tool in the college setting.

The study, published by the Association for Learning Technology, discovered that ‘tweeting’ helped:

  • Develop peer support among students
  • Develop personal learning networks
  • Students to arrange social meetings

The researchers also found Twitter to be very attractive as a data collection tool for assessing and recording the student experience, with a wide range of free and increasingly sophisticated online analysis tools.

Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence. Journal of Information Systems Education. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from here.

University of Leicester (2009, November 16). Twittering the Student Experience. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from here.