The Chronicle, Fast Company and many others have picked up on this article – The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades (Junco R., Heiberger G., Loken E. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x). What struck me wasn’t how many other outlets ignored the fact that it wasn’t actually “Twitter” perse, but rather engagement and novelty that may have created the result. Twitter was merely the vehicle that allowed that to happen. I would think that much of the same results could in all manner of Student Response Systems. From The Chronicle:
“One of the hallmarks of any good college education is to have students engaged, because engagement is crucial in developing critical-thinking skills and increased maturity, as well as promoting overall retention,” said Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, and one of the study’s authors. He suggested that Twitter may be able to improve grades because it incorporates a feature into academic study that many students already use in their everyday lives—the “status update” that’s a part of Facebook. He said this familiarity may make students more comfortable in both continuing class discussions outside the classroom, and responding to class material. At the peak of the experiment, occurring three weeks before the end of the semester, the 70 students produced 612 tweets within a single week.”
Thankfully I’m not alone in thinking that it’s not the tool, but I don’t think entirely the students and the way that they choose to use the tool as Danielle Webb suggests in Macleans.
Whether a student uses a tool like Twitter or not can be indicative of a number of things. But it is not, by itself, indicative of a student’s intelligence, nor is it by itself capable of boosting any single student’s GPA. The possession of a hammer does not make a person a better carpenter, but simply offers them more opportunities.
I would hate to see the effects of a study like this on an impressionable young student, struggling with their course load, thinking that the answer to all of their academic problems lies in a Twitter account. Sure, in some cases, Twitter can bring a new, dynamic and sometimes valuable contribution to class life, but it’s completely naïve to think that the simple addition of this social networking tool to a classroom will turn Cs to As.
It is very much also a requirement that the instructors are part of the equation as well, creating an environment where the tool can be used to as great a range as possible. From the abstract:
This study provides experimental evidence that Twitter can be used as an educational tool to help engage students and to mobilize faculty into a more active and participatory role.
It’s nice to see this sort of research being done.