Twitter as a Teaching Tool Hampers Critical Thinking Skills


Jun 12, 2019


We can now say with moderate confidence that Twitter-based learning practices, if used exclusively to gain insight into a complicated subject, are futile and also make you less critical in the long run.

One recent study, from the economics and finance department of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, found that when students used Twitter-based learning to discuss the observations and insights they had gleaned from a novel — Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello’s Il fu Mattia Pascal — they imbibed a less nuanced understanding of the text than those who utilized traditional learning methods to understand the text. The research is an evaluation of Italy’s new learning curriculum implemented across the country’s high schools – the TwLetteratura – which facilitates via Twitter conversations about literary texts among 14,000 students at 250 participating schools.

The TwLetteratura is an addition to Italy’s Informations and Communications Technology (ICT) approach, which enables students and teachers to integrate all the services of the internet — including access to and sharing of information. Nations with a high permeation of ICT learning in their educational framework, such as Italy, have graduated to experimenting with the use of social media to teach subjects, but the impact of these teaching techniques on students are yet to be extensively researched.

Countries around the globe, including India, are moving toward a school and college curriculum that focuses on ICT learning. But India hasn’t gotten as far, mostly because it’s still grappling with building the infrastructure required to facilitate ICT learning in its schools and colleges, such as installing computers and training teachers in IT. Even so, the study has wide implications on how India might move toward best methods and practices while inculcating knowledge of internet-based learning among its pupils.

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The study evaluated 1465 students, sourced from 70 Italian high schools, half of whom used Twitter to post quotes and their observations about the text, and the other half of whom used traditional methods, such as writing papers and discussing the novel’s scope in person. The two groups’ performance was measured by evaluating the individual students’ understanding, comprehension and memorization of the text, according to the paper. Researchers found that high-performing students in the Twitter group scored lower on performance metrics – 25 to 40% less – which led study authors to conclude that using Twitter didn’t only suppress learning, but actually impaired performance of students who would have otherwise done well. 

Their conclusion: When students shared observations about the book on Twitter, they were writing and reading only 280 characters’ worth of information at each point — no way near enough space to engage in comprehensive insight and analysis. But the sheer volume with which students tweeted made it seem like they were discussing the book in-depth enough to have a cohesive understanding of it. This gave them a false sense of security about their knowledge. 

In 2014, another group of researchers attempted to derive the ways in which we consume information off of social media. They created five artificial networks with volunteers, wherein some created a tighter network and shared all information, while others limited their sharing and kept their thoughts separate, Time reported. All of the volunteers were given a set of brainteasers to solve individually, and those in the tighter network got more right answers. The question the researchers asked though, is whether the right answers given by the majority stemmed from individual thought, or if they were just replicates of what a small minority had thought up on social networks. To put it simply, was social media making it easier to steal ideas? And even if it was, were the people replicating solutions becoming more able to exercise their individual thought anyway? The answer: no. 

The conclusions showed that when the network users had access to a right answer, they just swapped theirs before posting. When they were given a fresh set of brainteasers, they couldn’t solve them on their own. Time reported the researchers saying, “… The bias may very well decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace for people to reach analytical response without engaging analytical processing,” and “increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first.”

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The Italian researchers from the first study encouraged scholars to really investigate how students imbibe information from social media, even as the entire world is moving toward a more connected network – a phenomenon especially encouraged in institutions of learning. Twitter-based learning can in no way replace traditional learning methods, they added. 

“It’s quite detrimental,” Gian Paolo Barbetta, one of the study’s lead authors, told the Washington Post. “I can’t say whether something is changing in the mind, but I can say that something is definitely changing in the behavior and the performance [of students].”

In India, according to an ICT learning curriculum devised by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 2013, schools’ current technological resources are a proprietary operating system, the office suite and copyright content. For now, not enough teachers have been trained on the already poor infrastructure to graduate to more advanced ICT teaching/learning methods.

For example, “learning to create an email ID; send and receive emails; store and manage communication; handle attachments; maintain address books; form or join email forums; participate in discussion forums, wikis, video and audio conferencing, social networks, blogging and microblogging,” are some of the ways NCERT wants ICT learning to function in Indian schools and colleges. In light of this goal, it is important to understand the ways in which increased connectivity fosters and hampers learning, and implement methods that encourage the former, and minimize the latter. 


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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