Can the little blue bird help me out?? (or Twitter as a mechanism for driving student engagement if you want to be techy…)

There never seems to be enough time to do what I want in class (or life generally) and inevitably something has to give. I always worry whether I am focusing on value added activities and this is where the concept of a flipped classroom comes in. The idea being that content is delivered online while learning at home, allowing classroom time to be spent on more interactive pursuits. This is a pretty radical shift and it will take some time to move to a pure flip concept.


So what alternatives are there to ensure there is still time for engagement with students? Something I have been experimenting with is using Twitter to interact with students and provide opportunities for discussion outside of the classroom. Forums have been used for this purpose for a long time and are great for providing detailed discussion but sometimes there just isn’t the time or motivation for this level of engagement. It seems that more and more students want bitesize content so why not bitesize discussion? No need to reinvent the wheel here – Twitter should be perfect. So let’s get the little bird involved.


So I duly set up a new student-focused Twitter account (with restricted access to try and keep an element of control over this) and got started. About 75% of my students eventually followed me through the duration of the course. There were the early adopters who were on Twitter on their smartphone before I had finished explaining how I was going to use it. There were also the laggards who felt like they were missing out on something towards the end of course and succumbed. But what did I tweet?


Well for the majority of the course I was posting useful links to articles and quick facts that were relevant to the case study we were working on. Nearer to the exam I also tweeted some exam tips and advice on technique. Did it add value? Well it certainly made their industry research a bit easier. But that wasn’t really the point of the exercise and I am desperately trying to get away from the frustrations of spoon feeding students. The experiment was about engagement and that didn’t seem to work so well.


The stats:


  • 34 students followed me
  • None of them retweeted anything I said – which I expected  
  • Only once did I get a reply to something I’d posted.
  • One student mentioned me in a tweet after the exam asking me what I thought of the exam paper
  • Three direct messages asking me questions about homework and access to the VLE.


So whilst it shows that students see some value in using Twitter to communicate with their tutor it didn’t necessarily improve engagement. I tried asking questions but no responses. So is it that students don’t want to engage, don’t want to engage in this way or need a different kind of encouragement to utilise Twitter? I am working through this list: … via@edudemic and will hopefully see some improvements next term.


To be fair at least half of my students created accounts just to follow me so maybe some of them need time to get use to the concept of Twitter? And in that sense maybe I have added value in terms of introducing students to the world of tweeting – so an interesting and useful experiment anyway.


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