Social media website Twitter may be relatively young when it comes to corporate histories. But the platform that allows people around the world to connect through 140 character messages has somehow managed to revolutionize communication. Many people now get their news entirely from Twitter. They follow their favorite celebrities, share inside jokes with friends, and even watch revolutionary movements on other continents in action. And according to a study released by a research team from Michigan State University, Twitter is also becoming an entirely original learning tool.
The MSU study was spearheaded by Benjamin Gleason and Christine Greenhow of the College of Education. The team looked at existing research to see if social networking sites like Twitter and the use of microblogging on the part of students while actually in school would impact student engagement. The findings, which have just been published in a research journal put out by the Educational Forum, determined that college courses that find ways to integrate Twitter usage showed improved interaction across the board, both between students and from students to teachers.
What Twitter seemed to bring to the table is a stronger connection to what a student reads, as well as a real ownership over what he writes. Chances are it is due at least in part to the massive public forum Twitter represents. Students are often encouraged to tweet directly to authors they read while in school. And some classrooms integrate Twitter more deeply into the course of events, with all of the students’ Twitter accounts projected live onto a screen in the front of the room. It’s a fantastic way to get students interacting, especially for those who would never get up and ask a question. Everyone can contribute, and the professor can see how ideas are spreading through the class. It focuses the conversation and exposes informational gaps that need to be filled.
It’s an encouraging trend, and a close look at the numbers proves that Twitter and social networking in general are here to stay. During MSU’s research program, they found that Twitter usage by American teenagers has doubled just over the last two years. Currently, over 200 million active Twitter users post upwards of 175 million tweets each and every day. While the total membership may not yet be in Facebook’s ten-figure zone, there’s no denying that Twitter has a larger impact on the real world. Live-Tweeting has become a phenomenon, evidenced by the enormous activity posted to the site during this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions and the national debates. And when it comes to education, students now have the opportunity to engage directly with the most impressive minds alive. Imagine reading a book in school, asking the author a question directly and then actually getting a response? It is truly a game changer.
Of course, Twitter is a very different thing to everyone who uses it. People who follow comedy stars or athletes will have one experience that folks following Nobel-winning authors will never understand. And those who have cracked the Twitter ‘code’ of hashtags, mentions and retweets learn and grow with the site in ways the uninitiated can only dream of, even if they have an MBA marketing online.