Twitter is a very popular social media app mostly known as a microblogging platform.
Basically, it allows users to send and receive information in real time, on the website or mobile app, in the form of short messages or “tweets” (140 characters maximum), pictures and videos.
On Twitter people talk about what’s happening, share their opinions on the latests trends, like and retweet others’ posts and participate to discussion topics that are led by hashtags (the # symbol).
Twitter and teaching: types of interaction
Similarly to Facebook, using Twitter in education allows different types of interaction online:
- Learner-Instructor: is not clear if Twitter facilitate student-teacher interaction, but it surely is a helpful tool for after-class communication. What’s more, talking to a teacher on the platform might have an impact on the perception that students have of their instructor (although the authors of the research couldn’t explain the reason).
- Learner-Learner: students are not mere receivers of education anymore, they can help each other grow by building on the work and insight of their classmates.
- Learner-Content: this is defined as the cognitive engagement with course content. It can be measured by analysing students’ tweets and level of participation on the platform.
- Learner-Interface: usually younger students don’t connect well with the functionality of Twitter while older ones give positive feedback to its use.
The 6 uses of Twitter in teaching
Several studies have been done on the use of Twitter in education, and a cross-analysis research revealed that there are 6 specific ways in which this particular app has been used:
- Capture and representation
- Class organisation and administration
1. Capture and Representation
So here is an example that shows what capture and representation means:
A group of students goes to a museum as a part of a history class project.
They wander through the halls looking at paintings and artefacts.
They capture what they see on their mobile devices and then open up a discussion on twitter using specific hashtags and posting the pictures/videos they took as reference material.
This way other students have the possibility to see what the trip to the museum was like and read how the experience of their peers was.
Communication in this case means sharing information about subject-related materials.
- Teachers can send homework, class material or instructions, start discussions on a given topic (content-pushing);
- student can tweet anything that has to do with the course and talk to peers while the class is in progress (backchannel discourse);
- or they can talk to people not enrolled in the course (i.e. French students reaching out to native speakers to practice their language skills).
Students enrolled in the same course can use Twitter to collaborate on a class project by sharing their progress and resources or by “coordinating collaborative details… such as time management”.
In a real-life example students had to tweet about certain unsustainable practices in their communities and propose solutions.
Their answers had to build on previous responses given by classmates.
4. Class administration
Twitter can be effectively used to send reminders about instructional activities.
It is different from mere communication because the emphasis isn’t as much on sharing as it is on sending info related to due dates, examination or campus events.
Students might be asked to post tweets about the class topics, so that others can read and relate.
This way reflection is fostered through thematic and relevant online conversations.
Finally, there are two ways to use Twitter for evaluation purposes:
- In-class assessment activities: like when a teacher posts questions on an overhead screen during a lecture and then asks students to respond in real time on their phones using Twitter (the answers can be visualised on the screen and corrected).
- After-class assessment activities: this includes a scenario where a teacher sends questions via direct message to students after a lecture as a formative evaluation.
Note: Reflection is also a forme of self evaluation although it might have a lesser impact on the the overall grade.
Negative responses to using Twitter in teaching
The afore mentioned study found 4 negative aspects reported by students and teachers:
- Increased workload: instructors and students have to cope with discussions, comments, tweets and messages. This could be overwhelming especially in large-sized classrooms.
- Privacy: many people are not aware of what information should be shared or not on the internet. That’s why some learners intentionally differentiate personal profiles from academic-related profiles.
- Message limitation: considering that a tweet can contain a maximum of 140 characters this could prevent in-depth thinking and reasoning over a certain topic.
- Possible distractions: like Facebook, Twitter is a space where people engage in all kinds of conversations, some silly, some more serious. This could hinder the ability to focus on classroom activities as students could easily have difficulties finding a balance between academic interaction and “fun” interactions.
Is Twitter useful for students?
Research shows that groups of students who were supported in their studies by weekly Twitter posts performed better in their tests than those who didn’t receive reminders or participated in online discussions.
One reason for this is the open-ended discussions that students can have with their peers, providing the possibility to get support anytime and from anywhere.
Another important aspect is the emotional support that students can find on Twitter, sharing the same anxieties and worries about exams and building team work when facing certain common difficulties.
It thus appears that the overall experience of using Twitter in educational settings is beneficial for students but also for teachers, who can gather immediate feedbacks and reactions towards teaching and learning.
Other uses ow Twitter in the classroom
We have talked about some obvious uses of Twitter like sharing ideas and sending reminders, let’s now take a look at other ways in which Twitter can be of assistance to educators:
- Keep up with trends: thanks to hashtags teachers can be up-to-date on the latest educational trends, tools and methods.
- Provides access to broader learning communities: teachers from different schools could use similar hashtags so that students could have access to a larger virtual community.
- Keep parents in the loop: since you just need specific hashtags to visualise a class discussion on Twitter parents can easily see what their kids are up to and what they are learning.
- Make Twitter the homework: instead of asking them to write boring papers a teacher could ask the students to write a summary or answer some questions on Twitter.
- Editing or analysing others’ tweets: language students can practice by finding mistakes on other people’s tweets or analysing them.
- Tweet as a historic figure: Have students create a Twitter account for a person from history. Have them tweet about major events in that person’s life as they think their historic figure would have tweeted.