Profs tweet to engage students in lectures

A few Carleton professors are using Twitter to give students a different learning experience, like letting them ask questions in large classrooms via Twitter or by using a hashtag.

“You don’t have to stand up in front of 200 people and ask a question that you may feel like an idiot asking,” said second-year political science student Rosalyn Stevens.

Twitter can counterbalance the anonymity students feel in increasingly massive classrooms at post-secondary education, said Daniel Preece, a professor for second-year international relations.

Stevens is one of his students.

Twitter is not a “magic bullet,” but can help mitigate the feeling of isolation, Preece said.

However, Patrick Lyons, Carleton’s director of instructional technologies, said the effectiveness of using Twitter in classrooms varies.

“In some circumstances, some students tend to be a little bit funny . . . they can sometimes tweet, what I would say, less teaching-oriented comments back, like, ‘how’s it going?’” Lyons said.

Lyons said ways in which instructors use Twitter depend on the goal each instructor has.

For example, a few professors post topics related to the course, and give short answers to questions that are tweeted.

Kathleen Hughes, a developmental and personal psychology professor, uses Twitter in this way.

Hughes said she did not want to email students news stories that they might not want to read. She said in comparison to emails, Twitter is more of a conversation and makes it easy to interact with students.

This is a thought echoed by Garth Sheriff, an instructor at the Sprott School of Business who held a seminar wih about a dozen instructors on using Twitter for class.

“I don’t get an idea across, it’s hard to ‘teach,’ but it’s easy to direct. You can make people aware, and then you can have a discussion,” he said.

For students who do not have a Twitter account, professors can update their feeds on cuLearn, Lyons said.

Lyons said he does not think the university should mandate all instructors to use one tool to communicate with students.

“The fun thing about technology is it’s continually changing. If we were to say Twitter is a key part of communication strategy, there could be a better tool next year,” Lyons said.

Instructors can also use other tools such as Poll Everywhere, BigBlueButton, Hot Potatoes, Top Hat Monocle and i>clicker according to their teaching styles, Lyons said. These websites allow online discussions and text message-like conversations to take place.

There is no system that tracks the use of Twitter among faculty members for learning purposes, but Lyons said he suspects every Canadian university has at least one instructor that uses  Twitter for these purposes.