Twitter. Results.

The twitter study has concluded (several weeks ago, but who is counting?). As I expected, the results were very mixed…and the results were determined by several things:

1. Experience level of the instructor
2. Persistence of the instructor
3. Type of class that twitter was implemented in

My colleague (@AuroraReinke) and I will be presenting full results at Blackboard World 13 (#BbWorld13), so I hope to see you there. I will also be blogging about the conference, so check back regularly, or follow my tweets: @cherylbonc.

In the meantime, this post will take a look at the first variable, instructor experience. I would surmise that most people don’t think about using a social media tool like twitter to teach. It is a tool to be connected and to share information about our daily doings. But isn’t that what teaching is? Aren’t we, as instructors and subject matter experts, looking to engage with others who may have the same interests?

As instructors, we are “lucky” that we have a captive audience–our students–that wait to hear our every word. However, the goal of the study was to create additional connections: with each other, the instructor, but most importantly, to connect with thought leaders in their field of study.

To me, it is less important to see me as the SME, but as someone who can give them the tools to determine who those thought leaders are, and to be able to critically assess the validity of these leaders. This can be difficult to do. Instructors are supposed to “know everything”, right? WRONG! That is an impossible task, and adds way too much pressure to teaching. Yes, we are supposed to be experts, but the knowledge base changes everyday, the amount of information increases exponentially, and new tools appear as if by magic. So how can we be expected to know it all? The important skill, and one I hope to impart to my students, is to be able to critically think and assess the tsunami of information every day. To find focus. To overcome bias. To be able to synthesize the important kernels, and allow our students to freely explore their interests within the context of the course.

So what does that have to do with this Twitter experiment? Everything! And that is what I discovered. The teaching moments came when students had to critically assess connections, “experts”, and information. We worked through a simple checklist of the “five W’s”: who, what, where, when, why. We discussed each “expert” and resource in each context — much like we would do for Internet and library resources. Score one for using social media as a research tool!

But I do admit that it took me several tries to come up with an authentic learning experience. To do that, I looked to the mission of my institution, and our core competencies. That way, I could easily implement a new tool that my students could then use and add to their skills and stay within the goals of the course and the institution.

That is what I discovered — but it took three implementations and revisions of the assignment. What about those that are new to the concept of teaching with social media? New to the idea of allowing the students to control the direction of their learning? New to the idea of not “knowing everything”? It presents a learning curve –but I dare say that those instructors are excited by the implications, and some of the results they achieved. Each participant has expressed interest in going another round using Twitter to Teach. Even though they were not sure what results to expect, the fact that there was engagement intrigued the instructors.

In future posts I will discuss the three topics above, and share some of the data with you.

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