March 13 2013 12:00 AM

MSU professor links Twitter and learning

MSU Assistant Professor Christine Greenhow (Courtesy photo)

Thursday, Oct. 18 — Turns out Twitter can have other uses beyond following celebrities and musicians and creating accounts for Mitt Romney’s debate debacles (see @BigBird and #bindersfullofwomen).

Some of Twitter’s most popular users include people like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and President Barack Obama. But one Michigan State University professor has found that the popular social networking site can be used in the classroom to improve student engagement.

Twitter, a microblogging and social media website started in 2006, allows users to send 140-character, text-based messages and links to photos, videos and websites called “tweets.”

Christine Greenhow, an assistant professor of education at MSU, found that college students who use Twitter as part of their classes tend to be more engaged with course material, the instructor and fellow students. In some cases, using Twitter led to higher grades.

“I used Twitter in my classroom this summer and definitely saw those things happen,” Greenhow said.

Greenhow set out by reviewing a slew of research related to social media and education and using the site in her own class. In her new study, “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literary Practice,” Greenhow suggests that using Twitter in the classroom can help students by improving collaboration and engagement with the instructor, fellow students as well as drawing students into the class content.

“Twitter is fast becoming a global phenomenon. Its use has grown exponentially in a short amount of time, especially among young people,” she said. “We were trying to understand what education research is saying about how Twitter relates to teaching, learning and improving learning. This research was a review of all the literature on Twitter and social media in education that we could find. The studies we reviewed, the common findings — mainly in college classrooms — show using Twitter can increase interactions with each other.”

Those increased interactions led to more engagement with the subject matter.

In her 19-student summer class, Mind, Social Media and Society, Greenhow found that through Twitter the class was able to draw in 200 people outside of the classroom into the conversations going on in the course.

By tweeting information to authors, experts and researchers in the field and getting responses from big name folks like Katie Couric, it takes the learning to a new level and makes the experience more exciting for students. She said that, as an instructor, she was able to learn more about her students through their tweets in terms of what they thought of the class and what online resources they were linking to the material.

“That experience helped the class feel more relevant, authentic and connected to world outside classroom,” Greenhow said.