“I Tweeted that”: Using Twitter to prompt deep learning in higher education

By Robin Mueller, Educational Development Consultant 

The Educational Development Unit (EDU) of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning recently hosted a Teaching Assistant Orientation event.  By all accounts this was a successful endeavor, with 80+ graduate students in attendance for a rich day of interactive learning.  However, this event also marked the beginnings of an online social media presence for the EDU via Twitter (search #uc_tao).

It’s common to use Twitter as a promotional tool for new organizations like the EDU, and this was certainly part of the rationale that we considered when making a decision about using it at our TA Orientation.  However, I’m more interested in the role that Twitter can play in student learning, particularly in the context of one-time events like ours.

In recent months I have begun the practice of Tweeting during learning experiences when I am presented with new information that is of interest to me.  While I was skeptical at first, I have found that Tweeting is a useful exercise for my learning in the same way that note-taking is; I am forced to process what I’m hearing more deeply than if I were listening passively (Boch & Piolat, 2005).  This practice also serves as a means of information storage; I find myself returning frequently to my Twitter account to re-read and follow up on what I have published in my Tweets.

There isn’t a lot of research out there that explores the relationship between Twitter use and student learning—or how to structure this most effectively from an instructional perspective.  Data collected in early studies suggests that Twitter is effective for facilitating scholarly dialogue (Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2010), and additional research indicates that Twitter use leads to enhanced collaborative outcomes in postsecondary courses (Junco, Elavsky, & Heiberger, 2013).  These initial findings prompt more questions for me: Do students perceive enhanced learning with Twitter use?  How do students experience participatory requirements and assessment of learning that is structured around Twitter?  Are there any concrete links between Twitter use and achievement of learning outcomes, and in what contexts?

As I have reflected on my own experiences with Twitter in conjunction with what recent research tells us, I have come to the conclusion that there is a compelling reason to explore the Twitter—learning connection in more depth.  Based on the Twitter use by participants from our Teaching Assistant Orientation, it’s clear that, at the very least, Twitter can be used as an effective venue for demonstrating learning (see the screen shot below for evidence of this). In the meantime, when in doubt, Tweet!

twitter screen shot 1


Boch, F., & Piolat, A. (2005). Note taking and learning: A summary of research. WAC Journal, 16, 101-113. Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/journal/vol16/boch.pdf

Junco, R., Heibergert, G., & Loken, E. (2010). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 119-132. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x

Junco, R., Elavsky, C. M., & Heiberger, G. (2013). Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2), 273-287. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01284.x

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