July 2014
Articles
TWITTER FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES
D. Stephanie Fuccio, Writing Instructor, University of Arizona, USA

“I don’t expect all my graduates to go on to Twitter-based careers, but learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students’ daily chatter, as well as the world’s conversation." (Selsberg, 2011)

Twitter Lesson: Part 2

In the last CALL-IS newsletter I wrote about a Twitter photo scavenger hunt, the purpose of which was to familiarize students with Twitter so that they could later use it for research. This article is about a lesson designed to provide some scaffolding for students the first time they use Twitter for research purposes. As with the last article, this lesson was tested out with my two first-year writing international student sections at the University of Arizona during the Spring 2014 semester. It is important to note that this was part of the first-year writing program at the university, not the intensive English program that some international students attend before they are admitted to a university. Thus, it is strongly suggested that students be at least at an intermediate level of English proficiency, especially in reading and writing, before using a Twitter lesson such as this.

Long-Term Goal

I plan my lessons backward, always thinking of the end learning objective in mind. For this Twitter lesson, the learning outcome was to connect students with the authors/researchers that they already found, via Twitter, to gain access to more current information for their research papers.

After deciding on the learning outcome, I plan the other steps of the lesson, from the last step to the first, and add enough scaffolding so that students are challenged to use their critical thinking skills but not so much that it is an unachievable task. Thus, the self-paced Twitter worksheet that this lesson revolves around is broken up into two parts. If you would like to see the worksheet, click this link. The first part is where students search Twitter for any tweets about authors they have already found in their traditional research projects. This step uses the Twitter skills that they developed in previous Twitter reading tasks, adding the research component. The second part is where they search for Twitter accounts of their authors. When an account is located, they use their skimming/scanning skills to locate academic articles related to their research topic. Since they already found articles from these authors in their traditional research, their Twitter research goal is to find more current research from these same authors. For example, if they used Academic Search Complete and found an article from 2009 on brain tumors related to cell phone usage by Dr. Philip Sutter, then they would search Twitter for Dr. Sutter's articles on this topic that are from 2010 to 2014.

One particular research moment was the inspiration for bridging the gap between how I researched using social media for my classes and how I taught students how to do so. I was working on a research paper on using cloud programs for L2 writing and found the article “Teaching Writing in the Cloud” by Dr. Marohang Limbu (2012). I often search Twitter for authors that write about CALL because I like to thank them for their inspirational work and to make a longer term connection for my teaching professional development. Figure 1 shows what I said to Dr. Limbu.

FIGURE 1: Connect to Dr. Limbu via Twitter (click to enlarge)

However, the conversation did not stop there, as it had in the past. Instead, I was able to ask him if he had written any articles on Google Docs and more. The Twitter conversation can be seen in Figure 2. Being able to interact with the author and get current information from him, such as the article in the last frame, breathed life into the research paper I was working on. It reminded me that there were people behind the theories and practices that I was writing about. This personal connection via Twitter reminded me how powerful tools such as Twitter could be, and my motivation for exposing students to this resource grew even stronger.


FIGURE 2: Twitter conversation with Dr. Limbu via Twitter
(click to enlarge)

Why Twitter?

One of the academics I follow on Twitter, Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014), who is an assistant professor in the Public Administration Division of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching, in Mexico, wrote a blog post titled “Five Ways in Which Twitter Can Be Useful in Academic Contexts.” In this post he lists:

1. To consume current knowledge in a timely fashion

2. To build scholarly networks

3. To refine research ideas

4. To obtain and provide emotional support

5. To share resources in an environment of scarcity

Many of these are reasons why I started to use Twitter in my own academic research as well as why I became motivated to teach my own composition students how to utilize this social media tool. Specifically, this Twitter lesson focuses on #1 in Pacheco-Vega's list: “to consume current knowledge in a timely fashion”; however, the other advantages are no less important. In fact, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, a teacher and avid educational blogger, has made an infographic aligning Twitter skills with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Skills, connecting basic skills such as memorization to higher critical thinking skills of creating and analyzing (available from Kharbach, 2014). This infographic clearly shows that using Twitter in an academic setting, frequently nonetheless, can greatly help students build these critical thinking skills, all the while by using a current technology that indoctrinates them into a wider sociocultural community that they can be a part of for as long as the technology platform remains active.

Overview

The purpose of this lesson was to help students use Twitter as a research tool by focusing on authors of academic articles they already found using more traditional sources such as academic databases (e.g., EBSCO), academic journals, or even Google Scholar. Of course, using keywords is an additional way that Twitter can be used for research purposes, but using authors that the students already found was done in hopes of increasing their likelihood of finding tweets and ultimately links to articles. Adding Twitter to the research skills taught in a first-year composition course after teaching traditional research methods was done intentionally, as a scaffolding step. Learning is, after all, repetition, and researching the same authors from their traditional research with this social media research was done so that students would have some familiarity from previous lessons while they explored using Twitter in a new way. Students are savvy using social media for many purposes, but just as academic English itself is a learned skill, so is using Twitter for academic purposes such as researching for academic articles.

This was the first semester that I was able to use Twitter in a second language classroom setting. The advantages of doing so far outweighed any disadvantages. There were linguistic benefits as well as cultural ones. Everything that is done while teaching or learning a language affects the student’s ability to do so. Thus, by acclimating students to a widely used form of social media in English (one of the main languages used in the platform), I was hoping to add a personal, human, interactive component to what might be considered a traditionally isolating academic activity: research. If students are able to incorporate these research skills in a communicative manner such as social media, perhaps this would also make the transition to professional events such as conferences or even job interviews a smoother one.

References

Kharbach, M. (2014, March 5). Twitter aligned with Blooms' taxonomy: A must have poster for your class. Retrieved from http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/03/twitter-aligned-with-blooms-taxonomy.html?m=1

Limbu, M. (2012). Teaching writing in the cloud: Networked writing communities in the culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies, 1(1), 1–20.

Pacheco-Vega, R. (2014, May 14). Five ways in which Twitter can be useful in academic contexts. Retrieved from http://www.raulpacheco.org/2014/05/five-ways-in-which-twitter-can-be-useful-in-academic-contexts

Selsberg, A. (2011, March 20). Teaching to the text message. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com


Stephanie Fuccio spent 8 years teaching EFL overseas before returning to the United States to work on an MA TESOL. She completed this degree in May 2014 and will start teaching composition courses at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, in September 2014. Her TESOL interests include CALL, MALL, L2 writing, and EAP. She welcomes feedback at LinkedIn or Twitter.