Twitter allows you to share brief, text-based updates about things that are of interest to you. Users who are following you on Twitter are automatically sent your updates or “tweets.” Twitter updates can also be searched by the public at large. For example, here is a search of Twitter for tweets that contain the phrase "blended learning." 

By adding a hashtag to your tweet, you can make it easier for others to search for whatever it is that you are tweeting about. A hashtag is the # symbol placed directly before a word or phrase (if it's a phrase, no space is put between the words). For example, here is a search of Twitter for the hashtag "#blendedlearning". Note that the searching for the hashtag "#blendedlearning" results in more targeted results than just searching for the phrase "blended learning". 

Twitter is a free tool. 

Benefits

  1. Twitter can enhance the "social presence" of both the instructor and students, which supports student engagement with the course. 
  2. Twitter can foster cooperation among students. 
  3. Twitter can complement the discussions that take place in the discussion forums of a learning management system. In an LMS, discussions are more deliberate and protracted; in Twitter, discussions are more informal and spontaneous. 
  4. Twitter encourages students to write concisely. 
  5. Twitter extends learning beyond the walls of the classroom. 

Best Practices

Instructors can use Twitter in several ways to enhance their courses.

  1. An instructor can use Twitter to share links to online articles or resources with students in a specific course. To do so, the instructor establishes a hashtag for the course, and asks students to follow that hashtag with their own Twitter accounts. For example, the hashtag #PSCI283 was used in the Winter 2014 term in a Waterloo course called "International Political Economy." 
  2. An instructor can have students in a course share online resources, articles, comments, and questions with each other by establishing a hashtag for the course and inviting students to use it. For example, the hashtag #ENVB222 was used by students in a Field Biology course at McGill University. 
  3. Instructors with two projectors and screens in their classrooms can use the second screen to display tweets that students post during the class. This strategy allows students a "backchannel" that they can use to ask questions or make comments (an alternative students verbally asking questions or verbally making comments). The instructor keeps an eye on the Twitter feed during class, and responds to the questions or comments that appear there as he or she sees fit. If a student's question is retweeted by other students, the instructor knows that the question is of greater interest. 
  4. Instructors can use Twitter to provide reminders to students. 

In order to support your use of Twitter in a course, it's also important to do the following: 

  1. Explain to your students why you are having them use Twitter. Show them examples of how it can benefit their learning.
  2. Give your students clear expectations about how you want them to use Twitter in the course. 
  3. Model in your own practice how students should use Twitter. 
  4. Cross-reference Twitter with other parts of the course. For example, during a class discussion, refer to an article that a student shared on Twitter. Alternatively, extend a discussion that began in the classroom into Twitter. 

Accessibility

It is important to consider accessibility when determining whether a technology fits the needs of your class. Twitter has provided information about accessibility considerations when using this technology.

Evidence of Efficacy

"The comparative nature of the study suggests that Twitter is better suited for creating and sharing large amounts of information compared with traditional teaching methods.... Twitter can foster the combined knowledge creation of a group better than individuals’ diaries and discussion, because Twitter facilitates sharing of ideas beyond the classroom via an online platform that allows readily available access at random times to continue such discussion." -- "Twitter as a Teaching Practice to Enhance Active and Informal Learning in Higher Education," 2012

"It was discovered that Twitter has positive impact on informal learning, class dynamics, motivation, as well as the academic and psychological development of young students." -- "Tweeters on Campus: Twitter a Learning Tool in the Classroom?", 2013

"The research has overwhelmingly indicated that Twitter can be effective as a discussion format. Student engagement seems to increase, for example, and students who are less likely to participate in discussions 
in large classes become active participants in the Twitter class discussions." -- "Twitter in the Classroom," 2013
 
"Analyses of Twitter communications showed that students and faculty were both highly engaged in the learning process in ways that transcended traditional classroom activities. This study provides experimental evidence that Twitter can be used as an educational tool to help engage students and to mobilize faculty into a more active and participatory role." -- "The effect of Twitter on college student

Related Tools

Facebook has recently introduced the ability for users to search for posts that contain specific hashtags For example, here is a search of Facebook for the hashtag "#blendedlearning." For educational purposes, Twitter is probably preferable to Facebook, because using Facebook with students raises some "personal/professional" issues. 

Some platforms also emulate Twitter but only for a closed group of individuals, such as the staff of a corporation. Yammer is one such tool.  

More Resources

teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Twitter. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.