Many people use them to catch up with their friends and family, explore new interests or simply have a good time enjoying themselves. However, a Turkish professor at a US university has discovered the educational benefits of social media.
Mustafa Gökçek, a professor of history at New York’s Niagara University, got the idea of teaching history courses through tweeting and sharing the links of helpful websites and articles. He compiled a list of 90 major chronological events that took place between 1945 and 2005 in the US and disseminated them as tweets, beginning on Sep. 13, 2011.
Gökçek talked to Sunday’s Zaman about what made him think of the idea. He said history subjects are commonly regarded as boring as they have happened in the past. That’s why he decided to devise a tweeting program, providing students information with a more clear and less intimidating way to interact in class.
A computer program was developed by computer science professor Dr. Murat Demirbaş at the University at Buffalo to send tweets relevant to what will be covered in the course.
Because the tweets are designed to be sent at scheduled intervals, making it possible to cover 60 years of history by sending a tweet per day for 90 days -- which is the approximate duration of the fall semester, they give the students the opportunity to get a feel of the historical events occurring in sequence instead of thinking of them as separate events. In this way students can get the sense of the historical context.
“One of the goals of this project is to help students grasp the timeline of major events better, understanding not only the event but also the historical background it arose in,” Gökçek said.
The program was so effective that Demirbaş decided to expand it further, including sending out tweets containing links to primary sources providing more information on the event. The students are encouraged to follow the link to visit a primary source document that Gökçek picked himself regarding the topic of the message. Having various sources to rely on, the students are encouraged to contribute more effectively in class discussions.
In this way learning history is no longer limited to the duration of the course, instead it becomes an ongoing history course on the net that is available at all times.
“History is not a boring subject or something frozen; it is a part of our lives. This program actually takes history out of the classroom and puts it into their hands,” Gökçek said on the website of Niagara University.
Based on this project’s success, Gökçek and his colleagues plan to explore making the format applicable to other courses and perhaps even adding a testing component.
Gökçek may be the first person to “teach by tweeting,” and could well have started a trend for other history teachers as well.
Lecturers at some universities leave the Twitter page open during the class, allowing the students to listen to the lecturer and at the same time tweet their comments and personal opinions on the subject.
Lecturers using Tweeter in their courses argue that by incorporating Twitter into the actual classroom setting, shy students can get out of their cocoon, where they feel most confident, and have them participate in the discussions by not having them worry about speaking in front of the whole class.
This method involves more students in the class discussion and also makes it possible for dozens of students to discuss an issue at a time.
The tweets are limited to 140 characters, meaning that the students are required to think about the point they want to make in their tweets, which is also a very good skill to develop.
Although it is a very different format than the typical history class format, if it is considered effective and harmless by education authorities, we might see more of these “tweechers” -- as a local Niagara newspaper defined Gökçek.