A new study from the University of Vermont suggests that the social media site Twitter can help teachers engage with their students both inside and outside of the classroom.
Study results show additional benefits to using the site. With data from survey results, interviews, and classroom observations, researchers determined that student participation actually increased when the use of Twitter was encouraged by their teachers.
Twitter allowed students to engage with thought leaders including Bill Nye "The Science Guy," while also expanding their network of friends and researchers outside of the classroom. Students were able to connect with subjects on their own time, in addition to increasing communication with students, teachers, and experts about scientific information, writes Herb Scribner for The Deseret News.
Survey results found close to 95% of students agreeing that using Twitter helped improve their academic performance by allowing them additional time to discuss real science.
"NASA, and scientists that I follow, tweet a lot about cool science stuff," one student said in the press release.
Ryan Becker, a graduate student at the University of Vermont and a teacher, said he makes use of Twitter to help his students continue to learn while outside of the classroom.
Becker gave the example of suggesting a student send a tweet to astronomy expert Katie Mack on the subject of black holes. After the student received a tweet back from Mack, a deeper discussion formed that in turn allowed the entire class to learn more.
A separate study found one in five teachers saying they use social media to help their students learn, suggesting that Twitter is not the only social media app that help teachers.
"With social media becoming more popular in the last few years, it's often uncharted territory for teachers and they often have not set boundaries for its use," Kathy Cook, the director of educational technology at the University of Phoenix, told U.S. News. "The line [between personal and professional] can become more blurred."
Snapchat is one such app. Michael Britt, an adjunct professor at Marist College in New York, reports making use of Snapchat videos in his psychology course that show real-life examples of the lessons he is teaching. After the videos are posted to the app, students use them to study.
"The best way to learn new material is to try to personalize it to your life," Britt told NPR. "You know, come up with an example or attach it to some prior knowledge."
Britt went on to say that Snapchat's large user-base, with close to 10 billion views each day, allows him to continue to teach his students after they leave the classroom.
One of his students, Salma Metwally, said she believes Snapchat is the reason her grade increased. In an interview with NPR, Metwally discussed the difficulty of paying attention to a professor at 8 a.m., adding that although a student may be listening, they may not be processing anything.
However, not everyone agrees that social media tools are a good fit for educational purposes. New York Times blogger Nick Bilton once wrote that social media promotes poor grammar and language skills, which can set students up for future failure. A separate study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface suggests that social media actually makes users less productive.
Meanwhile, study results found 91% of students saying that Twitter allowed them to make connections between science and their real lives, while 81% said the app offered them a new way to think creatively about new ways to communicate science.