Twitter in Academia?

My teaching with technology comment this time was stimulated by a conversation I had with another instructor who knew I teach online classes. His daughter was going to take a class at Palomar and he asked my opinion about online versus on-campus classes. After listing the pros and cons of taking an online class, I concluded by saying “If someone can take a class online or on-campus, I almost always recommend that he/she take an on-campus class.” The reason is that the social dynamic in an on-campus class cannot easily be replicated in an online class.

Shortly after having that conversation I read an article published in the Journal of Information Systems about using Twitter in higher education. We’ve all heard or read about people using Twitter to comment about immediate, ongoing events such as during natural disasters and political events but is there a place for Twitter in education? After all, the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes encourages short, ungrammatically constructed posts and discourages deeper, reflective discussions. Or so I thought.

After reading some articles about how professors are using Twitter in higher education though, I am starting to change my mind. I’ll mention two articles that influenced me to reconsider my bias against using Twitter in higher education.

Dunlap and Lowenthal in Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence, argue that Twitter can be a valuable tool to increase “social presence” in an online class and point out the positive correlations that exist between (a) social presence and student engagement in the class and (b) with student satisfaction in the class. The authors cite 10 constructive ways they have used Twitter in their online class. One example: A student, puzzled by something she read in the textbook or with a class assignment, tweets (posts) her question to the class from her mobile phone. within 10 minutes she receives two clarifying responses. The ability to tweet and receive tweets from anywhere is very powerful.

Dave Parry, blogging at AcademHack,was initially very skeptical about using Twitter in education,and now argues for its educational value. Parry uses Twitter with his on-campus class and provides a number of examples of how he believes Twitter has enhanced the students’ experience of the class. One of the first observations Parry made was that communications among students increased – both inside and outside the classroom as a result of Twitter. Parry found that Twitter enabled students to develop “more productive classroom conversations” and become more engaged with each other, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Bottom line for me: While not yet ready to drink the Twitter cool-aid, I now see how others have used it to promote their educational goals and I am ready to experiment with it myself. What are your views: To tweet or not to tweet?

Audio of Blog:

First Day of Class

When I first started teaching a Palomar College I asked one of the senior professors in my departmentwhat he did the first day of class. He said “Oh, you just hand out the syllabus and tell them to go buy their books.” Many years later and now a senior professor myself, I recognize this as very poor advice.

So, with the first day of the new semester right around the corner, I would like to offer some different words of advice to consider. First as many have observed, we only have one chance to make a first impression. With that in mind consider the following points gleaned from surveys of successful instructors who were asked what they would advise instructors to do the first day of class.

  • visit the classroom a week before class to make sure it is set up the way you want and has the equipment (i.e. data projector and internet) you’ll need
  • arrive early the first day and write your name and course name on the board
  • begin by introducing yourself and telling the students a little bit about yourself
  • be well organized and prepared: explain the course organization, requirements, assignments, and policies – it is a mistake to simply direct students to “read the syllabus”
  • on the first day use some of the teaching methods you will use throughout the semester such as giving a short lecture, showing a video clip and asking for responses, arrange small group discussions if you do this during your classes, use the “clickers” to get students actively involved right from the beginning – give students a good idea of what your class will be like
  • make sure you use the full amount of class time as this communicates that class time is valuable and something important will be accomplished each class period

What about with large lecture classes? See the videos linked below to observe how one award-winning professor handles large classes (the link will open in a new window).

Welcoming Students on the First Day