Tag Archives: Twitter

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place, and selected as a Top GIFT. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Amanda Weed Headshot

Amanda J. Weed, Ohio

Karen Freberg

Karen Freberg, Louisville

Emily Kinsky

Emily S. Kinsky, West Texas A&M University

Amber Hutchins Headshot

Amber L. Hutchins, Kennesaw State University

Building a Social Learning Flock: Using Twitter Chats to Enhance Experiential Learning Across Universities


A monthly Twitter chat focused on social media was created to engage students and professionals across the country, and assignments were created to use the chat content with various classes across PR programs. The chat created an online learning community in the same vein of industry chats such as #HootChat, #TwitterSmarter and #AdobeChat. The purpose was to supplement students’ classroom learning by offering themed conversations about relevant topics in social media. By featuring industry guest panelists, students were able to gain professional perspectives and ask questions to further their understanding. In addition, students were able to share the knowledge they gained through classroom learning with an outside audience, which may increase self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and development of professional networks to increase internship and job prospects.


Chat participation offered an alternative to the traditional online discussion board, which is only available to members of a single class. Each monthly chat was dedicated to a different social media topic, which meant multiple learning goals could be achieved. As students shared class-based knowledge during the chat, faculty could assess student learning goals against a diverse landscape of courses across universities to address strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, students experienced professional development benefits that can come from engaging with influencers, industry practitioners, and brands. By engaging in proactive conversations, giving praise and acknowledgements, and integrating their own points of view, students learned the real-world benefits of social media networking and had the potential to serve as a strong advocate and social connector with their own community.


Twitter chats are commonly used in the public relations industry to facilitate knowledge-sharing and networking among practitioners. By building an audience that included classes at multiple universities, the chats allowed students to form positive habits that will foster continuing education to support their advancement in the public relations industry. The chats also allowed students to extend their education beyond their own class or institution. By expanding the audience to include panelists who were experts in the chat topic, students had an opportunity to make online connections with them, which widened students’ networks and their knowledge of the field—not just for that day but for as long as they follow those professionals on into the future. Participating in the chats also gave students the chance to impress these professionals with thoughtful questions and insightful responses.

Using the Twitter chats as source material provided experience for students to create various forms of assignments that may be applied to learning outcomes of different classes (see attached assignment guides). Content creation and measurement are two important areas within public relations that are highly valued, and these chats gave students the chance to do both. Through participation and follow-up assignments, students better understood best practices and results of a particular social media initiative with set key performance indicators.


With 303 participants and 2,180 total tweets (7.19 tweets/contributor) across the four chats, participation and engagement were high. Evidence of learning was demonstrated through the various products created, including graphics of favorite quotes from the chat, tweets posted, and summary paragraphs designed to be blogged. In the context of Bloom’s taxonomy, assignments addressed multiple levels of learning. Chat participation assessed comprehension by allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of topics through response to question prompts. Post-chat assignments integrated higher levels of learning taxonomy (application, synthesis, evaluation) through analysis of chat content and content creation that facilitated creativity and critical thinking.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W H Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co.

Appendix A

General Assignments

Assignment #1

Chat Participation

Twitter chats are IRT (in real time) conversations that center around a unique topic. To participate in a Twitter chat, you will follow the conversation by following the chat hashtag. When viewing the chat, make sure you are using the “Latest” tab to view the tweets in real time. 

Chat questions are typically labeled as Q1, Q2, and so on. To respond to a question, begin your tweet with A1, A2, and so on to match that particular question. You may also retweet the question and add your response as a comment. Always include the chat hashtag in your tweet to ensure your response will be viewed by Twitter chat participants.

To receive credit for your chat responses, you will need to include your class hashtag in your chat tweets.

Assignment #2

Create a Twitter Moment

Twitter Moments allow users to curate content to share with their audience. For the assignment, you will create a “highlights reel” of the Twitter chat that features the most valuable insights that you gained from participant responses. Share your Moment on Twitter so your followers can also benefit from those insights. For an example of a Twitter Moment, see https://twitter.com/i/moments/958726169309958144

For guidance in creating a Twitter Moment, visit https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/how-to-create-a-twitter-moment.

Twitter Moment Requirements

  • Cover Image
  • Title (5-9 words)
  • Description (30-50 words)
    • Write a paragraph-style description that includes the following information:
      • Date of Twitter chat
      • Featured guests
      • Chat topic
      • Hashtag the audience may search to view full chat
  • Chat Highlights
    • Add each chat question
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + Q1 (or Q2, Q3, and so on)
    • Add a minimum of three responses after each chat question that reflect the most valuable insights you gained
      • Tip: Search the chat hashtag + A1 (or A2, A3, and so on)
  • Publish your Moment
  • Tweet your Moment

Appendix B

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #1

Social Media Listening

In this assignment, you will be asked to evaluate the Twitter chat by using a social media listening tool. The options are listed below:

  • Tweetdeck
  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • Keyhole
  • TweetBinder
  • Hashtagify
  • Tagboard
  • Other

Provide an overview of the listening tool you will be using. Describe the tool’s features. What are its main advantages and disadvantages? What is the timeline when you will be conducting this listening procedure?

Discuss the key performance indicators (KPIs) from the chat. Make sure to report and discuss the following metrics from the Twitter chat:

  • Twitter Reach
  • Twitter Reach – Mention Type
  • Twitter Reach – Engagement Type
  • Twitter Reach – Authority Type
  • Sentiment
  • Mentions
  • Most Retweeted
  • Most Engaged Users
  • Top trending keywords that are being used in addition to the hashtag
  • Make sure to note the sentiment, mentions, users, and communities on Twitter for your analysis.
  • Additional findings worth noting

Recommendations + Strategic Insights

  • What are the main findings from the analysis of the Twitter chat?
  • What insights can you use to determine from this Twitter chat? What are three takeaways?
  • What are some recommendations for future Twitter chats?
  • Provide three resources (ex. guides, professionals, articles, etc.) on Twitter chats for how to evaluate and measure future chats.

Analysis/Measurement Assignments

Assignment #2

Chat Performance Executive Summary

Directions: You will monitor the hashtagged conversation from the Twitter chat, analyze the results, and produce an executive summary of the results for the chat sponsor.

Step 1: Collect data from Twitter.

  • You can use the Twitter.com search function to find posts using the chat hashtag. You are welcome to use other applications like Hootsuite or Meltwater, but keep in mind that even some top organizations monitor “by hand.”
  • Examine the posts. Take note of keywords and themes used by participants.  Are there other hashtags being used along with the main hashtag (other class hashtags, etc.)?
  • Count and categorize the data. Focus on one or two themes or topics.  

Step 2: Create a visual representation of your findings.

  • It’s up to you how you want to represent the data you found—pie chart, graph, etc., but make it easy for readers to understand the prominent topics, themes and sentiment from the chat. Use generators like Easel.ly, Excel to create pie graphs, or inserted photos of hand-drawn charts. It’s not necessary to be a graphics expert, just focus on providing a graphic of your results.

Step 3: Write a 3-paragraph executive summary to explain your results. 

Write your summary using concise, direct language. 

  • Para 1: Report your results.  Make sure to indicate the sample size (number of tweets you analyzed) in the key to the graphic.
  • Para 2: Interpret and analyze the results. What do the results mean? Go beyond positive and negative mentions and report on topics/themes, keyword mentions, or other data that can be useful.
  • Para 3: Make recommendations for future chats. What would you recommend to the chat sponsor in order to improve participation and engagement?

Appendix C

Design Assignments

Assignment #1

Create a Quote Illustration

Scan through the chat and find a “quotable quote” to illustrate using Canva or Spark. Be sure to cite the person who said the quote with both his/her full name and Twitter handle. Once it is illustrated, we will give peer feedback in class, make needed adjustments, and then each student will share his/her quote via Twitter, along with a sentence explaining why it was chosen. Tag the person who said it and use the chat hashtag to reach a wider audience.



Design Assignments

Assignment #2

Create an Infographic

Infographics are used to present data in a visually appealing way that makes a concept easier to understand at a glance. For this assignment, you will collect data and identify five unique statistics about the Twitter chat, such as the following statistics:

  • # of participants
  • # of likes, retweets
  • Most responses to a single chat question
  • Use of pictures/GIFs
  • # of tags
  • Top 5 tweets by likes
  • Top 5 tweets by RT

Once you have tabulated the statistics (by hand or with a program like Meltwater), create your infographic. You may use platforms like Infogr.amEasel.ly, Piktochart, Visme, or Canva.

Infographic Requirements

  • Headline
  • A brief description of the Twitter chat
  • Visual design that reflects the Twitter chat topic
  • 5 statistics: Include an “explainer” (description) for each statistic that provides additional detail
  • Provide a source credit (including hyperlink) at the bottom of the infographic that directs readers to the full Twitter chat source

Appendix D

Writing Assignments

Assignment #1

LinkedIn Article

One way to increase your LinkedIn connections is to start publishing articles through your account that can be read by the LinkedIn community. For additional information about LinkedIn publishing, visit  https://www.linkedin.com/learning/publishing-on-linkedin-for-college-students-and-young-professionals/publishing-best-practices

For this assignment, write a 200-300 word article about the three key insights you gained from the Twitter chat.  

To create an effective LinkedIn article, you should include the following elements, in addition to your writing:

  • Headline (5-9 words)
  • One header image
  • One embedded picture or video in the article
  • At least three hyperlinks to outside articles related to your key insights
    • Tip: Integrate hyperlinks into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • At least two hashtags that make your article searchable on LinkedIn
    • Tip:  Integrate hashtags into your article, not as add-ons at the end
  • Optional: Tag relevant people in your article
    • Tip: Tag guest panelists from the Twitter chat or people you have quoted in the article

Additional Tips:

  • Include visual/multimedia elements (embed example tweets, relevant videos, etc.), in addition to the visual representation of the data.  
  • Embed your hyperlinks in the text; don’t simply paste a URL in the text. Test your links to make sure they work.
  • Separate into sections and label each section (you can create your own titles for each section). Each section should be approximately one short paragraph (two max). 
  • Give your blog post a title. This is different from a headline or an essay title. Use the title to highlight important findings from your report. For example: “#SMStudentChat Shows Growing Interest in Blogs for Professional Development.”
  • Make sure that the background does not obscure the text. 
  • Use a clean, professional theme/format.  
  • Be informative and professional, but use a conversational tone (natural human speech).  Avoid slang.
  • Use multimedia and line spaces to break up text.

Assignment #2

Promotional Post

Write a short promotional post for Twitter or LinkedIn with one teaser tip you learned from the Twitter chat. Direct your audience to read your article for more tips and insights. Include a hyperlink to the article, your class hashtag, and tag the chat sponsor.

I Love Tweeting in Class, But…. A Qualitative Study of Student Perceptions of the Impact of Twitter in Large Lecture Classes



  • Jenny Tatone, University of Oregon
  • Tiffany Derville Gallicano, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Alec Tefertiller, University of Oregon


This is perhaps the first in-depth qualitative study that shares insights about the perceived role of Twitter on the learning experience and the sense of classroom community from students’ perspectives in a large lecture class. We conducted four focus groups with a cumulative total of 27 students from a class of 269 students. Based on our data, we propose ways that Twitter might contribute to the sense of classroom community, which could be tested through quantitative research. We also identify ways that Twitter helps and undermines students’ learning experience. In addition, we found a surprising theme about Twitter fostering a sense of competition in the class when projected on the wall. This study concludes with recommendations for integrating Twitter in the large lecture class.

Keywords: Public relations, Twitter, classroom exercises

Slideshare PDF

I Love Tweeting in Class, But…. A Qualitative Study of Student Perceptions of the Impact of Twitter in Large Lecture Classes

Millennials are known as digital natives–they grew up using digital media and are accustomed to using it throughout the day (Porter Novelli, 2008; Válek & Sládek, 2012). According to a Pew study, 90% of Americans ages 18-29 use social media and 86% of them own a smartphone (Perrin, 2015). Smartphones and social media have become so essential to the everyday lives of today’s young adults that some of them believe that they would feel invisible without them (Boyd, 2014; Tatone, 2016). The publicly networked spaces that digital media afford play a central role in shaping the ways young adults perceive their life experiences––personally, socially, and culturally (Ito et al., 2009; Tatone, 2016). Educators in various disciplines are exploring the potential of social media to play a powerful role in another area of young adults’ experiences––their education (e.g., Cole, Hibbert, & Kehoe, 2013; D’Angelo & Woosley, 2007; Tyma, 2011).

All of the studies we found about Twitter in the context of large lecture classes used surveys, experiments, or content analysis as a method, with the exception of Tyma’s (2011) study, and her qualitative data resulted from one large class discussion, as opposed to in-depth focus groups or interviews. The studies using quantitative methods have provided insight into the potential of Twitter to contribute to learning (e.g., Cole, Hibbert, & Kehoe, 2013; Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011; Kim et al., 2015) and to be a source of distraction (e.g., Varadajan, 2011). Qualitative research can play a key role by helping educators understand students’ in-depth explanations of how Twitter can help with learning, interfere with learning, or do both, as well as discovering students’ recommendations for how to integrate it into the large lecture classroom based on their experiences. We thought our class would be an interesting context for this qualitative research because we tried out various implementation strategies in response to student feedback with regard to the timing of class tweets and projecting the Twitter feed on the wall. We also saw an opportunity to explore any ways that Twitter might influence perceptions of the sense of classroom community, particularly given the lack of research about it in a large lecture context.


Strategies for Integrating Twitter

Instructors are discovering strategies to improve the use of Twitter in large lecture classes. Despite the likelihood that most students have had some experience with Twitter, the literature suggests that a tutorial about how to use Twitter effectively is helpful to students (e.g., Junco et al., 2011; Tyma, 2011; Varadarajan, 2011). In addition, instructors have found that students need reminders on occasion to keep tweets relevant to the class lecture (e.g., Cole et al., 2013; Pollard, 2014). Some students want their instructors to send these reminders, so they do not have to see the distracting content or call out their classmates who are tweeting irrelevant content (Tyma, 2011). A teaching assistant can handle these reminders during the lecture when seeing off-topic tweets. Another issue is whether the live tweets with the class hashtag should be projected onto the classroom wall. Elavsky, Kumanyika, and Mislan (2011) noticed that participation on the class hashtag increased when the Twitter feed was projected onto the wall in their large lecture media and democracy class.

An additional consideration is whether Twitter can be used to sustain students’ attention during class. We found a study that recommended restricting Twitter use to designated Twitter intervals (Cole, Hibbert, & Kehoe, 2013) to help students focus on the lecture content. In another study, Kim et al. (2015) used a game approach to sustaining students’ attention by presenting surprise Twitter questions on lecture slides and awarding points to a limited number of students who correctly answered the questions on Twitter using the class hashtag. Through a survey, participant observation, and exam scores from a comparison of class sections in which Twitter was used and not used, the research team concluded that their approach to integrating Twitter in the large lecture classroom helped students stay focused during class and learn the material.

Junco, Heibergert, and Loken (2011) studied the related topic of class engagement and produced a significantly higher engagement score in their class section in which Twitter was used, as compared to their class section in which Twitter was not used. Thus, their strategies for integrating Twitter into the large lecture classroom have credibility. They applied the following principles for undergraduate education by Chickering and Gamson (1987):

  1. Student/faculty contact (by adding Twitter as a communication channel)
  2. Cooperation among students (by encouraging students to use Twitter to ask each other questions, collaborate on a project, and offer one another emotional support)
  3. Active learning (by asking students to use Twitter to connect the class material to their own experiences)
  4. Prompt feedback (by responding quickly to students’ tweets)
  5. Emphasizing time on task (by expanding class discussions past class meeting days through the Twitter channel)
  6. Communicating high expectations (by using Twitter to promote high quality work)
  7. Respecting diversity (by discussing diversity through the Twitter feed)

Junco applied Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) principles in a later study with his colleagues when investigating the difference of requiring Twitter in class, as opposed to making it optional (Junco, Elavsky, & Heibergert, 2013). His research team concluded that large lecture classes should require Twitter use because his optional Twitter class section had lower class engagement and learning scores than his required Twitter class section, as measured by comparing student surveys and scores from each section.

In a related study, Pollard (2014) did not require Twitter use and found that the majority of students in her history course of 370 students did not participate on the class hashtag. Nevertheless, the majority of her students found Twitter in the classroom to be somewhat valuable, with 18% reporting that it was incredibly useful. Her findings suggest that the student behavior of lurking on the Twitter channel by observing without tweeting to it could have at least some value, which might not be visible through a content analysis of participation.

The Sense of Classroom Community

Students who believe their class has a strong sense of classroom community have a sense of belonging to a class, believe that classmates care about one another, perceive that all of the students have a mutual responsibility to one another, and experience shared expectations about meeting common goals as students in the same class (Rovai & Lucking, 2000; Rovai, 2002). The sense of classroom community can make a difference to learning (Rovai, 2002; Wighting, 2006).

We did not see any studies about Twitter’s contribution to the sense of classroom community in the context of large lecture classes, so we thought this would be a particularly interesting area to explore. A study with some relevance to the role of Twitter in enhancing a sense of classroom community in a large lecture class was C. M. Elvasky et al.’s (2013) study. These researchers found that 81.1% of the 260 participants in their media and democracy class thought that in-class tweets made the class feel smaller and more interconnected. In a tangentially related study about online discussion boards, which could be similar to Twitter, 59% of 341 students believed that the required discussion boards contributed to their sense of social connection with their peers in their large lecture course (Stoerger & Kreiger, 2016).

Research Questions

As noted in the introduction, we could not find any in-depth qualitative studies that involved hearing students’ perspectives about Twitter in a large lecture class. To explore how Twitter might affect students’ learning experience and the sense of classroom community from their perspectives, we investigated the following research questions:

RQ 1: In what ways do students think the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool in the large college classroom affected their learning experience (if it had any effect)?

RQ 2: How do students think the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool in the large lecture classroom affected their sense of class community (if it had any impact)?


Class Context and Professor Interaction

This study reports data from an entry-level course with 269 students that introduced students to public relations, advertising, journalism, and communication studies. A public relations professor taught the class and discussed the public relations angles of most of the topics the class explored. A tweet was required during every class meeting that did not have an exam. Students were required to use their real names in either their Twitter handle or profile. An alternative option in this section for students choosing to not tweet was to write a handwritten comment each time a tweet was required and submit it to their assigned teaching assistant. The professor discussed the basics of Twitter and emphasized the professional advantages of Twitter, as well as recommendations for using it in a professional context. The course ended at 5:20 p.m., and in the evenings of the class meetings, the professor spent one to three hours reading, retweeting, and responding to tweets on the course hashtag.

Despite a study’s recommendation to stop class lectures to have a designated period for a Twitter interval (Cole et al., 2013), we chose initially to invite the class to tweet at any point during the class due to several of our colleagues’ anecdotal experiences with using this unrestrained Twitter approach. We received complaints from students about this unrestrained Twitter approach, so after the first two weeks of tweeting throughout class, we switched to designated Twitter intervals. During these intervals, the lecture stopped, and students were instructed to take a moment to focus on writing a tweet based on a prompt delivered in class, and they were reminded of the alternative of writing a reflection of similar length. We encouraged students to take a moment to read each other’s tweets and consider favoriting any they liked. They were then asked to put their phones away, although the auditorium was so large that it was difficult to enforce this policy.

Sampling for Focus Groups and Participants

All students were invited to participate in a focus group in exchange for extra credit. Due to the class size, we had planned to give all of the students who signed up for a focus group spot extra credit, regardless of whether we ended up including them in the focus groups; however, only 20 students registered for the focus groups. We recruited another 10 students, three of whom did not show up. We believe that the low rate of volunteering might have been due to the timing of the focus groups on a Saturday morning, combined with a heavy homework time (with just two weeks remaining of class), and a major competing campus event that attracted hundreds of students. The four focus groups had a cumulative total of 27 students. We did not conduct additional focus groups because we reached saturation with the data (see Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

We wanted to group similar people together, in line with the homogenous sampling strategy for focus groups (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Patton, 1990). Consequently, we organized the focus groups by the grades students were earning at the time of the course (without revealing this information to the students). We used purposive sampling by sending individual solicitations to people who stood out through their substantive tweets and by identifying people who could fill in the spaces we had in the grade groups. Although we tried to have 10 students per group, ultimately, we had a group of nine A students, plus a C student who showed up to the wrong group; a group of eight B students; a group of seven C students; and a group of three students in a combined D/F group. The focus group participants had name cards in front of them to facilitate interaction, and cupcakes were served. Regarding demographics, there were 11 Caucasian students (including 5 females and 6 males); 10 Asian students (all females); 2 Hispanic students (both females); 2 Caucasian-Middle Eastern students (1 male and 1 female); and 1 Caucasian-Asian male student. Students ranged in age from 18-27. The median age was 20.

Focus Group Approach and Protocol

We used a semi-structured approach, which allowed for a naturally flowing conversation wherein students elaborated frequently on other students’ comments, which often helped to shape the conversation’s direction more than our focus group protocol (see Appendix). This semi-structured approach also gave us the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on what the conversation’s natural unfolding revealed, giving us greater insight (Krueger, 1988). By asking open-ended questions and allowing focus group conversations to follow their own course, we believe we reduced the power difference with our students (see Lindlof & Taylor, 2002; Madriz, 2000) and positioned participants as experts rather than as subjects of a research study (Lee, 1993). Additionally, the focus group setting enabled participants to further explore their initial reactions to questions by interacting with one another, thus enhancing the quality of the results (see Madriz, 2000). Each focus group lasted an average of 54 minutes.

A potential drawback of the focus groups was that students might have felt influenced to say what they thought other students and the focus group moderator wanted to hear. In each group, the focus group moderator was either the professor or one of the graduate teaching fellows who had guest lectured a few times and worked with students closely. In an attempt to offset these potential drawbacks, we reminded students that honest feedback was of the utmost importance because the purpose of the focus groups was to learn from them. We told students we wanted to learn about the educational value, or lack thereof, with regard to incorporating Twitter into future curricula. In this way, we followed Krueger’s (1988) guideline to tell focus groups what the researchers want to discover from them. Furthermore, we told students that feedback from our previous classes had helped to shape the present course, so this was a good opportunity to continue the goodwill toward future classes by being honest and constructive. We responded in a supportive manner to all opinions and welcomed all viewpoints throughout the discussions.

Data Analysis

We performed a thematic analysis on the transcripts by seeking common patterns while noting the wide variety of responses we received (see Miles & Huberman, 1994). We used our research questions as a lens for reducing the data; next, we coded the relevant content by phrase, sentence, or paragraph, depending on the length of the relevant chunk of text (see Miles & Huberman, 1994). We used emic codes (i.e., the participants’ phrases) when possible and otherwise used etic codes (i.e., our words) when participants’ phrases were too long or did not summarize the content (see Lindlof & Taylor, 2002).


RQ 1: In what ways do students think the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool in the large college classroom affected their learning experience (if it had any effect)?

Students commented on various advantages and disadvantages of Twitter as a tool for their learning experience. Many students valued the ability to express various viewpoints and learn from one another, although for some students, this marketplace of ideas via Twitter was more idealistic than what had actually occurred. Furthermore, students noted a major drawback of the potential for Twitter use in the college classroom to lead them down a rabbit hole into the use of social media unrelated to class. In addition, some students brought up that they disliked having their speech limited to the 140-character tweet limit. Nevertheless, the same students recognized that having to do this developed their skills. Details are included below.

Many participants agreed that the hashtag provided a place to share and learn from multiple points of view:

This is why Twitter’s really cool—you can have your own opinion and at that same time you can share what you think is correct without degrading that other person’s opinion. It’s a very open way of making sure that everyone’s voice is heard and to make sure that no voice is completely stamped out… no voice is elevated to the highest pedestal. (Student from the A group)

Some students recognized Twitter’s potential for enabling a marketplace of ideas––fitting their expectation of what college was meant to offer––while noting that it did not reach this ideal:

The entire point of college … [is] to not be around like-minded people…. Twitter… in a class college setting, embodies that in that you can see other people’s opinions and, if you feel so inclined, you’re able to argue your point, and…arguing in an academic sense is where the greatest ideas come from. …In its most ideal sense, Twitter would lead to… an argument of conviction, but sometimes it’s not that … most of the time, it’s not that. (Student from the A group)

Nevertheless, some students shared evidence of intellectual debate on the course hashtag. For example, the class studied the circuit of culture in the context of the public relations battle between the producers of the movie Ridiculous Six and Native American protestors. A student who rarely talked in class noted, “A lot of people were saying, ‘It’s by Adam Sandler. You shouldn’t take it seriously,’ and I was just one by one knocking out why representation is really important and it feels good [to recall that experience].” When asked about student reactions to her tweets, she noted that she received some comments and a lot of favorites “from people spectating the little showdowns.” Twitter gave several students increased agency for expressing their views in class. A student from the D group commented, “I feel like what’s cool about Twitter is if you do talk about these topics, it’s a cool, more informal, more comfortable way of expressing my opinion.”

A downside of Twitter was the potential for distraction. The switch to Twitter intervals (in which Twitter was only projected on the wall during designated Twitter periods after the second week of class) helped some students with regard to the distracting aspects of Twitter. “When we first started, I thought it was a really big distraction to have it on the wall because people kept staring at that and not paying attention, but once you started doing the intervals, it was good” (Student from the A group). A student from the B group commented,

Twitter in the classroom…has its perks and its downfalls. I love seeing different perspectives from other students, because obviously I don’t know what everyone’s thinking, so seeing their thoughts is really interesting – some things I’d never really thought about…. I guess lately the downfall is I get distracted. I start to focus on the J201 hashtag, and I’m not really paying attention as much as I could on the lecture.

For other students, even the use of Twitter intervals continued to be problematic: “It’s distracting because when I look on the phone, there’s so many other things on it, so it’s like you just see that little edge… [of] another app; it’s like, ‘Ah, you want to touch it so bad’” (Student from the C group).

Students brought up the issue of the 140-character limit with regard to the educational value of Twitter: “I don’t understand why I would download something that limits what I can say … I just never really saw the point” (Student from the A group). A student from the B group noted, “I almost have to sacrifice what I think ‘cause it doesn’t fit in the 140 characters, so that’s problematic. But it’s almost like a skill…something that you learn how to do over time.” A student from the A group said, “Eventually, I realized tweets are an easy way for me to make concise comparisons that were easy to remember. So I began appreciating the tweets.” Thus, some students disliked the character limit while acknowledging that learning how to fit their thoughts into a tweet had value. The results of the qualitative study suggest that for many (but not all) students, Twitter helped students exchange views and be exposed to different viewpoints. On the downside, many students reported struggles with getting distracted on their phones after visiting the hashtag.

RQ 2: How do students think the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool in the large lecture classroom affected their sense of class community (if it had any impact)?

Twitter impacted most of the participants’ perceptions of the classroom community; however, it did so in different ways. Although there were some students for whom Twitter had no impact on the sense of community, for many others, it tended to increase the sense of community while also infusing it with a spirit of competition. This spirit of competition seemed focused on entertaining each other, to the detriment of the educational value. Details are presented below.

For many students, Twitter increased the sense of community. One way that Twitter increased the sense of community was by helping students bond through seeing one another’s similar reactions. A student from the D group commented,

When we were talking about copyright issues and stuff recently, the whole time, when she was going over the rules for it, and I had no idea about the rules for copyright stuff before that, I was thinking like, ‘What?’, like, ‘copyright should last forever.’And then I was just thinking that I was probably alone in that thought. But then I saw that people had tweeted, ‘No, it should last forever.’ And then I was like, ‘Yeah, like, that’s what I think’ (laughs). Hearing the different views, when it’s something that the teacher is supposed to be unbiased or chooses to be unbiased about when she is providing information, it’s interesting, helpful, I think.

Twitter also increased the sense of community by helping the class know additional student thought leaders who were reluctant to speak in a classroom auditorium setting. It also gave thought leaders an online opportunity to continue their conversations outside of the class lecture. For example, in the grade A focus group, there was a student who stood out for passionately asserting her opinions frequently on Twitter; she was also a compelling writer. Despite her large share of classroom voice on Twitter, she only spoke in the classroom once and this was after significant encouragement by her professor toward the end of the course: “Without Twitter, I wouldn’t feel welcome to participate. I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking and having you repeat what I’m saying over the microphone.” Another thought leader in this woman’s focus group recognized her from Twitter: “[Lauren] and I had never met but we communicate on Twitter a lot.” [Lauren] concurred: “We talk so much on Twitter.” Finally, the sense of community was also enhanced by students responding to each other’s questions pertaining to matters such as where to find an assignment description.

For many participants, Twitter amplified the sense of competition in the classroom community by producing pressure to come up with tweets that would “one-up” other tweets or garner positive feedback through a favorited tweet. Students explained that these tweets were designed primarily to entertain each other rather than enrich the educational experience. Students explained that projecting the Twitter feed on the classroom wall contributed to the sense of competition: “Once you’ve broadcasted on the wall and people see a physical reaction to what they’re saying, it stops becoming about learning. It starts becoming about––how can I get the most laughs; how can I make sure I’m the coolest” (Student from the A group). As another student from the A group recalled, “I see a meme and I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to make a funnier one.’” Another student from the group added, “I’m like, ‘I’m going to post something that’s going to knock it out of the park.’” The tweets were related to the class content but arguably had more entertainment value than educational value.


The growing prominence of social media in the lives of many of today’s college students is challenging our values and norms surrounding education. Educators and scholars are seeking to understand how to best adapt to the pace with which digital technologies are advancing, blurring lines between education and entertainment, virtual and real, public and private, affecting the way students feel, think, and relate, both inside and outside of the classroom (Ito et al., 2009). Our study provides a needed contribution to the literature by perhaps being the first qualitative study that involved an in-depth approach that achieved qualitative saturation with regard to exploring students’ stories and views with regard to the integration of Twitter in a large lecture setting. As a qualitative study, the findings are not generalizable; however, they can still provide insight in the context of one university class involving the strategies we used.

The Sense of Classroom Community

Through our qualitative research, we found that a sense of community in the classroom through Twitter might be influenced by the following variables:

  • Helping students bond through seeing one another’s similar reactions;
  • Helping students feel like they belong when their tweets are favorited or retweeted;
  • Helping students develop relationships with one another by helping each other out with basic questions about the course, such as the location of assignment instructions;
  • Enabling the rise of additional class thought leaders who provided excellent content using the course hashtag but felt reluctant to speak in a classroom auditorium setting; and
  • Fostering additional discussion on the course hashtag, as compared to the amount of verbal discussion in the classroom.

These applications of Twitter to the sense of classroom community fit well with Rovai and Lucking’s (2000) conceptualization of the concept, particularly with regard to feeling a sense of belonging, feeling like members care for one another, perceptions of shared responsibilities to one another, and perceptions of shared learning goals.

Sense of Competition

A new theme we had not read about in the literature that surprised us was the theme of competition on the course hashtag. Our qualitative data suggested that projecting tweets on a classroom wall could increase a sense of competition among students, which can devolve into attempts to entertain one another rather than share knowledge. Research is needed to discover whether there are ways to productively harness this competition toward educational goals (and if so, what those ways are) and whether a sense of competition among students should even be promoted, particularly with regard to how a sense of competition might intrude on the sense of classroom community (as conceptualized by Rovai & Lucking, 2000). Thus, this study introduces a question with regard to Elavsky et al.’s (2011) finding that participation on the class hashtag jumped when the Twitter feed was projected on the wall. Does the overall quality of the tweets change when the tweets are projected, and if so, how? Initial insight from this study, based on students’ accounts, suggests that projecting tweets might detract from the tweets’ intellectual rigor. There is a temptation to send entertaining but educationally shallow tweets to create ripples of appreciation throughout an auditorium.

Guidance for Tweets

In addition, this study goes further than the recommendation in the literature about reminding students from time to time to keep their tweets relevant (e.g., Cole et al., 2013; Pollard, 2014). Based on our study, we suggest that instructors (who choose to use Twitter) provide significant guidance in helping students to understand the type of tweets that add to the educational value of the hashtagged discussion and the types of tweets that are not worthy of points.

The strategies of providing reminders to increase the intellectual quality of tweets and rigorously grading the quality of tweets could be steps in the right direction. Anecdotally speaking, we used these strategies in a subsequent version of the class, and the intellectual rigor of tweets from the students who tended to entertain rather than educate eventually increased when they noticed that they were not receiving points for their vacuous tweets and followed up with us to learn why. The quality of tweets also increased in a subsequent class in which we did not award points for vanity tweets that merely expressed enthusiasm for the professor or topic without adding value to the conversation.

We want to note that the rigorous grading strategy required much more time than the simplistic grading strategy did due to emails and direct message tweets from many individual students who asked questions about why they were not receiving points for their tweets and how their tweets could improve (even though we had already addressed these topics during the lecture). During the subsequent class, we also noticed that we had additional opportunities to correct students on their understanding of the class content or provide information to help students formulate better arguments, perhaps because there was more intellectual content for our responses than there appeared to be earlier. Formal research can explore these anecdotal insights with greater credibility than these casual observations can provide.

Frequency of Tweets

A clear recommendation from our research was that for most of our participants, the invitation to tweet throughout class was too much of a distraction to justify this approach. With some vocal exceptions, there was a consensus in the focus groups that following the hashtag, tweeting, and listening to a lecture was overwhelming and even stressful. Thus, this research provides strong endorsement for designated Twitter intervals, as recommended by Cole et al. (2013).

The Learning Experience

In addition, our qualitative data suggested ways in which Twitter both helps and undermines the learning experience, which can be tested through future research. Students who viewed Twitter as valuable for their education praised it as a platform for exposing themselves to different views they had not considered. Some students recognized that having to condense their thoughts into tweets was a good skill to develop, as exasperating as it was to confine their speech.

The major way focus group participants saw Twitter undermining their learning experience was its ability to distract them from class, particularly due to the temptation to open other apps on their phones before tuning back in to the lecture. As we noted in the literature review, several studies have concluded that Twitter has the potential to contribute to students’ learning experience (e.g., Cole, Hibbert, & Kehoe, 2013; Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011; Kim et al., 2015); however, in another study, students emphasized the distracting nature of Twitter and did not think it should be used in large lecture classes (see Varadarajan, 2011). We believe that Varadajan’s differing results might be due to the lack of using Twitter intervals based on the difference the intervals made to our students’ experiences.


Understanding the adoption of Twitter in the classroom from students’ perspectives in an open-ended question format provided rich data from their perspectives. We believe part of the value of this study lies in recommendations about how Twitter should be integrated into the large lecture classroom with regard to frequency of tweets, guidelines for insisting on intellectual tweets (reinforced via scoring), and potential effects of projecting tweets onto the classroom wall––for those instructors choosing to integrate it. With these recommendations also comes caution about students’ temptation to continue using their phones in classroom auditoriums following Twitter intervals for non-class activity and the significant investment of instructor and teaching assistant time, at least with the approach we took. As additional studies are conducted, we will continue to learn more about the pedagogical use of this resource.


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Appendix: Focus Group Protocol

IRB forms, name tags, demographic forms, and snacks. Check the recorder. Why we’re doing this study:

  • Help us in our teaching.
  • Help other university professors who are considering tech options in large lecture classes.
  • Part of our job is research.Ground rules:
  • Try not to interrupt or talk over anyone.
  • Different opinions are welcome.
  • Please be completely honest with your feedback.
  • Concrete examples and stories are especially helpful.

Questions (Note: for space considerations only the major questions were provided here.

Probes are not included)

  1. How long ago did you join Twitter and why did you join it?
  2. For those of you who used Twitter prior to J201, what were your experiences with using Twitter?
  3. What were your initial thoughts and feelings upon finding out that you would beasked to tweet to a class hashtag during our class?
  4. What was it like during the first couple of weeks when you were tweeting throughoutclass?
  5. How did you feel about having the live Twitter feed projected on the wall?
  6. Can you describe the experience you had when you posted your first tweets to the#UOJ201 hashtag?
  7. What are your thoughts about when [Tiffany/I] shifted from having you tweet throughout class to having designated intervals for tweeting during class?
  8. What are your thoughts about the tweets on our class hashtag?
  9. Can anyone talk about interacting with others on the hashtag and what that experience was like?
  10. How do you decide what to tweet?
  11. Can you describe the ways in which using Twitter as part of the large classroom experience engaged, distracted or, in some other way, affected you?
  12. Do you think cell phones should be used in large lecture classes? Why or why not?
  13. Can you talk about your thoughts on the ideal college classroom experience in a large lecture class – what student technology, if any, works best for you – including not just Twitter but any social media and any classroom response technology, such as Top Hat or the iClicker.
  14. Time pending: Have you talked to others about your use of Twitter in the classroom and, if so, in what ways did you describe the experience to them?
  15. Time pending: What are some of the general thoughts and feelings you have toward class use of Twitter and other social media, both in and out of the classroom?
  16. Is there anything you would like to add?


Can every class be a Twitter chat? Cross-institutional collaboration and experiential learning in the social media classroom, Journal of Public Relations Education


  • Julia Daisy Fraustino (left), West Virginia University
  • Rowena Briones (center), Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Melissa Janoske (right), University of Memphis

fraustina   rowena-briones   janoske


Using the framework of experiential learning theory to guide assignment creation, instructors of social media strategy classes at three university campuses conducted cross-institutional Twitter chats with students. By creating topical case studies using the online storytelling platform Storify and discussing them during the chats, students applied course theories and concepts, built professional networks, honed professional skills, and broadened understanding of strategic communication using new tools in unique digital cultures. Qualitative textual analysis of the 2,088 tweets coupled with instructors’ teaching observations revealed the assignments fostered conditions for an experiential learning process, which students enjoyed. Best practices for teaching using similar assignments in public relations and social media are offered.

Fraustino, J. D., Briones, R., & Janoske, M. (2015). Can every class be a Twitter chat?: Cross-institutional collaboration and experiential learning in the social media classroom, Journal of Public Relations Education, 1(1), 1-18.

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