• President Edward Burger is incorporating Twitter into the Calculus class he is teaching this fall. (Photo by Carlos Barron)

After seeing how much time her students were spending on Twitter, art history professor Kim Smith had an idea: Why not find a way to use the popular social media platform as a teaching tool?

“As long as they are online, I thought maybe I could have them looking for art history material,” Smith said.

When she taught her Introduction to Art History class in spring 2014, Smith asked her students to follow five institutions on Twitter that were connected to art history - such as a museum or another school’s art history department. Students also had to post several tweets a week using the hashtag #ARH104. The tweets could be about anything from famous paintings to upcoming exhibits at museums that interested them. Students had to respond to at least one classmate’s tweet per week, and at the end of the semester, they had to tweet several sentences from their final papers. Smith based 10 percent of each student’s overall grade on their use of Twitter for the class.

“I really enjoyed the incorporation of Twitter into our course,” said sophomore Grace Atkins. “It encouraged us to explore topics individually and it fostered a community among the students because we were interacting beyond the physical classroom. Overall, I think it was a great way to allow students to express their thoughts, opinions and musings about the topics discussed in class through a medium with which they are comfortable.” 

Since Smith began experimenting with Twitter as a teaching tool, several other faculty members at Southwestern have also started using it.

President Edward Burger, who is also a professor of mathematics, is incorporating Twitter into the Calculus class he is teaching this fall. Burger has created the Twitter handle @Flipped_Calc and plans to ask students to share their reflections and understanding of calculus with that handle.

“I don’t know if it will work, but I love the exercise of making students discover the core idea in just over 100 characters,” Burger said. Burger personally is a frequent user of Twitter, and has more than 2,400 people who follow him at @ebb663.

In the Biology Department, faculty members Romi Burks, Stacie Brown and Erika Borden have worked out a plan to incorporate Twitter into the Biodiversity Lab classes that Brown and Borden are teaching this fall. Students in the lab will be asked to describe papers they have read by sending tweets to @SUbiodiversity.

“I think it will be a great way for the students to be creative and have a little fun with some challenging topics,” Brown said.

Burks said she hopes the exercise will help students learn how to translate scientific material for non-scientific audiences.

“The ability to read, understand and then reiterate the information provided by a primary literature article plays a critical role in the development of scientists,” Burks said. “We want our students to have this skill because it may be quite valuable in their future careers.”

Burks also has claimed the Twitter handle @applesnailfun for students who work in her research laboratory to use.