As this term we’re considering the value or otherwise of various technologies and tools for education, I want to share this great article from the Campus Technology blog, Using Twitter to Support Learning by Ruth Reynard, on the use of Twitter in teaching. The introduction:
Twitter has become ubiquitous and many educators use it or a similar micro blogging technology to maintain connection with students in terms of announcements, information flow, and assignment updates. While some instructors have experienced success in community building and numerous articles detailing the more common uses of the platform are available online, a couple core questions have emerged.
Can Twitter help support and facilitate the instructional process itself? If so, how, and in what ways can instructors successfully integrate the technology with existing courses?
The great strength of Twitter to me is the connectivity, the ease of use, and that it is naturally addictive to so quickly put something out there and receive real time response from classmates and global peers. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have made many professional connections on Twitter that I would never have had the opportunity or venue to have made otherwise, and it is this, in conjunction with news and link sharing, that is Twitter’s greatest strength. As an example, for a clinical governance assignment last year I asked Paramedic peers through my feed what their organisations’ drug therapy protocols were for ondansetron, an anti-emetic drug, specifically in terms of stated precautions and contraindications. This information is hard to find online as ambulance services do not always make such policies public, but within hours I had contacts from paramedics of several services across the world who collectively provided for me just the insight I was seeking. Another example? I spotted this article not because I was already on that blog tonight, but at the moment that it was shared on Twitter by Kevin O’Rourke, and an hour later I am now sharing it onwards myself.
To foster twitterings of learning amongst a student cohort would be beneficial in generating enthusiasm, sharing thoughts, stimulating discussion, and introducing students to the wider community of peers online. It would be perfect to run ‘in the background’ during a course as a task that would generate such a community for students, and would ultimately provide for them a resource with value beyond that particular course and assignment, whilst not being a heavy workload for students to bear. This last point is important, as whilst Twitter and other web 2.0 tools may possess varying potential for educational use, these technologies have nonetheless not usually been designed for primarily educational use.
Whilst discussing and giving some practical tips on how Twitter’s micro-blogging services may be of educational value, Ruth asks:
- Is it necessary to use every new technology in a teaching and learning environment;
- Are teachers always going to be on a learning curve with new technology; and
- Is it ever acceptable to not pursue the latest tools and integrate them into one’s teaching methodology?
I think the answer to the first question is an emphatic NO!, and that to attempt to do so would be nightmareish. The rate at which technologies are being birthed and are evolving is phenomenal, and frankly I feel that we all are on a constant learning curve just managing and keeping up with the more ubiquitous everyday technologies. Attempting to adopt anything that looks remotely useable in the educational context would make the learning curve exponential, and not just for the teachers, but for the students too; whilst they may be required to only use two web 2.0 tools in your course, consider that full-time students typically take four courses at a time, and that each of those facilitators may also involve such technologies, though not necessarily the same ones! [Clearly there must be some guidance or restraint in exactly what students are asked to do or use, and consensus within faculties or at least schools as to which tools and platforms they will choose from to integrate.]
On that point, the first question is one that must be asked whenever considering the addition of something new to one’s repertoire, though rephrashed to read “…to use this new technology…”, and with added emphasis on necessary. I must say here that I do think it is important to continually assess these new tools for potential pedagogical benefits, and that it is necessary too to keep in mind that the world in which our [usually] younger students live may be very different to our own, in that social media and multimedia in general are an enormous and ever-present part of that. However my point is that determining the validity of the tool’s potential contribution may easily be forgotten in the rush to try everything new, or when responding to the ‘need’ to include web 2.0 and other tools into one’s teaching, and that every newly adopted tool will come at a price, that of the time spent on learning and using something that may not be a potent enough instructional tool to be of true educational benefit.
I feel that in the end any adoption of e-tools that are outside of current teaching methods must be in consideration of these points:
- Is it necessary? What educational gains will it achieve that may not be reached so well by other means?
- Is there another tool already in use that can achieve this? If so, is this one better in some way?
- Is it easy to learn and use? Is the interface complex? Could a student naïve to the technology pick it up in ten minutes?
- Will the tool have benefits to the student outside of the course? For other classes? Professional life? Personal life?
Once adopted, the differing nature of these tools may be managed through weighting per the educational value of each; for example, a collaborative class project upon the wiki platform may be of greater value and meet more course outcomes than semester-long commentary on weekly topics and interaction through a Twitter activity, and attributed 30% and 5% total weighting respectively. Whilst this should indicate to students where they need spend their time, the biggest problem I see in the use of Twitter in particular is for the lecturer. There is no tool on earth so powerful in inducing deep procrastination as Twitter, and creating the need to regularly check one’s feed ‘in the call of duty’ sounds a slippery slope to “whaddaya mean, it’s five o’clock already?!” syndrome!