UT professors encourage use of Twitter as tool to improve in-class communication

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Wanda Cash, a journalism professor and associate director of the College of Communication, discusses the value of creating Facebook groups for students to engage with one another. Cash believes that Facebook groups provide students with useful sources of information and an alternate method of communication.

Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

A few years ago, having Twitter or Facebook open during class was a sure sign a student was distracted — but as social media becomes more popular, many professors have embraced the sites and integrated them into their own curriculums.

UT professors from a range of colleges discussed methods through which they integrate social media into their classrooms in order to promote collaborative learning. The professors said social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and hoot.me establish links between students and professors.

Associate English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza said she focuses on the different ways people present themselves in person and online and hopes her students understand the importance of representing themselves honestly.

“The discipline of Twitter is what I am interested in them understanding,” Richmond-Garza said. “I teach [the concept of] double lives, and social media [has created] a virtual life for my students. Twitter is a double life through verbalization.”

Richmond-Garza said she puts her teaching material on one screen and a Twitter feed on another, allowing students to comment and ask questions via Twitter in real time.

“I have learned you must be interactive with social media for it to work successfully,” Richmond-Garza said. 

Wanda Cash, a journalism professor and associate director of the College of Communication, said Twitter and Facebook provide valuable storytelling tools, an idea she emphasizes with her journalism students. Cash said students must have Twitter accounts, which they are allowed to use in class.

“I require a Twitter account and take a grade on it, so I know students are being interactive,” Cash said. “Students can go back and see what classmates and professors have to say about specific topics.”

Clinton Tuttle, a UT extension instructor in the business school, uses hoot.me, a Facebook application that allows students in a class to connect without “friending” each other, to make his large classes seem more intimate.

Anne Braseby, a faculty development specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning, said social media will become even more relevant to students as it is integrated directly into Canvas and Blackboard, two online course information sites.

“This is relevant to students, if the faculty decide to use this method and encourage [and] maybe even reward students for using social media to learn collaboratively,” Braseby said.