In 2009, Curtin University in Australia implemented a program designed to explore technology and learning, specifically as it related to adults, and especially those who were online students. They noted that to date, Learning Management Systems (such as our D2L) were designed to replicate the classroom experience, and in fact many universities mandated that they closely follow the classroom experience so the online students would have a comparable experience. Those components include audio/video capture of classroom lectures that are posted online, readings and unit notes posted online, and asynchronous discussions (discussion boards). This portion of the research focuses on “Twittering”. Their research compared the experience of incorporating Twitter into the coursework for an online class and a campus class. Students use Twitter for the classes was optional.

A hashtag was created for the course and kept open for two weeks after the course ended. Curtin University researchers analyzed the tweets quantitatively and qualitatively. Researchers found that students used Twitter mainly for three reasons – socializing, posing questions and sharing resources. They were surprised with some of the results, as well. They found that once the initial introductions were over, the hashtag was used mainly for sharing resources, asking questions and contacting instructors. Students reverted to the regular Twitter for social interaction. Researchers counted more than 2,000 social tweets – ten times more than the 242 on the hashtag. Keeping in mind that Twitter was optional, researchers were encouraged that 36% of the online students felt more connected by using Twitter, noting they were looking for a richer learning experience. Researchers also found that the Twitter users branched out to explore other resources like Twitter lists and the Donut chat that students used when restricting posts to 140 characters was too limiting.

As with anything, there are drawbacks. Students were concerned that discussions outside the realm of the class could have a negative effect on the class. Instructors learned that expectations needed to be clearly defined on such things as specifying timeframes for responses and when to direct a discussion and comments back through regular channels so students not using Twitter didn’t miss out. Because the students and instructors are always present, users must be careful not to blur the line between a professional appearance and personal information.

One student summarized the use of Twitter and social media this way:

(Engaging Students With Learning Technologies, e-Scholar Program, Curtin University)

The results of this research were not surprising to me. I earned an Associates Degree in 1987 in the classroom setting, when online classes and the Internet were virtually unheard of. Now, as an adult student, I would not be able to pursue this PCEM degree at Stout if I couldn’t take classes online. That offers its own set of challenges as was pointed out. I often feel that disconnect from my classmates. There is much to be said from the interaction and spontaneity in the classroom, and the relationships built there – with instructors and fellow students. I think the discussion boards actually stifle a true discussion.I think that is where other avenues like Twitter or Donut Chat, or even a Googledoc would be much more interactive and productive.