Teachers for Twitter?



Christina Bucciere

Twitter connects about 140 million people each day in real time, allowing others to know details about one’s life in 140 characters or less, which provides a valuable resource for entertainment and promotional value. A report released from Michigan State University is now saying Twitter can add value to the classroom as well.

The report, titled “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy Practice,” discusses 14 peer-reviewed academic journals that assessed Twitter usage in educational settings. The researchers compiled the most relevant information from each journal to make some observations.

It was found that the use of Twitter as part of a course curriculum improved the student-teacher relationship, increased student engagement in the class and between peers, created livelier discussion in the classroom and subsequently resulted in higher grades.

The use of Twitter also allowed students to better interject their personality and opinions as it felt more natural and comfortable to the students.

This is something Richard Stanislaw, assistant professor in the department of political science, said is an important value of using Twitter to connect with students. He always gives his students the addresses to his blog and Twitter accounts. He uses Twitter in the same way it would be if a student asked him a question after class or came to office hours.

“Some students will feel more comfortable in class and are able to talk and speak up in class and engage that way, but there are some students who won’t speak up in class for a variety of reasons,” Stanislaw said. “They can find their voice in a real way and engage in conversation over Twitter.”

Stanislaw said he is a proponent of using social media and the Internet as part of the classroom environment because he feels it lends itself well not only to his particular discipline, but also to the increasingly Internet-based world we are living in.

“It is a quick, effective way to communicate, and it’s what the kids are doing. It’s a serious part of the way the political conversation happens, and those of us who are trying to study and teach about how to engage as citizens,” Stanislaw said. “This is the way, for better or worse, the way we communicate now.”

Online participation is not required in Stainslaw’s class per se, but there is a required participation component to his classes, and most students take advantage of the fact that they can use Twitter to fulfill this requirement.

“It happens almost every class that the students who are engaged in conversations on the Internet … bring those conversations into class, and it also carries the conversation from one class to another,” Stanislaw said.

Preparing students for life after college is also an important element in his use of social media.

“If I only told my students to read newspapers, that could be just fine, but that’s not preparing them for how the world works now,” Stanislaw said. “Being able to engage in a thread conversation on someone’s blog or to engage in a Twitter conversation are real skills that students should be learning how to do in the same way they should be learning how to speak up in a meeting.”

Deborah Davis, academic advising coordinator for the College of Communication and Information, felt differently about social media in the classroom.

Davis now teaches the online course Communication Grammar and asked students whether or not they would go to Twitter to use as another level of communication for the class. They all said no.

“I think we are so inundated with ways to gather and share information that it becomes overwhelming, and students start drawing lines where they can,” Davis said. “When I first started teaching COMM 21000, the course site included a discussion board, and students were encouraged to post to it if they wanted to obtain or share information, but it wasn’t required. Almost no one ever used it, and I eliminated it.”

David Dermer, freshman photojournalism major, said he felt that it would be a good idea for the occasional quick question for the professor, but anything else is crossing the line.

“If I’m on Twitter or Facebook, I’m not going on there for educational purposes. It’s like going to the movies. I don’t go to the movies for political statements or religious statements; I go to the movies to be entertained,” Dermer said.

Freshman zoology major Genesis Hernandez, however, sees the positive side of using Twitter for educational purposes.

“Twitter is popular, so I think it would be a great use of student and teacher interaction. It would be quicker than using email for quick questions. You could ask other students questions about class and they could give you quick answers,” Hernandez said.

While the issue of incorporating social media into the classroom environment may be up to personal preference, one thing is certain, Stanislaw said.

“In the classroom, this is clearly a direction we’re going, and it requires work on the part of students and faculty. The way we communicate is going to keep shifting and keep flowing from our personal devices in all sorts of ways,” he said. “We have ease of conversation and more information, so we need to focus on being substantive and having good, meaningful conversation.”

Contact Christina Bucciere at [email protected].