Study: Twitter Improves Student Learning in College Classrooms

The social network may benefit college students by engaging them in course material.

The White House plans to promote #My2K on Twitter and other social media.
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Twitter has been heralded as a platform that connects the world in real time, with more than 140 million active users posting roughly 400 million Tweets daily. Meanwhile, there are some college educators who blame Twitter for a decline in student attention spans and for negatively impacting students' abilities to think and write.

[Discover five unique uses of Twitter in the classroom.]

But one study released this month from Michigan State University discovered that courses that engage students on Twitter may actually see higher interaction and better grades. In the report, "Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literary Practice," Christine Greenhow, a Michigan State professor and coauthor of the study, found that students who were actively engaging with classmates and the instructor on Twitter were more interested in the course material—and ultimately received higher grades.

"The students get more engaged because they feel it is connected to something real, that it's not just learning for the sake of learning," Greenhow said in a press release. "It feels authentic to them."

By integrating Twitter in her English courses, and through her research, Greenhow, and her collaborator, Michigan State professor Benjamin Gleason, found that students seemed to engage more with one another on Twitter than in the classroom. Greenhow and Gleason concluded in the study that students who use Twitter for academic reasons gain the ability to write succinctly, stay up to date on current research, and also benefit from connecting with academic experts directly.

"Our synthesis suggests that students and teachers might benefit when Twitter is used as a 'backchannel' for communication within or between classes," the authors wrote. "Instructors and students can use Twitter to ask and answer questions, brainstorm, focus or extend in-class discussions, help students connect, collaboratively generate information, and learn concise writing styles."

While educators may differ on the utility of Twitter, social media is becoming more prevalent in college classrooms, according to a recent survey of 4,000 higher education faculty members by Pearson Education and Babson Survey Research Group. The survey reported that 33.8 percent of faculty respondents are now using social media for teaching purposes, but instead of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there is still a preference for using blogs and wikis in the classroom.

[See how mobile apps are being integrated in the college classroom.]

Using our U.S. News Education Twitter handle, we asked our followers whether integrating Twitter in the classroom is helpful or harmful for students. Here are some of the responses:

@rlytle I think it helps. Opportunity for supplemental materials, joining in a conversation that includes more than just those in class.

— rightingteacher (@rightingteacher) October 26, 2012

@rlytle Helps students who already use it. I use it as an optional resource in my course. I think if I required it, it'd hurt more than help

— Chris Faulkner (@cgfaulkner) October 26, 2012

@rlytle I don't have numbers but my impression is most of my students don't use it. I'd be forcing them, which isn't good

— Chris Faulkner (@cgfaulkner) October 26, 2012

Depends how its used. RT @rlytle: Looking for feedback from high school and college educators: Do (cont) tl.gd/jpi3ka

— Tangimausia Kafoa (@Tangimausia) October 26, 2012

If used to enhance learning by way of following relevant&useful ppl, hashtagging across campuses for global learning etc..USEFUL!

— Tangimausia Kafoa (@Tangimausia) October 26, 2012

Helps. Go where the kids are. RT@rlytle: Do you think incorporating Twitter in a course helps or hurts students? #BeatEast

— Vince Merrell (@vincemerrell) October 26, 2012

@rlytle If a textbook isn't used effectively there is possible harm too. I'm looking to engage my students. Can't be too afraid. #BeatEast

— Vince Merrell (@vincemerrell) October 26, 2012

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