Twitter May Breed Better Socializers

Having a Twitter account certainly leads to procrastination, but it may also lead to increased social interaction in the real world, according to Dr. Reynol Junco, an associate professor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

In a talk at Harvard Law School yesterday afternoon, Junco discussed his ongoing study, which aims to discover whether participation in on-line social networks like Twitter causes increased participation in real world settings like the classroom.

“We’re looking at the effects of Twitter on student engagement and student success,” said Junco, who has also written books about the use of technology in education.

Junco said that he used to list his instant messenger screen name on the syllabus for his classes.

“I found that students, especially introverted first-years, became more comfortable and compelled to participate in class after interacting with me on-line,” Junco related.

The current study, which he has been conducting at an undisclosed college since September, is focused on first-year students, all of whom are health pre-professionals taking a seminar about their chosen career path.

Researchers divided the students into seven groups, four of which were given Twitter accounts at the beginning of the semester and encouraged to tweet.

He called Twitter a “safe bet” and said it is not as widely utilized as other social networking sites like Facebook.

“Twitter doesn’t have a stigma,” said Junco. “It is much more public and less revealing than other sites.”

At the start of the study, Junco and his colleagues sent out a survey asking students to rate on a four point scale their level of social engagement both inside and outside the classroom.

They sent the survey again this past Monday, and will use the students’ answers and ratings of their engagement by faculty and teaching assistants to see if any increase in participation occurred.

The researchers are also coding all the students’ tweets into four categories­—supportive, release, academic, and co-curricular involvement—to understand how the students’ utilized their Twitter accounts. Students’ tweets ranged from expressing concern over what another student had tweeted to asking a question about a homework assignment, Junco said.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it does seem to be that students are much more engaged,” said Junco of the preliminary results.

Social networking web-sites have the potential to improve social interaction, agreed Graduate School of Education Professor Howard E. Gardner ’65.

“On the positive side of social networking, young people who have trouble with face to face friendships often find it easier to work into a relationship

through writing,” Gardner said. “On the negative side, many young people spend too much time social networking.”

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