James Watkins is majoring in Public Relations at the University of Oregon and serves as the TEP Social Media Intern.
Although many instructors make a conscious effort to improve classroom discussions and engage as many students as possible to participate, a variety of factors can limit their success. The material may be too complex to engage fully in a short amount of time during class, students may be unwilling to express themselves in front of their peers, or it may be difficult to include current events or real-world scenarios into certain aspects of the lesson.
In response to these and other similar challenges, teachers have begun to utilize new social media tools as part of their lectures and curriculum. As a public relations student, for instance, I am now expected to be proficient in using platforms like Twitter and WordPress to interact with teachers and other students. However, this expectation does not need to be limited to the journalism school alone.
Consider Twitter, for example. Instructors across the country are using Twitter to reach out to those students who previously lacked a voice in the classroom. For these instructors, student engagement in their classes has increased noticeably, both inside and outside the classroom. Many have found Twitter to be a way for students to discuss material and ask questions in a low-pressure manner, thus empowering students to interact with each other and contribute to class discussion from the comfort of their laptop computers. Moreover, one of the first discoveries made by teachers adopting Twitter as a classroom tool was that the discussion was not limited to classroom time. The ability to post relevant comments, questions, links and photos was simply too enticing to close the discussion when class ended.
With the majority of college students now accompanied by their laptop or cell phone throughout the day, use of Twitter means the classroom material inevitably follows them anywhere they go. This creates opportunities for each student to incorporate daily experiences and discoveries into the class discussion and add meaningful insights and feedback to the conversation.
Here are some potential advantages of incorporating Twitter into your curriculum:
– Expand Conversation to Include More Students
- Students can tweet comments and questions in class, providing a richer conversation that includes more diverse opinions and contributions.
- The 140-character limit requires concise ideas.
- Teachers may ask questions and take polls among students to gauge collective opinion.
– Extend Discussion Beyond Class Hours
- Students and teachers can post links, articles, research, etc.
- Users can address one another directly in a relaxed environment, increasing involvement of students who lack the confidence or comfort to speak out in class.
- Past and future students can be included to add more participants in the discussion.
- Current events can be applied and related with more ease and clarity.
- Students and teachers who miss class can access discussion material.
– Create a Review and Feedback Tool
- Instructors can monitor trends among student posts.
- Instructors and students have access to all messages and feedback shared during the term
– Supplement Blackboard
- Instructors can enhance the use of blogs or discussion forums on Blackboard, and students have yet another way to contribute to class discussion or obtain feedback from instructors or their peers.
– Ensure Up-to-Date Communication
- With the use of Tweet Deck, posts can appear on a student’s or teacher’s desktop in real time regardless of other activity on the computer.
Naturally, the obvious disadvantage here is that laptop or cell phone use in class might become a distraction for students unwilling to participate or pay attention. It can be challenging to ensure that students are only using online access for class-related material. However, teachers who permit students to use laptops for only “note-taking” are taking an equally considerable risk. With a resource like Twitter, students will have a greater incentive to close other computer tabs and follow the classroom discussion. Seeing others interact and contribute is far more engaging than merely taking notes.
Another deterrent for teachers considering the use of Twitter is the challenge to become familiar with its use and implementation – knowledge that must then be passed on to students. However, taking time early in the term to educate students about its appropriate use will pay dividends in the long run.
For those unfamiliar with Twitter, here are several links that can serve as an introductory course for you. They include everything from initial set-up and basic instructions to information and specific examples for how to use Twitter effectively in lectures and discussions: