Research Brief: Evaluating Twitter use in the classroom

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Radiology is one of the most important means of diagnosing a wide variety of diseases in animals. Radiography (X-ray) is commonly used by many practitioners, but is a challenging topic for veterinary students to learn as it requires an understanding of anatomic differences across species, visual recognition of abnormalities and interpretation of those findings in light of a patient's clinical signs.

A University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine study used Twitter as a means of distributing additional radiology case examples to students. The study examined if providing learning materials to students outside of the normal channels would improve students’ radiographic interpretation skills. Results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

The radiologist posted a set of radiographs (X-rays) to his Twitter account (@xrayvet) twice a week over the course of a semester. Students were invited to voluntarily follow the account and look at the cases as a means of getting further experience and testing themselves. Answers to each case were posted the day after the images were initially posted on Twitter. At the end of the semester, students completed a survey about their experiences and final exam scores were compared between the students who used Twitter in their studies and those who did not.

X-ray of a cat (courtesy of @xrayvet)
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X-ray of a cat (courtesy of @xrayvet)
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The study found:

  • there were no differences in final exam scores between students who used Twitter as a part of their studies and those who did not;
  • only 33 percent of students used Twitter for studying during the course, and only 30 percent of students had a Twitter account prior to the beginning of the course;
  • when asked their preferences for receiving additional cases for study, 54 percent responded that they would prefer one of the standard web-based platforms already used in the class, 23 percent would prefer Facebook, and only 3 percent would prefer Twitter.

"Although use of social media is widespread, Twitter use among professional students is quite a bit lower than one might expect, so this probably isn't the best platform to engage professional students," said Christopher Ober, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. "When determining if use of a social media platform is right for a course, it is important for educators to determine if the features of that platform are a good match for the educational goals of the course. User familiarity with a platform is also really important, and may actually be more critical than the addition of a few more bells and whistles."

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University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
04/16/2019