Most forward-thinking educators have probably been considering the possible benefits of including social media in their coursework for some time now. The use of social media, however, especially at the primary level, is still not a common part of the typical classroom experience. In fact, as we all know (and probably even grapple with ourselves, sometimes), many educators would rather cut off their arms than allow Facebook in their classrooms.

Of course, there are many potential distractions inherent to the integration of social media in the classroom, but, according to a recent study, it’s possible that the benefits may outweigh any possible risk.

The results of an educational experiment were recently published in an article titled, The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades, in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

The participants in the study were 125 university students enrolled in a first-year seminar course as part of the school’s pre-med program. The participants were broken into two groups. One group of 70 students used Twitter throughout the course as part of class discussion. They also used it to research assignments and complete specific material. A control group of 55 participants used a common Web-based discussion board, similar to Blackboard. The researchers monitored the students GPA and level of engagement. They used many parameters to test student engagement, such as contribution to classroom discussion and amount of interaction with the professor concerning course material.

The researchers found that engagement of both students and professors was considerably higher in the class utilizing Twitter. The Twitter group also attained a GPA about half a point higher than that of the students in the non-Twitter group.

These results are compelling, but must be examined in context. Because the study does not actually reflect the difference in engagement between a classroom using Twitter compared to one using no web-based connection whatsoever, it can really only serve as a comparison between the use of a fluid, socially-based tool, like Twitter, as opposed to an older, bulkier application like Blackboard.

What the study does imply, however, is the fact that that the use of social media, specifically Twitter, in class seems to do no harm. The study is a great starting point for more thorough research on the subject of social media in education. What would be interesting to see is some research done with students at the elementary level. These students will have had less past experience with social media than college-level students, and research at the primary level could serve as an interesting clue as to the effectiveness of social media in a classroom.

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