Professor Ryan Snelgrove teaches Ethics in Sport, a required first-year course, to 225 students in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Windsor. Reflecting the University’s emphasis on student experience, Dr. Snelgrove wanted to foster classroom engagement, but realized the limitations of time for verbal engagement. However, with almost all students arriving in class with a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, he decided to take advantage of these tools, using Twitter as a tool for contributing opinions and comments.
As part of the Ethics in Sports course, a series of 27 debates focus on issues such as violence in sport, commercialism, performance enhancements and health issues, female athletes on male teams, and professional athletes participating in the Olympics. The debates are held during nine classes of 1 hour and 20 minutes each, with three topics per class; four students on each side present arguments on each topic. After the three debates, there is verbal discussion, a summary by the professor, and a consideration of some of the comments contributed on Twitter.
Students take notes during the debates – as many of these same questions appear on their exams – but once the debate is over, they can use the topic’s Twitter hash tag to contribute reflection, comments, and opinions. The comments are not to be judgmental on the debate itself, but on the topic at hand. The tweets continue long after the class is over, extending the consideration of the topic beyond the 20 minutes allotted in class. In some cases, the topics are raised at the following class because of the level of commentary. Dr. Snelgrove often responds to the tweets, offering alternative perspectives.
At the beginning of the course, Dr. Snelgrove explains the process and expectations of the Twitter debates. He addresses the students’ choice of using an existing Twitter account or setting up a special account for this course only. Central to this is the reality that Twitter comments are searchable by anyone, including future employers. Most students elect to use their existing Twitter accounts.
Class participation is worth 5% of the final mark. Students who cannot or do not wish to use Twitter are given the option of verbal participation only, sending comments after class, or connecting only with the professor by e-mail. Following each class, the tweets for each topic are reviewed for quality. They are also checked on a continuous basis to ensure they are positive and respectful contributions. This has very rarely been an issue. As Dr. Snelgrove says, “Professionalism is emphasized – the course itself is on ethics – and all comments must be respectful of the topic, process, and classmates. Any comments that can be construed as disrespectful get a 0 out of 5.”
Outcomes and Benefits
Engaging in the debate on the issues gives the students a sense of ownership of and investment in the topic. As the comments are available to all inside and outside the class on Twitter, the students are thoughtful and contribute substantive ideas or remarks. It helps them develop perspectives on issues that are critical to their future professional lives, while exposing them to varied, sometimes conflicting, points of view.
The student response has been very positive, as using Twitter offers a way of participating they can all do by using something they are familiar with. It also gives them a unique way to interact with the professor.
All of the 27 debates have registered in the Top Ten Trending Now topics for Canada on Twitter – some have even been listed as #1. People outside the class follow and respond to the issue, providing students with an extra impetus to consider and express their opinions carefully.
The fact that so many of the students use their existing Twitter account for class participation has a social benefit as it brings them into contact with their class mates. As they are first-year students, this serves as a connection to friendships.
Colleagues in the Department of Kinesiology have supported this approach to integrating Twitter as a way of enhancing student learning by using technology in a way that fits with the topic and the pedagogy.
Challenges and Enhancements
With over 8,000 tweets, the grading of the tweets requires an asymmetrical amount of time relative to the portion of the grade assigned to participation (5%). The students have a rubric to let them know how their tweets will be assessed.
Maintaining quality and professionalism is an important part of the process, but, so far, has not been an issue.
Dr. Snelgrove used Twitter and other tools to deliver one complete class – on how to treat opponents and officials in sports. The session included class notes, links to videos, and Twitter discussions. It was challenging for students to follow the interaction on a live basis, although they were not expected to absorb all the comments. He would like to continue to offer an occasional class this way, and is exploring ways of streamlining the structure with the goal of offering “a valuable learning experience and engagement tool.” He is also looking for other ways to integrate technology effectively in the classroom – beyond the offering of comments.
For Further Information
Assistant Professor, Sport Management
Department of Kinesiology
University of Windsor