CALS Faculty Use Twitter to Get Students Focused In and Out of Class

Across the UA campus, Twitter has become an important teaching and research tool. (Image: Gopal Raju,
Across the UA campus, Twitter has become an important teaching and research tool. (Image: Gopal Raju,

Forget the stereotype of the long-winded professor.

At the University of Arizona, professors and instructors are embracing Twitter – with its famously brief 140-character posts – to connect with their students, engage them in discussions, foster new interactions and help them leverage social media for successful careers.

"I like my students to really understand various social networking platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter, and how to make the most of them," said Sudha Ram, Anheuser-Busch Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management Information Systems in the UA's Eller College of Management, who teaches classes on Web and social media, analytics and business intelligence.

"I want to show them that even having just 140 characters to compose a tweet can be useful."

Ram is one of a growing number of UA professors and instructors exploring how Twitter can help them enhance their classroom teaching. In Ram's case, it seemed logical to incorporate them into her classes since her own research includes several social media platforms.

"If you want to understand the various social media platforms, the first thing you have to do is use them," she said.

Keeping Students' Attention

Ram observed that students like to use their smartphones and their tablets in class, sometimes texting each other instead of paying attention. By allowing them to use those devices for the class, she found they are less distracted.

"Using social media in the classroom is a win-win situation," said Ram, who is also a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute. "It has greatly enhanced my teaching."

Ram's students start by setting up a Twitter account specifically for the class. They then create a hashtag for the class, which allows any Twitter user to follow posts pertaining to the topic tagged with that label.

"Anything my students tweet that is relevant to the class, I require them to use that hashtag," Ram said. "When I give a lecture, I ask them to tweet what they learn, and anything that stuck with them in particular. It's fun and keeps them awake."

Her classroom has two projection screens – one for the lecture, and one right next to it displaying real-time tweets using an app called Twitterfall, which shows the latest posts as they "fall" from the top of the page.

Ram found that monitoring the twitter feed while she lectures helps both her and her students.

"Some students are too shy to ask questions, so I encourage them to tweet a question instead. Or someone might have an interesting comment or thought, and I can pick up on that once it pops up on the screen."

Ram said reviewing live tweets in class or after class also gives her a better sense of whether her students are getting the points she was trying to make in her lecture, allowing her to clarify misunderstood points.

In addition to encouraging students to connect with each other and the instructor, Ram has them use Twitter as a resource for finding information and leaders in the field who share their research in blogs and articles. She also asks them to find interesting articles on specific topics and tweet about them along with the URL of the article to share them with the rest of the class.

Read the rest of this April 26, 2013 UANews article - and learn more about how David Moore, associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, is using Twitter - at the link below.

Date released: 
May 20 2013
Phyllis Brodsky