Research Tuesday: “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades”

If you haven’t heard, Rachel Wynn over at Talks Just Fine has started a SLP Blogger challenge of sorts! Every second Tuesday, a group of bloggers will share and critique a piece of research. The thought is that we all could stand to read more research and be exposed to research that others find. If you’re an SLP Blogger, head over to Rachel’s blog and email her about participating! The more the merrier. :D

To kick this off, I figured what could be more appropriate than reviewing an article on the use of technology? In the coming months, I hope to review articles about a variety of dysphagia, cognition, speech, and language topics…hopefully all with an app/technology tie-in. If you know me, you know I can’t be taken all that seriously. ;) I hope to put a real-life-application spin on these reviews, and I hope you feel comfortable engaging in discussion about them–whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions!

Article: Junco, R., Heibergert, G., & Loken, E. (2011.) The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and gradesJournal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 119-132.

Background: Basically, almost everybody is using social media in one form or another these days. This everybody includes college faculty and students. While Facebook is still the most popular, educators are more willing to use Twitter for the learning process, since it facilitates an ongoing, public dialogue. It is a well-received theory that students’ level of engagement highly correlates with desired college outcomes. Improving a student’s level of engagement improves psychosocial development and academic success. Technology is becoming an increasingly popular media for increasing this level of engagement.

Purpose: Examine the effect of using Twitter as part of an educational intervention on student engagement, with grades as an outcome variable.

Questions:

1. What effect does encouraging the use of Twitter for educationally relevant purposes have on student engagement?

2. What effect does encouraging the use of Twitter for educationally relevant purposes have on semester grades?

What They Did: 125 pre-health professional majors in seven sections of the same first-year course participated. None of them were prior Twitter users. Participants completed a pre-test and post-test survey at the beginning and end of the semester, respectively. The experimental group (students who were to use Twitter during the semester) was given a one-hour training on Twitter use at the beginning of the semester. Twitter was then used to continue class discussions, give students a low-stress way to ask questions, facilitate book discussions, send class/campus event reminders, provide academic/personal support, help students connect with each other and the instructors, organize service learning projects/study groups, and complete optional/required assignments. The control group had all of this as well; however, it was provided through the class’s networking site, not Twitter. Students were assessed using 19 questions from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Student semester and high school GPAs were also obtained.

Results:

1. Before: There was no pre-existing difference in engagement scores between the control and experimental group.

2. After: The group using Twitter had significantly higher engagement scores on the post-test survey.

3. Before: There was no pre-existing difference in high school GPAs between the control and experimental group.

4. After: The group using Twitter had significantly higher semester GPAs.

5. Qualitative observations: Students extended conversations that they were not able to complete during class. They appeared to feel comfortable expressing feelings and shortcomings via Twitter. Some developed interpersonal relationships, and they did so across diverse groups. They frequently used Twitter for asking questions. With minimal faculty facilitation, they created study groups and continued these throughout the semester without further faculty intervention.

Real Life Applications: The authors get into some great discussion about the implications of this research (as well as the limitations of it). They specifically mention how using Twitter increases faculty-student conversation and creates a culture of engagement between students. I LOVE Twitter for this reason. Only a couple of my professors used Twitter (and none used them as part of a course). Yet when I started using Twitter for academic purposes as a graduate student, my personal motivation and engagement skyrocketed. Having other students and professionals on Twitter allowed me to commiserate, ask questions, join discussions, and–well, everything the study mentioned, really. Had my own professors and fellow students been more active on Twitter, I can only imagine my level of engagement would have increased even more.

In short, Twitter can be great for students! However, I also suspect that many of these findings can be carried over to working professionals as well. As lifelong learners, we are in many ways still students. So many of the things discussed in this study can easily be applied to those of us who are no longer in school. Which brings me to…

Suggested Further Research: 

1. How does involvement on Twitter increase professional engagement? Does it decrease employee turn-over and burnout? Does it increase employer satisfaction or employee productivity?

2. For students, does using Twitter still correlate with increased grades and engagement if they are using it independently from a course but still for academic purposes?

3. What are the negative consequences of using Twitter as a student or professional? Are there specific ways to decrease these negative consequences?

4. I’d also love to see a follow-up study on these students to know if they still use Twitter, if their GPA and levels of engagement dropped after they were no longer using Twitter in this semi-structured manner, etc.

5. The study discussed how Twitter facilitated cross-cultural interaction that often does not happen in the classroom. It would be fascinating to study the cross-cultural relationships and attitudes of students using Twitter versus students who only engage in a traditional classroom format.

Your Thoughts: So, what do you think?! Are you a student, faculty, or professional? Do you use Twitter for academic or professional purposes? What do you think of the results of this study?

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9 thoughts on “Research Tuesday: “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades”

    • Pfft please, I loved yours! I think every single one of us is doing it completely differently, which makes them much more fun to read. Er, as you said, as fun as reading research really can be. ;)

  1. If I were a professor, I would seriously consider incorporating twitter into my course material. The difficulty would be that it is such a dynamic and “real-time” issue that important tweets can be lost. Particularly if clients fail, etc. I wonder how they accounted for that issue. We see that with the #SLPeeps all the time.

    • Hmm yes, I could see how that could potentially affect, for example, participation in Twitter-based assignments. The article did not specifically mention that, but the majority of their Twitter use focused on increasing student participation, not mandatory assignments or participation. So even if one or two tweets was “lost,” student participation was still possible without any negative consequences. Hopefully this would be a rare enough issue, similar to emails getting lost, that it could be handled on an individual basis if it was an actual assignment to tweet something. Using technology makes things easier but certainly adds in a twist of complexity at the same time!

  2. Nice article. I think I’ve been using Twitter for about a year now. I would say that I’ve taken risks that I wouldn’t have (starting a private practice) if I weren’t using Twitter. It’s great to be connected to so many SLPs. We stay “on topic” most of the time, but also break out and have a little fun here and there too. Without the support, starting a private practice (or even a blog) would have been a much bigger gamble.

  3. Pingback: Blogging about Research #SLPBloggers June Edition | "Talks Just Fine"

  4. Very interesting! I think there are a lot of variables out of the researchers’ hands – such as the real-time issue of losing tweets mentioned above. It seems a specific hashtag would need to be set up for all the participants to use in their tweets in order for people to be able to catch everything. I love how interpersonal relationships formed and were maintained long after! Were there specific participation requirements such as frequency of tweeting?

    Abby
    Schoolhouse Talk!

    • Abby, I think the use of a specific hashtag would be incredible helpful! Great suggestion.
      There weren’t exactly participation requirements for the entire semester; however, there were a couple assignments (optional and mandatory) that the students could complete via tweeting. Perhaps it would be interesting to look into how results differed if it was a mandatory requirement vs. a voluntary way to get involved in discussions? So many possible follow-up studies!

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