Twitter as a Teaching Tool

How the 140-character social networker can help teachers and students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Emily Gover and Caitlyn Selleck

SOURCE pewinternet.org TeensSocialMediaandPrivacyTwitter has been making headlines in 2013, and not just because of its IPO. It serves as a tool for educators to form working relationships with other professional peers through hashtag chats and professional learning networks. What’s more, it provides opportunities for students to excel in their classes and improve their critical thinking skills. This is not conjecture — a growing number of studies confirm that incorporating Twitter into instruction can help student achievement. A 2013 study in the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics & Informatics reported that 60 percent of junior high school students use social media at least twice a week, and demonstrates young students’ comfort level with social media. One study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project corroborates this, with a survey from May of this year that reported over 90 percent of students are sharing photos on social media, and even 71 percent share their school name or town where they live.

Is a tweet an original statement or idea? Is it an interpretation, review or opinion of another person’s tweet?

The report from the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics also included details of a study where an eighth grade teacher found a direct correlation between higher test scores and students who used Twitter. How? The teacher had one group of students follow his Twitter feed, which had tweets about homework assignments, upcoming test dates and study guides; the other group had no interaction with the stream. On one test, Twitter-using students scored 6 percent higher; on another, 8 percent.

At the academic level, a professor at the University of Texas-Dallas made a large class of 90 students feel more personal and intimate by having students participate in class using Twitter. This established a common communication point for students to interact with the professor. For example, for students who might be too embarrassed or shy to ask questions in class, Twitter provides a more comfortable outlet for participation.

Identify & Understand Primary Sources

Understanding differences between primary and secondary sources is a key skill, particularly as students transition from high school to college-level research. Twitter is a conglomerate of primary and secondary sources, in the form of 140 characters or less. Students can search for tweets on an assigned topic (or a topic of their choice) and select ones that would be considered a primary source. Is a tweet an original statement or idea? Is it an interpretation, review or opinion of another person’s tweet?

With 278,000 tweets sent every minute, Twitter is a great tool to teach fundamental information literacy skills to students. Here are some ways that educators have used Twitter to teach evaluation and research skills to students.

Verify Authorship

It doesn’t take much to find mock accounts of famous figures on Twitter, so how can students determine if authors are who they say they are? Looking for verified accounts is one way, but many credible scholars, authors and journalists do not have Twitter’s literal seal of approval. Having students do background research on non-verified Twitter accounts and seeing if they can find a credible source linking to it can help them understand how to evaluate the authority of sources in a digital context.

Track Breaking News & Evaluate Credibility

Twitter came to the forefront of breaking news in 2011 during the Arab Spring, with first-hand accounts from protesters and reporters in Tahrir Square. It has continued to serve as the go-to place for immediate, breaking news. Such events are an opportunity for students to critically think about the credibility or bias of information and how quickly information spreads online. Do certain news outlets wait to confirm or re-report information from other organizations? Do they change their story over time? 

The likelihood of following breaking news tweets in real-time during class is unlikely, but tweets and hashtags can be searched at anytime. Use these events to have students evaluate sources, understand primary, first-hand accounts, compare conflicting information and discuss the overall pros and cons of near-instantaneous news reports.

Twitter has 170,000,000 million active users, and 500,000,000 accounts registered. Educators can use this popular social media platform to not only network with and learn from colleagues in the field, but use it for real-world application of important information literacy and critical thinking skills for their students. 

Sources

Lunden, Ingrid. “Twitter May Have 500M Users But Only 170M Are Active, 75 percent On Twitter’s Own Clients.” TechCrunch. AOL Inc., 31 July 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.

Madden, Mary, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith. “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. PewResearchCenter, 21 May 2013. Web. 12 June 2013. 

Miners, Zach. “Twitter Goes to College.” U.S. News & World Report Sept. 2009: 56-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2013.

Van Vooren, Carol, and Bess Corey. “Teacher Tweets Improve Achievement for Eighth Grade Science Students.” Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics & Informatics 11.1 (2013): 33-36. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2013.

Caity Selleck and Emily Gover work on product and content development and are in-house librarians for EasyBib.com and ResearchReady.com, and they also work on marketing initiatives for their 40 million users. Emily Gover presents to fellow information professional nationwide via webinars and at conferences and continues to serve as a part-time reference librarian at Hendrick Hudson Free Library. ResearchReady is a cloud-based learning platform enabling librarians and educators to teach ethical research and information literacy skills. Write to: emily@imagineeasy.com

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