Can Twitter use help improve grades? Some researchers think so

Twitter use helped students communicate more with their instructors.

Twitter use might be more than an extracurricular activity for college students, according to researchers from three universities whose work suggests that using the popular microblogging service to discuss academics could help bolster student engagement and success.

In an article published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning Nov. 12, researchers unveiled findings from a midsized college campus that suggest students who communicated through Twitter during and after class had a GPA of about a half-point higher than students who didn’t use the social media site.

Students who used Twitter also scored higher on a student engagement exam administered at the college, which was unnamed in the article, titled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades.”

One-hundred and twenty five students participated in the study; 70 of these students were required to use Twitter for educational purposes, and 55 students were asked to communicate through a traditional learning management system—in this case, Ning.

The group of tweeting students became more active on the social media site as the semester progressed. The group’s number of tweets remained steady—with minor increases during some weeks—until the twelfth week of the semester, when the group pumped out 612 140-character messages to each other and their instructors.

The number of tweets dropped in the final three weeks of the semester, according to the research conducted by Reynol Junco at Lock Haven University, Greg Heiberger at South Dakota State University, and Eric Loken at Pennsylvania State University.

“As there is continuing growth in the use of social media by college students and faculty, it is hoped that this study will motivate further controlled studies of Twitter and other social media to evaluate how emerging technologies can be best used in educational settings” and how educators can better use Web 2.0 technologies in their curriculum, the report said.

Twitter use, while similar to chatting with faculty and students on a learning management system, proved far more interactive, according to the report. About 30 percent of faculty tweets were responses to student comments on questions. Faculty responses accounted for 1 percent of Ning activity.

Faculty members involved in the research were required to frequently check their Twitter feeds for student tweets—a strategy that fostered more constant communication with students.

“The introduction of Twitter into the learning process mobilized faculty into a more active role with students that was different than when using Ning,” the report said. “Students in both the Twitter and the Ning groups received the same information and performed the same activities; however, Twitter [use] lent itself more to a conversation between students and faculty.”

The report continued: “While Ning announcements took the form of static bulletin board postings, Twitter announcements were met with active responses by students, which were met by even more interaction by faculty.”

Research suggesting that Twitter use can help increase student engagement and success differs from a report released in December 2009 claiming that “there is no correlation between the amount of time students spend using social media and their grades,” although the latter research included students’ use of Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn, among other social media websites—and it didn’t examine the use of these services strictly for academic purposes.

The University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics published the 2009 study, which examined students’ social media habits and whether posting Facebook status updates, scrolling through friends’ photos, and Twitter use affected their GPAs.

Nearly seven out of 10 Twitter users achieved high grades at the university, defined in the study as A’s and B’s. Three in 10 finished the semester with lower grades, meaning a B or lower.

Only 14 percent of student participants used Twitter, which ranked fourth in social media use behind Facebook, YouTube, and blogs.

The University of New Hampshire research suggested that business students were most likely to use Twitter, and students majoring in life sciences and health and human services were the least likely tweeters.

“The study indicates that social media is being integrated with, rather than interfering with, students’ academic lives,” said Chuck Martin, a university adjunct professor whose marketing class conducted the study. “College students have grown up with social networks, and the study shows they are now simply part of how students interact with each other, with no apparent [negative] impact on grades.”

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