Sociologist uses Twitter for class but are the students learning more?

Stories like this are not uncommon: professors utilizing technology to engage their students (and here is another one about clicker use).

Wendy Welch is incorporating the use of the social networking site Twitter into her cultural geography class this semester. The adjunct instructor said she decided to use the social networking site in her class after having problems with students using their phones in class for less-than-appropriate purposes.“If you can’t beat them, get ahead of them,” Welch said. “That’s the way the world works now.”…

Each student was assigned a country in Africa and asked to tweet facts about their country, such as languages and population, using designated hash tags, or categories. That way, each student only has to research one country but has access to all the information they may need from other students.

Welch also plans to have students use their mobile devices or laptops to research information during class sessions, she said…

She said she hopes to “get students to understand and participate in their own education.”

Perhaps this does increase the engagement level of the students. All professors want their students to be engaged and we don’t want to be seen as being behind the times. But, I think there is often something missing from discussions about student engagement and the use of technology in the classroom: does this actually lead to higher levels of student learning or student outcomes?

I suspect professors will always try to keep up with technology as it changes and each of these changes will be accompanied by hand-wringing. However, we need to be able to distinguish between engaging students with technology versus helping them learn. Take this Twitter example from class: do students do better on tests? Do they retain the knowledge better? Can they apply their knowledge from this particular class to other settings, particularly if the technology is not present? Does technology itself help students think more deeply about the big questions of our world?

If technology alone becomes the answer in the classroom, we will be in trouble.

0 thoughts on “Sociologist uses Twitter for class but are the students learning more?

  1. It might just be another example of newer tools helping us do the sames things in a different way.

    Regarding your questions of “does this actually lead to higher levels of student learning or student outcomes?” I’d respond by simply asking “does this lead to lower levels of student outcomes?” It it detracts from learning, of course stay away from a shift to technology, especially if you’re not skilled enough to pull it off successfully. If the use of technology in the classroom gets the same things done except in a way that the students find more enjoyable/relatable, bring it on.

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    • That is an interesting way of flipping the question around. Perhaps if the effect is neutral, than updating the classroom to include new technologies may simply be par for the course.

      But then we could think of the opportunity costs – how much time do we put into keeping up with the technology when the time could be better invested elsewhere? Students, schools, and faculty have to keep investing resources to keep up when those resources (time and money) could be used elsewhere.

      The problem is, as Bauerlein argues in The Dumbest Generation, is that we have been told for decades that using more technology will lead to better learning outcomes. This simply hasn’t happened, leading to questions about how else we might improve educations.

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