Anuradha Sivaraman and Alex Brown discuss the use of Twitter in their courses.

Classroom tech

UD faculty use Twitter to enhance classroom experience


(Editor's note: This article is part of a continuing series by University IT on innovative use of technology in campus classrooms.)

1:45 p.m., Nov. 19, 2013--The University of Delaware’s Alexander Brown, instructor of business administration, and Anuradha Sivaraman, assistant professor of business administration, believe that using Twitter for their courses helps keep the classroom discussions contemporary and increases class participation.

“It’s a good way to source material for classroom discussions,” Brown explains. “If you run a class where you want to engage students with current content and keep things contemporary, Twitter is the way to go.”

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Twitter is a social media service that allows users to send and read messages limited to 140 characters. The messages, or “tweets,” can be organized with hashtags so that people can easily search for, follow, or post messages about a specific topic or interest.

The stigma associated with Twitter is that it is another frivolous social media tool that people use to broadcast themselves. However, it can be utilized for academic purposes. The immediate and brief messages make Twitter perfect for creating news feeds with links to news articles. 

“We are compiling the most important pieces of news and re-tweeting it,” Sivaraman said. “It is less work than having to create a laundry list of articles for them.”

Brown and Sivaraman use a hashtag that identifies their courses (e.g., #buad477) to send news article links to students. Outside of class, students also tweet news articles using the same hashtag so that their classmates and professor can see the news articles. Pictures can also be tweeted when encountering relevant marketing situations while shopping.

The articles and topics raised in Twitter then become part of their in-class discussions. For example, Brown spends the first quarter of each class talking about the tweets in the course Twitter feed. 

Although Brown and Sivaraman do not teach together, the collective use of Twitter benefits their students. 

Sivaraman explains, “There was one semester where we were teaching different sections of the same course and, by using a common hashtag, we were able to exchange information with our students that came from two instructors.” 

With so much information being posted, how can 140 characters be enough? According to Brown and Sivaraman, the character limit is one of Twitter’s greatest advantages over other social media services. Because they use Twitter to post news article links, 140 characters is plenty of room for a short comment; the substance is in the news articles linked from the tweet, then discussed in class.

For students, the 140 character limit forces them to read the content critically and identify the most important parts. 

“By forcing them to condense their tweets, it improves their memory of the material,” Sivaraman says. “It gets them into the habit of analyzing what they read.” 

As of now, neither faculty member is formally grading Twitter participation. Brown and Sivaraman do not require students to use Twitter; it is a tool for class discussions and participation. The students who actively use Twitter for class are rewarded participation points, which enables even the shyest students to get involved. 

“I am looking into a way to formally grade Twitter content,” Sivaraman says. “I think when we find a way to formally grade Twitter content, then it will be a golden tool.”

You can view the full video of this interview online.

Article by Thomas Joseph Springer III


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