Today’s college students are tech savvy, knowing the ins and outs of social media and communicating on the fly. Still, those ol’ college professors know a thing or two for the young ones to learn. One Mays management professor brought Twitter into the classroom as a learning tool this semester. To her surprise, not many had used it.

Abbie Shipp

Management Assistant Professor Abbie Shipp began using Twitter in the classroom during the spring semester with the honors sections of a course titled “The Management Process.”

Shipp said she added the tweets to seven classes, integrating feedback from about 10 executives who participated at least once.

“I wanted to see if we could introduce a new form of social media into the lectures that would both interest the students and create a “live’ dialog between our class and a variety of executives,” she explains. “I had no idea how it would work, so we called it “The Twitter Experiment.'”

She and her students brainstormed during class about questions to tweet (post) on Twitter. On the other end were several executives who agreed to be online during this time.

“This way, we can get their brainpower without them being here,” Shipp explains. “It’s a little more casual — a lot of students feel more free to ask questions in this format.”

The executives included business professionals such as Julian C. Dalzell, former vice president of U.S. human resources at Shell and current instructor at the Moore Business School at University of South Carolina; Shannon Navin, a marketing executive at Socius in Ohio; and Brittany Hardin “09, a business honors graduate from Mays who works as a project manager for a small start-up firm in Bryan.

Management Assistant Professor Abbie Shipp began using Twitter in the classroom during the spring semester with the honors sections of a course titled “The Management Process.”

Dalzell says he found the questions from the students insightful and specific, rather than general. “They prompted me to be clear about what I personally had experienced rather than floating around in theory, which can fascinate some but will not really serve them well once they hit the employment world,” he explains. “It would have been nice if we had seen some more dialog with them, e.g. if they had pushed back and given their own views versus always asking questions, but the media is not really that well suited to that, especially within the time constraints.”

He says it was easy to fall into conversation with the other professionals who were online. “I did indeed enjoy the conversations with the other tweeters, and gained good insights from them, as I always do listening to the experiences of others,” he says.

At the end of the semester, Shipp evaluated the use of Twitter in the classroom and encouraged her students to do the same.

Shipp says she was surprised by the differences in social media use inside and outside the classroom.

“The students didn’t want to tweet their own questions, which I found very interesting,” she says, adding that most of her students were not on Twitter before the semester started. “I expected students to all tweet individually from their phones; what I found was that they preferred to work more collectively by calling out questions for me to tweet.”

Lessons learned

Shipp shares a few lessons she and her students learned in the experiment:

  1. It was good to post questions at the beginning of class, then check back every 15 minutes updating with questions or comments. This allowed us to keep the pace of lecture we needed without devoting the whole class to watching for the next tweet. However, some students said they wished we could have devoted more time to Twitter so we wouldn’t have to read a stream of tweets and could be more real-time, reading them as they were posted. There were some students who just loved the experiment and really enjoyed trying out something different.
  2. Somewhat contrary to #1, I learned from the students’ feedback that not all of them like to multitask. I think we assume that all students are comfortable with technological multitasking because they have grown up with the Internet, instant messaging and text messaging, but some of my students said that they found it hard to go back and forth between lecture and Twitter. If I were to do it again, I would allow the lecture and class discussion to predominate on most days, with Twitter only on select days in which the dialog could be more of the focus. I believe this would enhance the learning of both those who like to multitask and those who do not.
  3. The students may have been more likely to tweet during class or even after class had there been an incentive to do so such as graded participation for tweets. Because it was an experiment, I wasn’t yet ready to make participation mandatory. But I think students would enjoy the process even more if they were a part of the conversation.
  4. I personally learned how hard it is to juggle two live audiences: the students in the classroom and the executives on Twitter. Further, we had to get through a certain amount of material each day and I always encourage class discussion … the end result was that we had a lot to do each day! Twitter may be better suited to an elective class in which you can dive deeper into the material.
  5. Finally, I learned that the executives had varied interests in the experiment. Some of them signed up for Twitter only for this experiment and grew to love it, others only tweeted when joining our class (and did so a bit tentatively), and still others wanted to join but their work schedules were too hectic. So, I spent a good deal of time managing the panel of executive tweeters. All in all, it was fantastic to see how many executives were willing to experiment with a new form of teaching.