Academics like the idea of Twitter in the classroom but what do students think?

My notes on Boath, E., Vigurs, K., & Frangos, J. (2018). Twittering Away-Is twitter an appropriate adjunctive tool to enhance learning and engagement in Higher Education?. Innovative Practice in Higher Education, 3(2).

Twitter has often be framed as a potential tool for teaching and learning. It can be used for virtual peer support groups, developing interactive networks, sharing knowledge and building networks. It “allows learning conversations to take place both virtually and publicly, thus removing them from the isolation of classrooms and academic ivory towers” (104). It can promote asynchronous learning, generating online community and facilitate immediate formative feedback. There are a whole range of ways in which it can be used but what do students make of these possibilities?

In this study, Elizabeth Boath, Katy Vigurs and Juliette Frangos investigate student experiences of Twitter through a study of a convenience sample of 44 social welfare law students. Its focus was on Twitter as “an adjunctive learning tool to provide learners with access to contemporary discussion relevant to their subject, which they were invited to identify, understand and disseminate to the wider group” (105). During a Welfare Benefits and Money Advice Module of a BA Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice students were invited to engage via Twitter lists, a twitter chat, direct engagement with lecturing staff, each other and experts in the field within and beyond the academy. They were asked to identify information relevant for their course and share it with others using a dedicated hashtag. A 17-item questionnaire using closed and open questions was designed to explore their views of this activity and the impact it had on their learning experience. It was completed by 11 of the 44 students (25%). Three of them had previously been regular users of Twitter, five had not used Twitter before but were now regular users and 3 were infrequent users previously and remained so now.

Their responses conveyed the usefulness of Twitter for enhancing knowledge, particularly on emerging event s and breaking news. Though this was coupled with concerns about the reliability of twitter sources. Some suggested they found the platform overwhelming, with too much information and too little time to process it. This reinforces existing research which has found that Twitter’s use to support students may be limited. The authors suggest that “if supported by institutional digital scaffolding such as time management strategies and training, Twitter may be a useful adjunct to traditional physical learning spaces that facilitates the enhancement of knowledge and building of professional networks” (108).

The real question is what from that scaffolding would take and whether this would be worthwhile even if it was provided. The teaching might be effective but are students interested?Interestingly, only two of them agreed that Twitter had added to their enjoyment of the model. Could there be much more enthusiasm for Twitter on the part of educators than on the part of students? They note that the students in question “tend to be more mature students, to be employed, have children and also some undertake additional caring roles” and so may be atypical of the broader population (108)

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