It turns out, for some students, the addition of technology to the classroom has helped with their grades. Or at least that’s what a recent study from an unnamed Midwest American university would have you believe.
Paige Chapman summarizes the study’s findings on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website:
“At the end of the semester, the tweeters had grade-point averages half a point higher, on average, than did their non-tweeting counterparts. And students who tweeted were more engaged. Twitter users scored higher than those who didn’t use the tool on a 19-question student-engagement survey over the course of the semester — using parameters like how frequently students contributed to classroom discussion, and how often they interacted with their instructor about course material.”
But the study’s conclusion misses the mark entirely.
The entire title of the study, “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” is counter-intuitive. Regardless of the effect a tool may have on learning, it is the way that students choose to use the tool that is most important. Chalkboards, after all, are useful learning tools, but nobody would suggest that the use of chalkboards is somehow causal in the event of chalk-using students getting better grades than their chalk-free peers.
The willingness of some students to use a tool like Twitter, or a chalkboard for that matter, is demonstrative of a student’s wider ability to interact with unfamiliar tools, to expand their horizons, to ask more difficult questions and to engage with classroom material in new ways. This quality can also manifest itself in the classroom through increased participation and deeper interaction with the subject matter.
But one thing should be made clear: These are qualities possessed by students, not by the tools they choose to use.
Whether a student uses a tool like Twitter or not can be indicative of a number of things. But it is not, by itself, indicative of a student’s intelligence, nor is it by itself capable of boosting any single student’s GPA. The possession of a hammer does not make a person a better carpenter, but simply offers them more opportunities.
I would hate to see the effects of a study like this on an impressionable young student, struggling with their course load, thinking that the answer to all of their academic problems lies in a Twitter account. Sure, in some cases, Twitter can bring a new, dynamic and sometimes valuable contribution to class life, but it’s completely naïve to think that the simple addition of this social networking tool to a classroom will turn Cs to As.