A number of faculty are now using Twitter in their classrooms, with positive effects. Here are two examples using different approaches.
Professors West, Moore, and Barry tried out a Twitter assignment in two large courses, Marketing (231 students) and Fashion Concepts and Theory (180 students), taken by beginning students. They thought it might be a way of making the large-course environment more personal and engaging. The assignment required students to tweet 10 times throughout the semester using an instructor-provided hashtag. At the end of the semester students wrote a paper—worth 10 percent of their grade—that described their Twitter activity in the course and reflected on how it impacted their learning experiences.
Across the three months of the marketing and fashion courses, students shared 5,012 tweets and 3,006 respectively. On average 37 students tweeted per day, 57 on class lecture days in marketing. About 15 percent of the tweets were posted during class, and the rest outside class.
Students also took an online survey that solicited feedback on the Twitter assignment. “Overall, students are very positive on how the use of Twitter contributes to their learning-related outcomes in the course.” (p. 167) Data show that Twitter improved interaction within the learning community of the class and provided a greater sense of connection with the professor, classmates, and the professional community. Guest speakers and students exchanged tweets and carried on professional exchanges. The impact of the Twitter assignment on course grades was unclear.
In two sections of a Principles of Macroeconomics course, enrolling 30 and 21 students, Professor Kassens incorporated 10 assignments, all involving the use of Twitter. These assignments ended up being worth 15 percent of students' course grades. In one of the assignments, students listened to the 2013 State of Union speech and tweeted comments during the speech or within 24 hours after it. In another, two prominent economists—experts in an area being studied in class—tweeted two questions to the class, with students required to tweet answers.
Professor Kassens sees writing benefits in Twitter assignments. They offer a way to refine writing skills without requiring large writing assignments. The same can be said for the power of Twitter to develop students' skills of reflection. Composing a tweet challenges student to think.
Authors of both of these articles make suggestions to faculty interested in incorporating a Twitter assignment. Professors West, Moore, and Barry recommend that faculty have a strong initial presence on Twitter—that they lead by example early in the course. They also recommend using the technology in class. For example, when they had students completing activities in groups, they had the groups tweet their findings in real time to the rest of the class. They don't think students will become as engaged with Twitter if it isn't mandatory, and that “it is important to reinforce and reward original tweets rather than retweeting activities when evaluating course participation and learning outcomes.” (p. 169) Professor Kassens suggests setting ground rules. Students are used to using Twitter for social exchanges, not professional ones. They need help understanding the differences and ground rules can clarify professional expectations. She also thinks students take the assignment seriously if it's a significant portion of their grade. Finally, she notes that the kinds of assignments she used would require excessive amounts of work in large courses.
References: West, B., Moore, H., and Barry, B. (2015). Beyond the Tweet: Using Twitter to enhance engagement, learning and success among first-year students. Journal of Marketing Education, 37 (3), 160-170. Kassens, A.L. (2014). Tweeting your way to improved #writing, #reflection, and #community. Journal of Economic Education, 45 (2), 101-109.