Students chatting on Twitter both inside and outside the classroom got higher grades than their nontweeting peers in a recent experiment conducted at a medium-size public institution in the Midwest.
At the end of the semester, the tweeters had grade-point averages half a point higher, on average, than did their nontweeting counterparts. And students who tweeted were more engaged. Twitter users scored higher than those who didn’t use the tool on a 19-question student-engagement survey over the course of the semester—using parameters like how frequently students contributed to classroom discussion, and how often they interacted with their instructor about course material.
The results of the experiment were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning in an article titled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades.” Researchers did not reveal the name of the university involved to protect the identities of the students.
A total of 125 first-year pre-health-professional majors participated in the voluntary experiment, in which 70 students were assigned to use Twitter to both access information and complete four class assignments required in a first-year seminar course. The control group of 55 students completed the same tasks on a Web-based program that functioned like a typical course-management system’s discussion board.
“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.
Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his courses, questioned whether the tool was the cause of the improved grades.
Mr. Parry said more specific studies needed to be conducted to truly determine whether or not Twitter use is the deciding factor, and what uses of Twitter are most effective.
“I think more could be done to understand the range of ways that the Twitter design can work better in class assignments and collaborative note-taking,” Mr. Parry said. “But the fact that there is a new communication channel for talking with students is always useful and increases the number of students we reach.”