Dr Rimante Ronto is an innovative teacher based in the Department of Health Systems and Populations. Rimante presented to Faculty colleagues at the launch of Public Health led seminars on 5 March with this title: Twitter as a learning resource for higher education.
Rimante saw a need for her students to be more conversant with the communication tools of health professionals, particularly social media. She thoughtfully embraced Twitter as the most appropriate technology for her learning activity. Twitter has real-world relevance as it is a common platform in health promotion campaigns and would enable reflective practice through its micro-blogging affordances.
Why use Twitter with students?
Having used Twitter since being introduced to it in a public health conference in 2013 and as part of her Graduate Certificate of University Learning and Teaching in 2017, Rimante was aware of the professional benefits of this platform. Health Professionals globally benefit through the sharing of knowledge, resources, links and networks. However, before commencing with the project, Rimante ensured that Twitter was fit for purpose, aligned with her learning outcomes and conducted a thorough assessment of her student’s digital literacy skills; she believes that constructing public health communication on Twitter has the same benefits for students as it does for her.
How was the learning activity scaffolded?
Rimante carefully scaffolded the introduction of Twitter to her Health Promotion and Disease Prevention unit, which is a first-year core unit of the Master of Public Health. In week 1 of her Unit, HSYP805 (now HSYP8104), Rimante introduced the learning activity, the purpose and related technology. She summarised the MQ Social Media Policy and asked students to review it as a follow-up activity.
Students were given specific tweeting tasks in Weeks 2-12, with time allocated in lectures for students to reflect on their learning and post a tweet; students were asked to add two hashtags to their tweets so that their tweets were searchable: #HSYP805 and #MQHealth. During the introduction of the learning activity, Rimante emphasised the importance of the right digital footprint for professionals and therefore creating an appropriate ‘Twitter handle’ (name). If students already had a Twitter account that wasn’t an appropriate professional persona, Rimante encouraged them to create a new one.
Most weeks students were asked to reflect on their key learning from the lecture as their tweet. However, if a guest lecturer presented, students were encouraged to tweet about the presentation using the presenter’s Twitter handle in the tweet, to emphasise how the platform could be used to build professional networks and communicate health information.
The benefit of using social media as a learning resource
The additional benefit of using social media as a learning resource is that student tweets can be fed through the Unit iLearn site in an HTML configured block – creating ever-changing dynamic content in the Unit. Students reported that they liked seeing their tweets being rotated through the iLearn site and liked by their teacher and other students (include slide 11). Rimante selected a “Best Tweeter” recipient at the end of the Unit to reward quality (and quantity) engagement.
Evaluating the impact
Rimante conducted research on how students engaged with Twitter and the perceived benefits and challenges of using Twitter. As part of her research project, Rimante analysed the tweets, surveyed students and held two focus groups. While some students reported back that they were unsure what to tweet, found tweeting a bit time-consuming in particular towards the end of the semester or disliked using social media, most students (76%) used Twitter at least once per week during the Semester.
The data shows that students were overwhelmingly positive about the learning activity, strongly agreeing that tweeting helped them connect more with their peers and teaching staff, remain up to date with health promotion news and trends, increased their professional networks, reflect on their learning and engage with the Unit outside of class.
An unexpected finding
Interestingly, some students reported that tweeting made them feel socially anxious as they were worried about the quality of their tweets. It is unclear yet about the causes of this anxiety. However, they felt more confident in tweeting when either teaching staff, peers or other health promotion professionals liked or commented on their tweets.
Rimante has made some modifications to the learning activity this year, based on students’ feedback and personal observations. However, she remains reluctant to bow to student pressure and award summative grades for the learning activity. Rimante encourages participation and sells it as a “learning opportunity” to students. This year she will be able to show current students the powerful testimonials about participating from last year’s cohort.
You can contact Dr Rimante Ronto through her twitter handle @RimanteRonto or her University email address.