17b) Using Twitter in class: lessons from the literature and from practice

Dina Shah (iSchool), Dr Andrew Cox (iSchool)

Third Session (14:00 – 15:00) 
Inox Conference Suite 3


What is this about?
There are many sites offering lists of potentially good ways to use Twitter in learning, but relatively few serious pieces of research into what works and how to scaffold its use. The studies there have been were mostly conducted in the USA and are often small scale. For example, Wright (2010) asked students to reflect on their learning using Twitter. He found students actually thought more deeply because of the character limit. Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) encouraged students to use it to give opinions, ask questions, share materials and help each other with the assignments activities. It was found to create a stronger learning community and enabled students to connect to professionals. Junco et al (2011) encouraged students to use Twitter while performing eleven different class related tasks, such as watching a video. A Twitter using group out-performed a control group.

In this presentation, in addition to reviewing some of this literature and what it tells us about the most effective practices in the classroom, the speakers reflect on two years of their own experience using microblogging in a level one UG informatics class, with around 40 students. The tutors reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t, how it has affected their own use of Twitter and examine student evaluation of the experience. Students worked well on structured tasks and some seemed to enjoy posting tweets that were then streamed using “visible tweets”. The speakers stress the need to address issues around access to the technology: not every student (even in information science) has a smartphone or is already adept at using Twitter. International students may be engaged in other microblogging services and may feel a lack of confidence in writing text in a public space. Decisions need to be made on whether to advise students to use their personal accounts or set up new ones. Some problems were also encountered with inappropriate comments and misspelling of hashtags. Finding interesting resources to recommend was sometimes hard. The need to establish an online identity for the tutors is itself a major overhead to using Twitter. Twitter requires specific facilitation skills and makes particular types of temporal demands on the tutors. Ideas about how to engage students outside formal class time are discussed. The speakers hope to prompt discussion about the issues around using Twitter or indeed any social media in an appropriate, pedagogically sound way.

How will colleagues benefit?
They will gain a clearer sense of some of the ways they might use Twitter in class and the potential scaffolding required to make its use effective.

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