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Do Social Media Benefit College Students by Engaging Them in the Course Material?

by Dr. Shamva Wright on May 1, 2013

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Yes! This professor’s Twitter trial increased student engagement and improved grades.

If you were to walk the halls of The College of Westchester, what would you see? If you were to walk into the student café, what would you see? If you took a ride in the elevator, what would you see? I’ll tell you. You would see a student using some type of social media, (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).  I was once told if you can’t beat them; join them. And that’s exactly what I did. I joined them.

The Twitter Trial

I knew that if I was going to attempt this task (a one semester trial) I had to make sure I picked the appropriate social medium that would serve and a teaching tool as well as a tool of engagement.  I wanted students to be able to gain a valuable learning experience and not just a way to chat with friends.

I began with a catchy user name: The Dr Is In. I then informed students that this Twitter account is not for personal use. It’s for instructional use only. All user names had to be G rated and they had to follow the netiquette guidelines the college has posted on Moodle.  They were even required to use proper English. I reiterated to them that Twitter is not something that I would be using to just chat with students. My intentions were to use it as an alternative method for last minute news, and class up dates.

After the first two weeks of minimal tweeting, I realized that I needed to do something to make it more learners friendly. I read a report, “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literary Practice,” by Christine Greenhow, a Michigan State professor and coauthor of the study, who found that students who were actively engaging with classmates and the instructor on Twitter were more interested in the course material and ultimately received higher grades.  This was the outcome that I was looking for.

I began tweeting questions from that day’s lectures offering bonus points to the first person to tweet back the answer.  In a matter of 3 minutes, I started receiving responses. The more I tweeted, the more responses I received. I even started tweeting without bonus points and the responses stayed the same. After a few weeks into the semester I began to notice that the students were now tweeting with each other more than they were with me, the instructor. When an exam was scheduled, they would tweet words of encouragement to each other. And to top it all off, the grades were improving.  The students were so engaged with tweeting, that if too much time went by without a tweet from me, they would tweet me asking if something was wrong, or to let me know they were waiting on a tweet from me.

Can social media engage benefits student engagement? Yes!

Do social media benefit college students by engaging them in the course material?  My answer would be yes! Students become more engaged because they get a sense of being connected to something real. It’s not just learning for the sake of learning. It feels real to them. They enjoy the fact that their instructors are using a tool that they use. Social media is slowing replacing the old versions of communication. We must try and stay in the loop as much as possible to keep up with today’s technology.

As instructors, we can use Twitter or any social media to ask and answer questions, to brainstorm, for extended in-class discussions, and to help students connect and work collaboratively with each other to generate information beneficial to their course material.  Keeping them engaged in or out of the classroom can help improve their final grades.

The students in my courses know that they have a direct means of communication with their instructor.  If it’s after the classes contact hours, they know, that if they are struggling with the material, have a question about the material, or just want to inform me on my class related issues they can always “Tweet Me” Why? Because “The Dr Is In”.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
10 Ways Students Can Use Twitter for Paper Writing
7 Twitter Users to Follow If You Are Interested in Education Technology
10 More Resources For Getting the Most Out of Cell Phones and Smart Phones in School

About 

Dr. Shamva Wright-Shingler is the Assistant Chairperson of the Allied Health Department at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY.

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