Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Twitter-Vism: Student Narratives and Perceptions of Learning from an Undergraduate Research Experience on Twitter Activism

Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Twitter-Vism: Student Narratives and Perceptions of Learning from an Undergraduate Research Experience on Twitter Activism

Article excerpt

Finding an interesting and manageable way to incorporate undergraduate research into a one-hour first-year seminar led two professors to Twitter. They wanted an entry-level project that first-year students could use as a foray to larger future undergraduate research projects. In the spirit of scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), professors systematically evaluated a Twitter research project they conceived. They captured what students thought they were learning from the project in order to measure the project's success, see what modifications for improvement were needed and disseminate findings about the effort.

When communication professors were approached to teach the inaugural college-wide first-year seminar (FYS), they designed a course to meet student learning outcomes (SLOs): 1) evaluate evidence in analysis, interpretation, or arguments; 2) synthesize varied components of information to form a rational conclusion; and 3) express ideas in written, visual, or oral forms to a range of diverse audiences in multiple settings. The challenge was to develop learning experiences that met the SLOs and would appeal to a range of majors such as communication studies, criminal justice, English, fine arts, humanities, political science and social work. The college decided on a theme of multiculturalism for its seven FYS sections. On top of that, FYS organizers wanted students exposed to opportunities for applied learning, like undergraduate research, internships and study abroad.

To meet SLOs, incorporate the multiculturalism theme, and introduce an applied learning experience, the FYS professors developed a research project that looked at activists on the social media platform Twitter. Student researchers were to capture tweets from an activist's Twitter page for one week. Each student selected a Twitter handle to follow from a list of activists who used Twitter to promote causes like women's issues, LGBTQ issues, humanitarian issues, medical causes, domestic violence, equality, child welfare, and political issues. These handles were selected because they would expose students to multicultural issues. Students were then clustered in groups based on their subject's main focus. In groups, students collated their data and themes for a mixed methods research paper and oral presentation of their findings. Paper requirements included a literature review with peer-reviewed academic citations, methods, analysis, and results. The paper and presentation accounted for 20% of the student's overall course grade. As an inaugural project with many layers and objectives, professors wanted to study this teaching and learning exercise. The purpose of this paper is to see what students thought they learned from the undergraduate Twitter research project.

Literature Review

The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) moves to critically examine the teaching and learning exercise. It is an academic inquiry into the process of learning in order to improve and examine the process of teaching (Boyer, 1990; Schulman, 1993). Schulman (1993) noted that if teaching is a valued part of the university structure as Boyer (1990) wrote, then it was important to approach teaching with the same lens of assessment, critique, and exploration as one would the research component of faculty roles. Kern, Mettetal, Dixson, and Morgan (2015) call SoTL the intersection between teaching and research. They write: "SoTL has a vital and important role for students in the form of enhanced learning outcomes and for academia as a learning-centered enterprise" (p. 11). Hutchings and Schulman (1999) proposed that the role of SoTL moves beyond the individual classroom or instructor to the dissemination of the scholarship to a public audience.

As social media sites have emerged and connected with higher education environments, scholars explore the place, purpose, use, and impact of social media on teaching and learning. In this paper, social media sites are defined as web-based or mobile applications for creating, engaging with, and distributing user-generated content in the digital realm (Davis, Deil-Amen, Rios-Aguilar, & Gonzales Canche, 2012). …

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