Twitter in the classroom: a critical evaluation

Abstract

Twitter (Dorsey, 2006) is a micro-blogging social media service that allows users to contribute and read short, text based posts within a basic, user friendly web page. Until recently, this tool has been used solely in social circles for communicating ones everyday thoughts, news, ‘happenings’ or to share photos, webpage links and alike, but a new wave of educators have discovered a use for the tool in the world of IT learning.

Via this evaluation, I have been able to consider the value of Twitter in an IT classroom. Essentially its greatest strength is allowing students to create a learning network of not only fellow classmates but industry professionals. Its ability to be accessed in and out of the classroom, at times that are convenient to the user is also an advantage. Online safety is an obvious concern with this tool which would need to be addressed as part of the planning phase. As a by-product of this, gaining access in a school setting may also be a challenge. Another consideration would be with regards to feedback – how do you know if the feedback is valuable? In essence, Twitter is a tool that would create a new and dynamic classroom which would ultimately enhance student learning.

Evaluation

Twitter has long been considered as simply a social networking tool but recent studies have shown it to be much more; particularly in the classroom.

Messner (2009) discussed the use of Twitter in her classroom by likening it to a ‘community’. She has utilised the tool within her English class to link not only the 15 students together to share work, but to also invite industry professionals to contribute via advice or relevant feedback.

Similarly, Parry (2008) suggested Twitter gave his students the chance to learn anywhere, anytime. As an associate professor at Dallas University, Parry used Twitter to communicate with his students to express thoughts, assign readings or as a medium for student questioning.

To further illustrate Twitter’s academic value, Bart (2009) discussed the use of Twitter to facilitate classroom discussions in a forum that would ultimately enhance more traditional teaching methods.

So the research suggests it’s a fantastic tool but I decided to evaluate some of its proposed uses in more depth.

In my mind, the basic format of Twitter is a real ‘selling point’. It requires minimal prior knowledge which means users can pick up the technology and learn as they go along. The features within Twitter are also of an ‘entry level’ which opens up opportunities for even the most novice of users.

In it’s simplest form, it’s been suggested that Twitter can be used to distribute supplementary course material to students in an instantaneous fashion. This material may be readings, website links or class details. While completing this task may sound simple, it would require students to have constant access to the internet via phones or computers. In a high school setting this may be effective; particularly given most students have instant access. Although one would have to consider its merit if schools went with a more typical learning management system (like Moodle).

As Bart discussed, Twitter can be used as a medium for ongoing discussion between students and teachers. This I believe is a viable teaching opportunity. Being able to instantly discuss a topic would provide definite advantages to students and would give teachers an opportunity to oversee progress and/or make contributions. Building on this and following Messner’s model, Twitter would also give industry professionals an opportunity to be involved, providing students with an enhanced level of knowledge. Essentially it’s creating the sense that the learning community extends beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Twitter could also act as an immediate tool for feedback. Students could link blog posts (or similar), pose brief questions or post brief thoughts and gain feedback from not only peers, but people worldwide. The issue I can see with this is ensuring the students understand the feedback being provided and how to use it effectively – i.e. be able to take criticism as well as praise, and then be able to improve the outcome of their work.

The Twitter model does have some potential challenges that could limit its effectiveness in the classroom. At the top of the list would be privacy issues and online safety. Like all social networking sites, Twitter requires a basic level of personal information to be provided. There’s also the problem of ongoing ‘personal’ posts which could have ongoing ramifications depending on their nature. A thorough education session with students regarding this issue would need to be completed prior to Twitter being formally introduced.

Another potential challenge is gaining acceptance in the school setting. I would be confident in saying that at this point in time, most schools would limit their students use of sites such as Twitter for fear of misuse or anti-social behaviour. A teacher looking to include this in the curriculum would need to provide a very convincing argument to allow its use.

Similarly, a teacher would need to be proactive in ensuring the posts being made and received by students were relevant to the task at hand. Linked to this, input by ‘industry professionals’ has the potential to be accurate and helpful but conversely misleading. Ideally teachers would actively follow students ‘tweets’ to confirm the material being received is accurate and useful

A further potential problem could be a distorted power dynamic between the teacher and students. That is, the students may have the power (or perceived power) to take over the class through their discussions and views. A teacher who lacks leadership may find this concept hard to work with which may lead to the tool becoming ineffective and limiting student learning.

From a specific teaching perspective, the use of Twitter could be used as a vehicle for learning throughout high school. Ideally, I can envisage its best value in a VCE classroom where the students could best utilise the content being received and contributed.

Looking at the Information Technology Victorian Certificate of Education Study Design from a broad perspective, Twitter could be used as part of the problem solving methodology. Whilst the students may understand the basic concept, it may be useful to get feedback regarding specific scenarios.

Considering Twitter on a more specific scale, it could enhance the learning in any of the four units of VCE, ultimately helping to address required key knowledge and key skills. For example in unit 1, students may use Twitter to discuss techniques for testing ICT solutions, discuss networks and relevant uses or as a means to investigate design tools. A creative teacher could find a specific use within any IT classroom or alternatively open it up to be used as an ongoing feedback tool.

In the end, the research suggests Twitter is a valuable learning tool. It does seem to be reliant on a teacher who is ‘tech savvy’ and has a willingness to push their students in and out of the classroom but for the most part, the positives do outweigh the challenges.

I can see myself using this in my classroom in conjunction with other learning activities. In my mind it would be ineffective if used in isolation because of its simplistic nature.

Moving forward, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the relevant research and utilising the thoughts and experiences of colleagues to better include Twitter in my classroom.

 

References

Bart, M. (2009). Using Twitter to Facilitate Classroom Discussions. Faculty Focus. Retrieved September 1st, 2011 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/using-twitter-to-facilitate-classroom-discussions/

Dorsey, J (2006). Twitter. Re

trieved September 1st, 2011 from http://twitter.com/

Messner, K. (2009). Pleased to Tweet You. School Library Journal, 55(12), 44-47

Parry, D (2008). Micro Blogging with Twitter. Campus Technology. Retrieved September 1st, 2011 from
http://campustechnology.com/articles/2008/03/micro-blogging-with-twitter.aspx

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2010). Information Technology Victorian Certificate of Education Study Design. Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Retrieved September 1st, 2011 from  http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/vcaa/vce/studies/infotech/infotechsd2011-2014.pdf

 

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