Reading, Writing and Tweeting?

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Photo courtesy of Twitter
Photo courtesy of Twitter

Old-Fashioned Learning the High Tech Way

By Sharan Paul
Metro Staff Reporter

I have an online Biology class this semester that is killing me. Online classes do not afford the opportunity to raise a hand and ask for clarification. It is what it is. I know that online classes fit busy schedules, and provide many students the flexibility to study independently at a pace that is suited to them. But, seriously? I need help!

My first thought was to try a form of social media known as Twitter. One quick message (140 characters or less) has the potential to return hundreds of replies within seconds. Surely, someone in the virtual world would know what a motor neuron does. An added advantage to the immediacy of a Twitter response is that it is capable of sending images by using TwitPic, Instagram, Tumblr, and other graphic services. This feature makes it possible to get an answer to a Biology question, which can be paired with a labeled diagram, chart, or example, if necessary. Now that’s clarification.

A serious drawback of using Twitter is the absence of a “group” function. There is a lot of “noise” from businesses, hawking their products and services, or people that need to let the world know what they are doing every minute of the day. Sifting through random messages and ReTweets can make it difficult to find the Tweet you need. Unlike Facebook or email, you cannot list names and receive Tweets only from specific people in a group. However, there is a function that will allow sending Tweets from individual followers to your cell phone. If you have only the Tweets from your study group members sent to your phone, via text message, you can get the Tweets you need, without all the rest. I found it easiest for each member of the study group to create a separate account, with only group members as followers, as well as, the people you follow. This eliminates all the “chatter” of personal Tweets from group members. Bear in mind, since Twitter relies on the availability of group members to respond to questions, a larger study group will increase chances of a timely answer. So, what happens when I need an answer at 10 p.m., on Saturday night, and everyone is out partying?

Tri-C had the solution, right at my fingertips. SmartThinking is a program that provides online tutoring in numerous subjects, anytime or day of the week. Private tutoring can cost upwards of $120 per hour. Tri-C has a free in-person tutoring service, but you must make an appointment during their office hours, and go to the campus to take advantage of this program. The SmartThinking program, exclusively at Tri-C, provides online, 24/7 tutoring, from where ever you and your computer happen to be. It could be your lunch break at work or in your pajamas eating breakfast. They do not offer help in every subject yet, but there are a wide variety of subjects they do cover.

Can students really use Twitter to help with their homework? The answer to that is divided among this semester’s Tri-C students. Jacob Kirkwood, a first year, Recording Arts Major, has used twitter to promote his music. He considers it a good marketing tool, but does not use it for anything else. Ruth Whatley, a third-year nursing student, does not use Twitter, but would like to learn how to Tweet, because she thinks it would be interesting to Tweet people all over the world. Anthony Rodgers, a first-year Radiology Major, did not use Twitter at all, because he, like others, does not really have a use for it. However, all three students expressed interest in learning how Twitter can be used as a study guide. But, Whatley pointed out a downside of technology-based study groups and online classes by stating, “I would miss the human contact you get when you meet in person to study.”

Technology is here to stay and we would do well to explore new ways to pair it with traditional methods of learning. Twitter may not be for everyone, but I have to say that thanks to my Twitter group, I not only know what a motor neuron is, I can identify it from a drawing.

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