Why Twitter is not a good teaching tool

Once a “cool teacher” who advocated teaching with social media, Paul Barnwell now thinks Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools.

While summarizing is a real skill, do we really want students to further fragment their thoughts and attention in this age of incessant digital distraction and stimuli with 140-character blurbs? Do we want students to spend even more time in front of a screen, bypassing opportunities to converse and collaborate face-to-face?

Web applications and social media tools may engage students at first, but the wow wears off quickly, Barnwell writes. Teachers waste time on gimmicks. Students “become dependent on technology that requires too many templates, cheapens thinking, or relies on flashy graphics and movement.”

The “net generation” isn’t truly tech savvy, he adds, citing a report by the Economic & Social Research Council, which interviewed British college students. They “use Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, most often as distractions from their studies rather than learning tools.”

Do many students you interact with know how to do much more than Tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube? Email is antiquated to students; after all, many kids are so used to fragmenting their thoughts that writing a substantial email is drudgery. Twitter is all the rage for teenagers and is a constant source and depository of mindless banter and instant gratification. Being tech savvy should include the ability to synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.

Barnwell is no technophobe: He teaches a digital media and storytelling course at a Kentucky high school, teaching students to use technology to create “photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries.”

About Joanne


  1. Twitter isn’t a GREAT teaching tool, it’s just another tool. I use it to point students to updated or new course resources online to restore their often-fragmented attention back onto my course.

  2. Social Media in education is a hot topic right now. Ever since Tom Whitby over at My Island Home posted a hymn of praise about Twitter, I’ve been tracking online discussions. It’s stimulating for those inhabiting the world of ideas, but it does have its limitations for students in the classroom.

    Digging further into Social Media, its uses and abuses, prompted this recent post:


    Tech talk mastery is crowding out ideas, especially among educators. Chalkface is now Out, and so, apparently, is Interface. Screenface is the latest buzz word, but it too is all about process rather than creativity or ideas in education.

  3. Twitter is but another tool. Of course kids may not know how to use it for meaningful communication or collaboration because they were never taught how to do it. Far too many people want to hold kids responsible for their use of technology while refusing to teach productive and responsible use. There is no one technology tool for learning that is a silver bullet for education. However, the bigger the toolbox that each educator carries increases the chances to individualize learning for kids. Twitter is a primary tool for any learner, adult, or child, to communicate and collaborate with other learners to develop and maintain a network for personal learning. It is not a passive exercise. It does require involvement. But again, this must be taught there are no digital natives.

  4. Randy Johann says:

    It can be a good tool but not a great one. Students can use hashtags to find out relevant news about a particular subject.

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    Lifted from a teacher’s comment on the EdWeek piece:

    I also agree with Mr. Barnell that students today are not nearly as tech-savy as we think they are and that all of this technology has led to a generation of young people who have very little patience when it comes to reading (for pleasure or otherwise), analyzing text (they have Sparknotes on speed “dial”), annotating, and actively using study skills of any kind. I’ve even noticed that they don’t have the patience to even watch a movie or television show without wanting to look up “What’s going to happen” before it’s over.

    What this teacher points out is a serious worry. How is a greater use of Twitter going to help counteract attention spans too short to learn anything more complex than a single sentence?