Study reveals surprising ways teachers are using Twitter in education

An article in a recent issue of the CITE Journal reveals some surprising findings on how teachers are really using Twitter in education.

The article, called “Participatory Learning Through Social Media: How and Why Social Studies Educators Use Twitter,” analyzed Twitter as a means of participatory learning, or a way of actively engaging with communities. Through a Twitter-distributed survey of 303 social studies educators from diverse schools and backgrounds, authors Daniel G. Krutka of Texas Woman’s University and Jeffrey P. Carpenter of Elon University examined how the teachers were using the social media and microblogging platform for professional development (PD), communication, and class activities.

The survey included open-ended questions such as, “Please explain what aspects of Twitter you find most valuable, and why”—about half the participants responded to this question in particular. About 80 percent of the educators reported using Twitter multiple times a day: It’s user-friendly, efficient, accessible, and helps minimize isolation.

So how did educators report using Twitter in education? An overwhelming majority (96 percent) use it for resource sharing and acquiring, collaboration (84 percent), networking (77 percent), and Twitter chats such as #edchat and #sschat (74 percent). In other words, for professional development.

From there, the numbers get interesting: Only 24 percent reported using it to communicate with students and 16 percent for communicating with parents. About 22 percent said they look to Twitter for emotional support, and 20 percent reported using it for in-class activities—even less, at 18 percent, for out-of-class activities.

Krutka and Carpenter concluded that school policies or cultures might be the cause: Only 39 percent of the surveyed educators said that their schools allowed social media use for both teachers and students. The numbers were lower for only teachers (29 percent), and in 15 percent of schools, it was completely blocked.

But what about the educators who are using Twitter for class activities? Participants mentioned conducting review sessions over Twitter or using the platform “as a summarizing/publishing tool.” A Canadian teacher said they connect with other classes over Twitter, sharing resources and using videos or other posts as “topics for assignments [and] discussions.” Krutka and Carpenter wrote, “One teacher shared that tweeting became a way to extend class curriculum informally to resources or ideas that might be ‘useful, but peripheral, to our unit of study.’”

The authors also revealed that no respondents used Twitter to connect with other racial, cultural, or socioeconomic groups as a way to learn about their experiences, and “the overwhelming whiteness of our respondents raises red flags.” The danger, it seems, is that Twitter and its communities of “like-minded” individuals might reinforce privilege, segregation, or social inequity. That said, some participants valued how their professional learning communities (PLC) challenge their beliefs and perspectives.

In order to leverage more student engagement with Twitter, Krutka and Carpenter advised teachers to consider why so many value Twitter in education and why they cite it as a positive experience before requiring students to participate: “Teacher educators should be thoughtful about the ways in which they require students to engage, as the informal and voluntary nature of teacher Twitter seems to allow educators to benefit in ways that they need.”

One way to do this might be to hold regular Twitter chats with different discussion topics and allow students to choose which one they prefer to attend. You could also encourage students to search for other tweets about the topic using hashtags or keywords to broaden their perspectives. By giving students choice in their participation and encouraging them to share their opinions and be creative with how they respond (such as using GIFs with replies to add an emotional depth or sharing their own resources), you can add a fun and successful layer of learning to your classroom.

Share your thoughts: How do you use Twitter as an educator?

Photo credit: Julia Tim / Shutterstock.com

Stephanie Carmichael Stephanie is the editor-in-chief of the Classcraft Blog and the Head of Content for Classcraft (www.classcraft.com). She's a proud advocate of games for social good and loves talking with teachers about their amazing experiences in the classroom. Email her at [email protected]
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Education, social media, Twitter, Twitter chats
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