Using Twitter to teach Psychology

Using Twitter to teach Psychology

As an educator I always preferred to teach using an interactive style. I much rather expose students to certain stimuli (a specific theory, a research finding), ask them a question or two and arrive at an evaluation/insight gradually and as a group. I find this style much more suited to their needs as compared to simply talking at them.

I noticed early on in my career that only certain students are happy to voice an opinion or offer an insight in front of the whole group. Wearing my Psychology hat I attributed this lack of participation to shyness, personality or perhaps a lack of confidence. I always felt that the ‘silent observers’ needed to be given a voice as I noticed that their written work was reflective, insightful and evaluative but their oral contributions remained minimal, if at all existent. So, like many other lecturers out there, I started using more and more ways to try and get them to voice their opinions (small task groups, interactive experiments, use of post-it-notes etc). But I still felt that I could do more to try and unleash the thoughts of the silent observer. In recent years (2010-2012) I found something that maybe could help me in my quest.

In 2009-2010 I started using Twitter and I quickly noticed a number of things that I could use in my teaching practice. The first one was the restrictive nature of the tweet. One has to express their view in 140 characters or less. Students are asked to learn to express themselves succinctly as part of their university studies so I was keen to find a way of using twitter to reinforce that.

Another, probably accidental, part of being a regular Twitter user was that I was reading more than usual and I was reading more diversely than usual. As a Social psychologist I was always going to be interested in articles on Social behaviour but I noticed that soon my eye was catching other articles too (on global conflict, human rights, race relations, health etc). I started following up some of the more credible sources and used them to inform my lectures and make them more applicable to all facets of the human experience. All the while one question at the back of my mind was becoming impossible to ignore or fail to answer; “could I get my students to read more if I introduced them to Twitter (and obviously showed them the academic side of things instead of the “follow a celeb” side)?

The final observation about being part of the twittersphere was the ease with which people seemed to connect to each other online. Again, my psychology head had a possible explanation for that, which was related to hyperpersonal theory in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and all the research findings suggesting that people tend to disclose more about themselves online. Add to this the self-reported sense of belonginess when tweeting and the fact that it is instant and easily accessible and you have yourself the first ingredients for the possible educational uses of micro-blogging and the Twittersphere.

So I thought that using twitter as an educational tool may help me in my quest to increase student readership, increase participation in class debates and diversify participation.

My aims included:
Students to read more often and more widely
Students to access more diverse sources instantly
Students to help create an online ‘community’ where everyone has a voice
Students to interact more with each other and engage in the debates
To compare Face to Face seminars with Twitter-based seminars

Initial set up
The first time I used twitter to deliver a seminar was with a group of year 2’s as part of their Health Psychology module. They had a two-hour lecture followed by either a Twitter-based seminar or a face-to-face seminar. Essentially I timetabled the twitter sessions for every other week. This was the pilot group so I had to allow myself space to reflect and make adjustments in how I ran the twitter sessions. The twitter seminar was timetabled as DLT (Directed Learning).

Students received training on how to use twitter (a quick guide on tweeting, re-tweeting and following others) delivered in a computer lab. Each student set up a tweeter account using their student ID number and their name as usernames. Personal, i.e. non-university related accounts, were not accepted.

During this session they were given guidance about “what not to do online”.
After attending the lecture the students received an email with the issue(s) to be debated a few days later. The email provided a quick reminder about the issues involved and a set of questions.

Students who took part
•Year 2 students as part of their Health Psychology module (pilot)
•Year 3 students as part of Psychology of Life and Work module
•52 participants in the year 3 cohort

Set up and preparation
•All students receive 1 hour of ‘training’ in a computer room (twitter basics)
•They were instructed to create an account using their Name and Student ID number (i.e. @N012345Emma)
•They all follow the @NTUdebate account and @NTUdebate follows them
•They were instructed to always follow every tweet with the hash-tag #ntudebate

Every week
•I emailed them articles, podcasts, miniclips, audiofiles on a specific topic
•The topic is handpicked for being controversial/current/interesting (i.e. Male suicide, happiness, gay conversion therapy)
•The class is timetabled as DLT and students are reminded to ‘attend’ at 11am every Thursday (seminar time)
•We ‘meet’ at 11 on the dot
•Students are encouraged to ‘come-in’ and say ‘hi’ or ‘good-morning’
•Following that I ask the first question and manage the debate from there


Overall, twitter-based seminars were perceived more favourably than Face-to-Face seminars. The qualitative data showed that introverted or shy students ‘found a voice’ and that there was greater participation by the group. Male students appeared to favour twitter-based seminars mainly because of accessibility and female students mainly because of the sense of community that was created.

Amongst other things the results showed that students:

  • participated as active members instead of being ‘silent observers’
  • read more in preparation to the seminar
  • felt more part of the group
  • expressed their opinion more easily
  • accessed more sources

For more information see here (Powerpoint presentation from the Learning and Teaching conference at Nottingham Trent University on 27/03/12) Twitter-based Seminars presentation

#NTUdebate example (from the seminar: “male suicide rates”)


Percentage of ‘active’ participants by gender

(active participants=tweeting and retweeting instead of being silent observers)


Accessibility and group belonginess




Filed under Education, Psychology, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Using Twitter to teach Psychology

  1. Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

  2. Sue JP

    This is excellent! Something I will attempt to use in the future. Thanks for sharing the slides.

  3. Found this really interesting i would love to see more lectures using this

  4. What a creative way of giving a voice to everyone! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nice piece. I agree that Twitter makes you read more widely (if you follow the right people).

    I have used Twitter in my teaching for a couple of years now. The first year one student took part and posted to the live twitterfall, and this year I had around 20 students take part (~10% of the class).

    • That’s great to hear Nick and thank you for your comment. And yes the next step now would be to try and get everyone to take part outside of the timetabled sessions on twitter. One step at a time though!

  6. Pingback: eLearning Showcase at NTU | Blue Tree

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