One of the first assignments for the course in Social Media I am currently taking from Umeå University is to blog about the uses of microblogging in education. My first reaction was there wasn’t a whole lot, depending on your definition of microblogging.
Webopedia, one of the class resources, basically defines microblogging as Twitter and Tumblr, along with the status line of Facebook. I see Twitter primarily as a news source, somewhat more flexible than RSS feeds. As such they can help users keep up-to-date, but I couldn’t see the direct educational advantage. Facebook I can see as more useful, as a course can have its own page, where teachers and students can all interact with each other.
Yet to me, even more useful is an old-fashioned forum, where you can do all that in connection with the course website. The two courses I just took from Gotland University worked like this, and the forums were very useful. The Umeå course also has a forum, but so far it seems far less active than those from Gotland, with only around 4 posts so far, one of them being mine asking about the definition of microblogging in the context of the assignment, a post that has so far prompted one response from a fellow classmate, and as yet nothing from the instructors.
Strengthening this feeling is the primary course book in this area, “E-learning and Social Networking Handbook: Resources for Higher Education“, doesn’t even mention Twitter or microblogs at all (and devotes only three pages to Facebook and MySpace). That might be because the book was written four years ago, but the associated website, which is supposed to be up-to-date, doesn’t mention them either as far as I can tell.
Yet my preference for a forum over Twittter may just reflect my generation. I’ve used forums going back to CompuServe and before that BBS systems starting in the mnid-80’s sometime. Twitter may just be something that younger people (such as would be most students in the educational process) get better than me. At least a quick Google search of “Twitter as an educational tool” is very revealing:
The top (or second depending on when I searched) listed result, Can Twitter be Used as an Effective Educational Tool? , contains an infographic that starts off pointing out that 94% of first year college students use social networking sites. This not a surprise, but it goes on to cite a study in which 75 students were required to use Twitter for educational purposes, while 55 were required to communicate through a traditional learning system. The results showed higher engagement and better grades for the Tweeters. The conclusions:
Twitter allows for a constant ongoing discussion that goes beyond the ne hour class section.
Students took full advantage of using Twitter as a forum for their questions, generating a wide range of questions which would typically occur in class.
The next Google result (or the first depending on the search), Using Twitter as an Education Tool, provides some examples and explanations for the benefits of Twitter in learning. Professor David Parry of the University of Texas discovered:
Some of the highlights were an increase of “class chatter” as the class started using Twitter to have conversations inside and outside of the class. It seemed to develop a sense of “classroom community” as students began to develop a sense of each other outside the classroom space. Other tips are:
- Instant feedback.
- Track a conference or seminar.
- Follow a professional or famous person.
- Public notepad.
- Writing assignments.
- Maximizing the teachable moment.
Here’s another example from the same article:
George Mayo, an eighth grade English teacher at Silver Spring International Middle School in Montgomery County, Maryland, recently used Twitter as a tool to collaboratively write a story by his students. Mayo invited his students and students around the world via his Many Voices Twitter account to add to an ongoing story with individual “tweets.” After six weeks and the help of more than 100 students and six different countries, the story was finished.
“It was incredibly simple and really amazing,” Mayo said. “My students and I would come in, and suddenly kids in China had written a chapter for the book.” Afterward he made the book available for his students to download for free.
In the Social Media course we’ve also been using Twitter. The assignment involved using tweets to define 15 different Web 2.0 topics, relying on Webopedia and trying to squeeze the definitions into 140 characters. The results are available under the hash tag #2it012