Twitter Sparks Classroom Discussions

Twitter Sparks Classroom Discussions

Twitter is helping to foster discussions in classrooms and yielding results, according to a California teacher, despite a technique often met with skepticism and even opposition.

Enrique Legaspi uses Twitter to ramp up interest and participation in his history lessons at Hollenbeck Middle School in East Los Angeles. He says the transition has been positive, drawing more students into the discussions and supporting and sharing a wider variety of opinions and perspectives.

Using social media in the classroom, Enrique opens discussion on a topic and asks a question, but instead of raised hands, the students type their comments into Twitter, and the teacher can moderate the debate, navigating the stream of opinions and questions that form a robust conversation.

Enrique has found this format elicits a greater overall response, and is especially useful for encouraging the shy or reluctant students to participate. Indeed, some of his students report that they would be less inclined to participate by speaking before the class, but feel empowered to do so with Twitter as the messenger.

“For a lot of them, what it did is help find their voice,” Enrique said. “I have many students that do not participate in my classes or share what’s on their mind, so Twitter became that vehicle.”

Twitter is more widely used in colleges and some high schools for special projects, but its adoption by educational institutions has been slow. One problem with any form of communication is the inappropriate comment: when spoken, it can be heard, but when tweeted, it can be recorded.

While Legaspi admits to the occasional out of line tweet, he says he deals with the offender, but it isn’t enough to derail all the positive gains he sees with the technology. There is anecdotal evidence both supporting and rejecting claims that newer technology like social media in the learning environment is a good idea.

In addition, statistically, the numbers can be hard to interpret. Since education involves so many players — students, parents, teachers, and administrators, who often have other considerations in addition to learning — there is yet no clear consensus on the matter.

Regardless of a uniform adoption, school districts across the country are making inroads in piloting programs to see which maximizes the benefits of technology for learning, minimizes the downside of distractions or harm, and is the most cost efficient.

That movement is apparent in recent news that retailers are readying for a back-to-school shopping season with big sales for tablet devices. The stores are betting on parents’ demand for devices as a learning aid will boost these sales figures, and the evolution of classroom education will continue.

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