In a new study, “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literary Practice,” co-author Christine Greenhow, a Michigan State professor, reports that students regularly in contact with fellow classmates and instructors on Twitter received higher grades because they were more interested in the content of the course, suggesting that one of the markers of a good course is its use of social media.
The study says research on the use of Twitter outside the ﬁeld of education has emphasized its “communicative, informational, and organizational properties.” On Twitter, people tweet to develop and maintain relationships through conversation beyond in-person contacts. Research has also focused on how Twitter is used for “mobilization and social protest” by gathering groups to take action without centralizing initial contact in one location. For example, the entire Occupy Wall Street movement was launched and organized on Twitter and Facebook by the socialist Canadian magazine Ad Busters.
The study’s authors present research recommending instructional strategies for using Twitter by professors, including “answering students’ questions, encouraging discussions, helping students connect, and providing support for learning and achievement.” According to Greenhow, with Twitter “students get more engaged because they feel it is connected to something real, that it’s not just learning for the sake of learning. It feels authentic to them.” In the end, the authors note, “Twitter use in higher education may facilitate increased student engagement with course content and increased student-to-student or student-instructor interactions—potentially leading to stronger positive relationships that improve learning and to the design of richer experiential or authentic learning experiences.”
As a college professor, I struggle with the notion that Twitter makes students feel more engaged and authentic. I am wondering if Twitter is as useful in small classroom settings. It seems that perhaps students feel disconnected and disengaged with classmates and professors in large university classrooms where those relationships are more difficult to foster and students are merely a number. It seems to me that best way to have students engage and feel connected with each other, and their instructors, is live interactions in person. If higher education needs Twitter to get students connected and increase performance perhaps there is something else wrong with how we educate in the 21st century.