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Professors urging college students to 'Tweet' -- even in class: Some professors using Twitter as part of curriculum
[April 19, 2009]

Professors urging college students to 'Tweet' -- even in class: Some professors using Twitter as part of curriculum

Apr 19, 2009 (Pioneer Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- College students are increasingly using social-networking Web sites like Twitter during class time, but not always to the annoyance of their professors.

Some students are Twittering for an A.

Twitter, an online community where users post messages of 140 characters or fewer from their computers or cell phones, has become a learning tool for some college professors.

University of Minnesota adjunct professor Eva Keiser's first assignment for students in her public relations class was to sign up for Twitter and begin posting messages. When she asked at the beginning of this semester how many of them knew what Twitter was, only one of about 40 hands went up. She knew that had to change.

"I think that if they're in the communications world, this is a tool they'll have to use," said Keiser, senior vice president for Risdall McKinney Public Relations.

Her students are following companies online and posting news about them via Twitter. Each week, they have to post a Twitter update -- commonly referred to as a "tweet" -- which is broadcast to everyone who has signed up to follow them.

"It has to be Twitter, otherwise I won't accept it," said Keiser, who grades the students in part on their Twitter messages.

At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, assistant professor Daisy Pignetti asks each of the students in her freshman English composition classes to post 200 tweets by the end of the semester.

"They now can talk to their classmates in way they never could before," said Pignetti, who added that her students are using Twitter to discuss class material, ask her questions and get information on assignments.

"It's kind of nice to be able to see what other students are thinking," said Andrew Foss, 19, who had heard about Twitter but didn't really know what it was before taking Pignetti's class. He uses it a couple of times a week to tweet about the books he's reading for the course.

"It's really easy to use," he said. "It would be cool if it was implemented in other courses." While Foss has found Twitter to be an effective tool for class work, his main destination for social networking is Facebook. That's a trend among people his age, said David Krejci, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and senior vice president for public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

The largest age group of Twitter users is significantly older than Foss, with ages 35 to 49 making up about 42 percent of the site's 7 million unique visitors in February, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The fact that Twitter is less popular among those entering college may be even more reason for students to learn a social-networking tool that is increasingly being used in the professional world.

But the growing popularity of social networking may not be all good news, as one study suggests. Researchers at Ohio State University recently found that college students who use Facebook spend less time studying and have lower grade-point averages.

And while most parents might not like the idea of their kids spending class time on social networking, Twitter's proponents say not to worry.

"It's not so much a distraction as it is an asset," said Keiser, whose students sometimes use Twitter in class to alert her to relevant online material, which Keiser can take from Twitter and then project onto a screen for the whole class to see.

Krejci agrees. Students in college have grown up learning to multitask with technology, he said.

"If someone is updating their Facebook profile while listening to me in class, is that any different than when I would doodle in my notebook or write a note to somebody?" he asked. "I don't really think it is." Andy Rathbun can be reached at 651-228-2121.

To see more of the Pioneer Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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