Monday I introduced the idea of using Twitter in the classroom and shared a video of a “Twitter experiment” conducted at a university in Texas. Students these days are not being engaged by their teachers as well as they could be because they are used to sharing information via social networking sites (SNS) and educational institutions have been slow to embrace SNSs (such as Twitter). To elaborate further on this specific topic, today I briefly summarize the results of a recent study by University of Kent marketing professors Ben Lowe and Des Laffey. They developed their own Twitter experiment in a graduate-level marketing course. Long story short, they found that Twitter does indeed have a positive impact on the classroom, while not being as interactive as they thought it would be.
The Lit Review
Like all proper research articles, Lowe and Laffey (2011) begin with a concise yet detailed review of past research about Twitter as it applies to pedagogy and learning. Summarizing the results of another study, they begin by stating,
With rapid adoption of Web 2.0 technologies among the student population and a gap between student take up and academic take up of Web 2.0 technologies, it would seem pertinent to evaluate the learning benefits to students of using these new technologies within the classroom (p. 183).
They then provide detailed information about Twitter and it’s growth, including the fact that in 2009, there was a 1,000% increase in the number of visits to the site (p. 184). After the introduction to Twitter, they list a few specific benefits, all based on previous research, of the website in term’s of its education use. Four of them are:
- Conciseness: Tweets being limed to 140 characters provides a number of benefits for the academic setting. The students are more likely to read the short messages (just like a text message) when compared to longer e-mails. Thus, tweets might gain more of their attention. Furthermore, writing tweets to communicate with students is much less burdensome for the instructor, since the website was designed to be extremely user-friendly.
- Robustness: Twitter is very powerful when it comes to its capability to quickly facilitate the sharing of information that is related to the specific class.
- Convenience: Users (both students and teachers) can tweet wherever and whenever they want, including from cell phones via either text messaging, the Internet, or applications (the latter two being only on smartphones).
- Nonintrusive: While it is a SNS, Twitter is not as intrusive into the personal lives of students as some social sites. Students may just choose to follow the class tweets without participating or sharing a lot of information. This is important because many students need to know their privacy is secure before choosing to interact with a teacher over SNS.
Lowe and Laffey predict their Twitter experiment will succeed in (1) sharing with the class “real-world” marketing concepts in a timely fashion (Twitter is used by marketers in the world outside the classroom) and (2) leading to a more up-to-date course with “better linking between theory and practice in a contemporary manner” (p. 185).
There were 123 students in the course the authors worked with, and 80 of them voluntarily chose to participate. These students were introduced to Twitter (if they didn’t know it already) and were asked to follow the tweets of the class. After eight weeks, interviews were conduced to get a feel for student perceptions of Twitter in the classroom. The data from the interviews, along with some previously established information, was used to construct a quantitative likert-type survey. The survey was then given to the participants as well.
Results and Implications
According to the authors,
The results of the Twitter project provide strong evidence that Twitter enhanced a variety of learning outcomes in the course for Twitter followers (p. 190).
Even though this project was voluntary and students did not receive a grade for it, more than 65% chose to follow the course’s tweets and, as the authors note, the benefits of using Twitter included,
…enhanced learning about the subject of marketing, a more enjoyable module, concise and useful communication, timeliness, greater realism, great application of marketing theory to real-world examples, and career skills in the use of new technology (p. 187).
While some students did not like the idea because they saw it as an extra burden in their lives (p. 186), a significant number did seem to enjoy the experiment and to benefit from it positively. One finding that surprised the researchers was that Twitter did not increase student interactivity. While it did increase the amount of information they learned about the specific class concept, it did not seem to encourage the students to interact more with each other and their teacher (p. 187). This might be due to the big class size, and the authors assume interactivity (such as tweeting back) would increase in a smaller class because there would be more time for discussion (p. 189).
Finally, just as I said on Monday, the authors here do not propose for Twitter to replace more traditional communication tools for the classroom, they just see it as a great add-on:
[Twitter] should be viewed not as a substitute for other learning technologies but as an easy to use complement to integrate with existing learning technologies (p. 190).