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Study of Twitter reveals increased engagement and grades

March 24, 2011

Twitter. I still hear people snicker when I talk about how it is one of the most incredible professional development resources I’ve known. Recently, a number of faculty at my school have taken to tweeting during professional development days, and it’s causes a bit of a stir between those who are tweeting and find it to be an great way to engage and reflect upon the activity, and those who aren’t tweeting and it distracting to see their neighbors tapping away on the cell phone.

So, you can imagine I was intrigued to see this blog post on Hack College (I don’t even remember how this got in my RSS): Study Measures Twitter’s Effect on Student Engagement.

The post links to an awesome paper in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, that describes a how students taking a first year seminar course for pre-health majors, and were randomly assigned to either a traditional course, or an experimental course where students were trained in the use of twitter and subsequently, twitter was used to enhance class in a number of ways.
The paper includes a great description of how the class used twitter, which I’ve included below just to remind myself of a number of great ideas for using twitter.

  • Continuity for class discussions: Because the first-year seminar met only once a week for an hour, Twitter was used to continue conversations begun in class. For instance, students were asked to discuss the role of altruism in the helping professions.
  • Giving students a low-stress way to ask questions: Oftentimes, first-year and/or introverted students are less comfortable asking questions in class. The dyna- mics of Twitter allow students to feel more comfort- able asking questions given the psychological barriers inherent in online communication (Kruger et al.
  • Book discussion: All first-year students read the same
    book as part of their first-year reading programme. The book, Mountains Beyond Mountains (Kidder 2004), focuses on Dr Paul Farmer’s medical relief work in Haiti and was used to stimulate discussion about altruism and the helping professions.
  • Class reminders: As students all took a similar sequence of courses, we were able to remind them of due dates for assignments and dates for exams in mul- tiple classes via one Twitter feed.
  • Campus event reminders: At the beginning of the semester, we used SocialOomph (formerly Tweetlater) to schedule tweet reminders for the entire semester. These reminders included campus events, speakers, concerts and volunteer opportunities.
  • Providing academic and personal support: We regularly posted information about academic enrichment opportunities on campus (for instance, the location and hours for the tutoring centre), both periodically and in response to student requests for help. Additionally, we provided encouragement and support when students reported things such as feeling ‘stressed out’ or being worried about exams.
  • Helping students connect with each other and with instructors: The ‘cohort effect’ or the intentional creation of learning communities is an important concept in ensuring student persistence (Keup 2005–2006). Additionally, student/faculty interaction is an NSSE factor shown to be related to student success (Kuh 2002).
  • Organizing service learning projects: As part of this course, students needed to participate in a service learning volunteer opportunity. Students used the Twitter feed to coordinate volunteer times with each other.
  • Organizing study groups: With only a little encouragement from the authors via the Twitter feed, students organized study groups for two of their more difficult courses, Chemistry and Biology.
  • Optional assignments: Students had the option of completing two assignments via Twitter. The two assignments were:
    1. Attend an upperclass student panel and tweet two questions they had for panelists.
    2. Tweet reactions to their shadowing experience (where they shadowed a healthcare professional in the community for a day).
  • Required assignments: Students in all experimental group sections had four required Twitter assignments during the final 4 weeks of the semester. They were:
    1. Students were required to post two tweets and two replies to other students, discussing how reading Mountains Beyond Mountains has changed their ideas about people who are less fortunate than they are.
    2. Students were asked to watch a video of the Hurst family’s medical volunteer work at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, read an online article about the Hursts, read the article 100 People: A World Portrait, and discuss their reactions by posting two tweets and tweeting two responses to other students’ reactions.
    3. Students were asked to react to the statement that what Paul Farmer was doing in Mountains Beyond Mountains was only a band-aid for the problem by posting two tweets and send- ing two tweet responses to other students’ posts.
    4. Students were asked to discuss their service project in the context of their future career. They were also asked to compare and contrast their experience to that of Paul Farmer and to use examples from their assigned readings.

The students in the experimental group had never used twitter before, and reported sending an average of 48 tweets over the semester. The researchers measured student engagement using the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), before and after the course, and found that the experimental group had a statistically significant increase above the control class.

And if that isn’t enough of a kicker, students in the experimental class earned GPAs 0.1 gradepoints higher than the students in the control class, also a statistically significant difference.

Pretty interesting, I must say, and it makes me think even more about all the ways we might be able to use twitter at my school:

  • Summer reading: could we make summer reading more engaging by having regular tweet chats over the summer, and asking occasional questions?
  • Events: could we get more students to come to sporting and other community events by tweeting them?
  • Classroom: how do I bring twitter into my class? I’m impressed that the instructors took an hour to introduce their students to twitter, which is an impressive commitment. Could this be a large part of the success?
6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2011 1:52 am


    I have been thinking about bringing twitter into the classroom and this paper does offer some really good ideas on use.

    The follow-up studies that they suggest will be a challenge to be done ethically because they have now shown that it is to the advantage of the students to be in the experimental group so they can’t purposely offer some students a less educationally-advantageous course for the sake of research. The only way you could repeat this design (ethically) with more students is for there to be control group professors that would be: interested in having their classes be part of the study, do not wish to use twitter, but would be willing to offer the same announcement structure within ning or something similar.

  2. Carol Perez permalink
    April 3, 2011 9:13 pm

    Hi, my name is Carol Perez and I am taking EDM310 with Dr. Strange. This study is so interesting and I am so glad that this information is available for educators to share with their students and even parents. I think that Twitter is an accessible way for students to be engaged with their studies. On a personal note, you mentioned before that the purpose of your blog is to establish a discourse community for Physics teachers and I myself am trying to find a community of teachers for Language Arts that are seeking to find ways of teaching literature, visual literacy, cultural/historical analysis and technology. Your blog has motivated me to find such a group or blog, thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

    • April 4, 2011 7:22 am

      Hi Carol,
      Thanks so much for commenting. I’d love to help you find some teachers in the langauge arts who blog, but none immediately jump to mind. There are a couple of directories of teacher-bloggers out there, and if I get a chance later today, I’ll see if I can find those links and post them.


  1. Study of Twitter reveals increased engagement and grades « Quantum … | Midia Social
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