Twitter In The Classroom

By John Calhoun



As the push for technology in education grows, so does the need for microblogging sites such as Twitter. Twitter has exploded onto the social networking scene in recent years. The site attracts millions of members daily; including actors, professional athletes, musicians, and other pop-culture figures. The format of the website itself is very simple; a user can log on and leave an SMS style post on their profile page for others to view, the only catch is that the post is limited to 140 characters. This limit brings about many abbreviated words and lingo commonly used in text messaging. Users can also follow other users, and send and receive “tweets”. These “tweets” are personal messages you can share with other users. There is no doubt that Twitter is a very effective form of communication. The site allows users to connect with people of similar occupations and interests all throughout the world. These distinct characteristics are what have led to the recent experimentation of using Twitter for educational purposes.
Twitter, although very simple in itself, brings many new possibilities to the table for both educators and students. Before social networking, and various other forms of online communication, collaborating with others had been done in person. With Twitter, educators are able to connect with other educators, and students are able to connect with other students all throughout the world. New educational breakthroughs can be discussed and analyzed by a seemingly infinite number of people. As we move into a more technologically based world, we have become more dependent on fast, simple, and reliable information. Twitter certainly provides a platform for all of this information to be exchanged; it just depends on how we use it. Twitter, with its simplicity and widespread use, surely has the potential to revolutionize education.

Teachers Collaborating Through Twitter

Education, of course, starts with teachers. One of the most effective ways for educators to improve their teaching methods is through communicating with peers. By sharing experiences and collaborating with others, teachers can get a better feel for how to run his or her classroom. Before the Internet and social networking sites existed, teachers’ main resources were their colleagues within the school. Twitter has broadened this network to thousands of potential collaborators. As more and more teachers are joining Twitter, we are seeing a major increase in communication among educators.
Twitter has brought about the development of PLC’s, or Professional Learning Communities. PLC’s are networks of Twitter users who share their experiences and knowledge of the teaching profession with one another. These unique communities contain three major elements: a primary focus on learning, professional collaboration, and results (Garrett 5). One of the major benefits of having these communities online is the seemingly infinite number of resources available. Now math teachers in the United States can exchange lesson plans with math teachers in China, all in a matter of seconds.
Having these communities on Twitter also allows users to tailor their PLC to their own personal needs. Since users can choose who they wish to follow, their PLC can be as large as they want or as exclusive as they want (Trinkle, par.3). Users can connect with other teachers in just their field of education or any other field they wish to seek information from. Richard DuFour, author of Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, raises a good point when he says, "schools cannot achieve the fundamental purpose of learning for all if educators work in isolation.” ( Trinkle, par.4). The recent success of PLC’s has without a doubt proven the truth behind this statement.
Many studies have been conducted to explore collaboration among educators and how it affects students’ performance. One of the more recent studies, titled The Idaho School Library Impact Study, took place in Idaho in 2009. The study surveyed teachers, administrators, and teacher-librarians all throughout the state. Various questions were asked on how often collaboration occurs, and the results were then compared to teacher and student performance (Lance, Rodney, Schwarz, par.3). The study showed that students at the middle and elementary school level whose teachers regularly collaborated with teacher-librarians scored 3% to 7% higher on statewide reading and language arts assessments than those where little to no communication takes place (Lance, Rodney, Schwarz, par.22). Although it is not a huge difference, there is no doubt that this communication among educators does make a difference. Administrators are now recognizing these benefits and promoting collaboration throughout their faculty; of the 176 administrators surveyed, nearly 90% said that collaboration among educators on instructional design is “essential” (Lance, Rodney, Schwarz, par.6). Collaboration is certainly beneficial to both students and educators, so it is no wonder that more and more teachers have turned to Twitter as yet another resource for education.

Teachers Using Twitter to Further Engage Students

One of the major difficulties teachers face today is keeping their students engaged in the classroom. With cell phones, Ipods, laptops, and other electronic devices constantly grabbing students attention, it seems as though the last thing on their minds is the material being taught. Many teachers are now using Twitter as a means to get their students more involved both inside and outside the classroom.
At the University of Texas-Dallas, professor David Parry has applied Twitter to his classes in a very unique way. Parry’s students are all followers of his Twitter page, on which he writes posts that relate to the content being covered in class (Miners, par.6). Not only does this provide another resource for students to turn to for studying and assignments, but it allows for participation that otherwise might not have occurred. Students of all kinds would agree that asking questions and voicing opinions in front of large classrooms can be very intimidating. The use of a Twitter page allows students to be actively engaged in the class in a very comfortable and non-threatening manner. Parry believes “One thing that has changed about higher education is the idea that people come and sit in a dorm and, after class, they share ideas. A lot of that is gone now, because students work two jobs, they don’t live in dorms…but Twitter is making up for it, in a way” ( Miners, par.7). It is clear that Parry’s experiments with Twitter in his classes have been beneficial to many students.
Along with its uses outside the classroom, Twitter is now gradually being integrated into lecture halls and class discussions. Purdue University has begun using a program called Hotseat in its classes. The program allows students to post comments and questions on a screen in the front of the class via text messaging and Twitter (Young 9). Hotseat allows students to have more control over discussions and once again gets those who might not regularly participate in class to do so. Ben Van Wye, a student at Purdue University, said about Hotseat, “I'm not that outspoken in class, so I would never ask a question out loud to the professor. But you can type it in as anonymous, so nobody really knows if what you're asking is a dumb question” ( Young 10). Although this concept obviously runs the risk of students not taking the program seriously by posting off topic comments, Hotseat appears to be rather successful. Sugato Chakravarty, one of the professors who uses this program in his classes said, “You have some meaningless stuff, but it’s followed by some very good questions that would never be asked.” ( Young 11). It is estimated that about 75% of students in classes participate in Hotseat (Young 10). This percentage is certainly higher as opposed to, traditional, not interactive classes.
There is no doubt that the more engaged students are in the classroom, the better they will understand the content of the course. Studies have been conducted to show the direct correlation between student engagement and how successful students are in the classroom. One such study, Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence, explored this concept in great detail. The study compared records and data from 6,193 students across 18 universities. From all of this data the researchers found that “student engagement in educationally purposeful activities is positively related to academic outcomes as represented by first-year student grades and by persistence between the first and second year of college.” (Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, Gonyea 555). Not only does engagement directly relate to grades, but it also can have profound effects on students who often struggle with schoolwork. This study also showed that “while exposure to effective educational practices generally benefits all students, the effects are even greater for lower ability students” (Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, Gonyea 555). It is clear that teachers must do all they can to get students more engaged in class; Twitter is now becoming one of the most effective ways to do so.

Using Twitter as a Resource for Learning

Although Twitter is often associated with people posting meaningless aspects of their lives for everyone to read, the site is also widely used as a resource for learning. More and more educators, librarians, professionals, and everyday people are creating Twitter pages dedicated to sharing their knowledge with others. These users post links to resources, tips, current research, studies, recent works and other useful bits of information on a seemingly infinite range of topics.
One of the largest educational topics discussed throughout Twitter is writing and the English language. Twitter feeds regarding almost every aspect of the English language can be easily accessed in a matter of seconds. Feeds such as @prowritingtips offer links, tips, and commentary from both professional writers and editors. Another feed, @RKResumes, provides businesspeople with tips and useful information regarding how to properly write cover letters and resumes. Many professional writers are also turning to Twitter to get their name out to the rest of the industry. @GetPublishedTV is a feed specifically designed to help writers publish their work and become successful in the writing industry. These are just a few of the thousands of pages regarding writing and the English language on Twitter. With feeds ranging from journalism resources to grammar help, Twitter can be one of the most effective places to learn more about the English language.
One of the most common perceptions of using Twitter as a way to learn is whether or not it actually works. Since Twitter is such a popular social media website it is often viewed as just another distraction. One study, however, proved that using Twitter can have a positive impact on grades. The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades was a study conducted using 125 students from a pre-health class; 70 of which were allowed to use Twitter for class related discussions, and the remaining 55 were not (Junco, Heiberger, Loken 1). At the end of the semester, GPA’s form both groups were recorded and compared. The mean GPA of the 70 students who used Twitter was 2.79 and the mean GPA of the 55 students who did not use Twitter was 2.28 (Junco, Heiberger, Loken 7). There is a clear difference in the success of the students who used Twitter and those that did not. The study also suggested “social media can be used as an educational tool to help students reach desired college outcomes” (Junco, Heiberger, Loken 12). Despite what people think, Twitter is an excellent resource for learning. Its diverse range of users allows for a seemingly infinite number of ways to access new information.


The widespread use of Twitter for educational purposes is rapidly growing and the reasons for this gain in popularity are very straightforward. Twitter provides teachers and students with a place to communicate ideas and share information. One of the best ways to do so is though a Professional Learning Communities. Such networks provide a forum for collaboration to occur, from which both students and teachers benefit. Twitter can also be used to further engage students both inside and outside the classroom. Through programs such as Purdue University’s Hotseat, students are participating more and getting the most out of their classes. One of the most practical uses for Twitter in education, however, is using it as a resource for learning. With thousands of educators, librarians, professionals, and eager learners on Twitter, the site can be used as an effective way to get information. As technology becomes more and more prevalent in education, Twitter consistently remains a beneficial tool for both students and educators.

Works Cited

Catherine Trinkle. “Twitter as a Professional Learning Community” School Library Monthly. Santa Barbara: Dec 2009. Vol. 26, Iss. 4; pg. 22, 2 pgs. Web.

Garrett, Kristi. “Professional Learning Communities Allow a Transformational Culture to Take Root” Education Digest, Oct2010, Vol. 76 Issue 2, p4-9, 6p. Web PDF.

Lance, Keith Curry; Rodney, Marcia J.; Schwarz, Bill. “Collaboration Works-When it Happens!” Teacher Librarian, Jun2010, Vol. 37 Issue 5, p30-36, 7p. Web

Miners, Zach. “Twitter Takes a Trip to College”. U.S. News & World Report, Sep2009, Vol. 146 Issue 8, p56-57, 2p. Web.

Young, Jeffrey R. “Teaching With Twitter”. Education Digest, Mar2010, Vol. 75 Issue 7, p9-12, 4p. Web PDF.

Kuh, George D.; Cruce, Ty M.; Shoup, Rick; Kinzie, Jillian; Gonyea, Robert M. “Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence”. Journal of Higher Education, Sep/Oct2008, Vol. 79 Issue 5, p540-563, 24p. Web PDF

Junco, R.; Heiberger, G.; Loken, E. “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades”. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Nov2010, pg 1-14, 14p. Web PDF