By Yaffa Klugerman November 5, 2009
Twitter, the popular microblogging service, is beginning to catch on as a teaching tool at college even as skeptics balk at the idea of incorporating it into the classroom.
The issue was discussed at this week's annual Educause conference in Denver, which focuses on education technology. Inside Higher Ed reports that during a session at the conference, higher education officials debated the practicality and possible benefits of using Twitter in college courses.
"This network has been vitally important to me as a professional," said W. Gardner Campbell, director of the Academy of Teaching and Learning at Baylor University in Texas. "I think, 'If this network is good for me as a learner, could it be good for my students as learners?" He pointed out that using Twitter in class could increase participation and allow professors a glimpse of what students are actually thinking.
But Bruce Maas, CIO of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, remained skeptical. He noted that young people are reportedly not as interested in Twitter as other social networking sites such as Facebook. In addition, he noted that "tweeting" in class might prove to be more of a distraction in the classroom than a resource.
But the trend is clearly catching on in some colleges. The Journal & Courier in Indiana reports that students in three Purdue University classes are using technology which allows them to interact in class using social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The application, called Hotseat, allows students to post comments during class that everyone can view, as well as vote or interact with one another instantly.
"I tend to dislike large lectures because the environment needed for class discussions is usually lacking," said Ashley Hill, a Purdue student. "But Hotseat has helped to make students feel they can voice their opinion about what they are learning and really become involved in the class discussion for that day."
Charles Calahan, a clinical assistant professor in child development and family studies, is utilizing Hotseat in two of his classes. He believes that roughly 70 percent of students access it during class.
"In a typical classroom of 400 students I will have 130 students comment from a class," he said. "Before, I had three or four commenting."
Using Twitter as a teaching tool has been successfully done before. In June, Monica Rankin, a history professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, wrote about her experience using the microblogging service to organize comments, questions and feedback posted by students onto a giant image in front of a 90-person lecture hall.
"I wanted to find a way to incorporate more student-centered learning techniques and involve the students more fully into the material," she told ReadWriteWeb.com.