Use of Twitter as a Backchannel in a Large Lecture-based Required Pharmacy Course

By Lana Dvorkin Camiel and Jennifer Goldman


Twitter is a popular free social media platform where communication is achieved through 140-character long posts. We have utilized Twitter as a backchannel in our large lecture-based self-care course (200+ students). In addition to hand raising students were able to use Twitter during the lectures to post their comments and questions made visible on a large screen.  The participation was optional.  Early in the course, coordinators collected students’ usernames and created a Twitter list to track comments. Course coordinators monitored posts and shared them with lecturing faculty.  Questions were addressed in class, or if the volume of questions was too large, unanswered questions were addressed on learning management system discussion board.   

So what?

After the course completion, 266 students were surveyed about the usefulness of Twitter as a backchannel. Close to 70% felt that backchannel was not distracting, and 75% reported that it was easy to follow tweets and questions. About half liked to use backchannel during live sessions and thought it should be used in other large classes, and 93% appreciated that it was not mandatory.  Based on our experience, students were significantly more engaged and asked many more questions than they typically do in a lecture without a backchannel.

Now what?

Our course is team-taught, so the buy-in from all faculty was essential.  That ultimately meant our faculty consistently paused in their delivery to check the questions that came in via Twitter.  Reminding the students that backchannel is utilized was also important. Course coordinators’ presence and monitoring of the Twitter feed during the class and posting unanswered questions on the learning management system were essential to make this a success. Based on our experience, we would highly recommend using a hashtag and making sure that students utilize it in their tweets instead of creating a list.  It simulates more closely what happens in the real world, and also diminishes significant initial workload on the faculty of entering each student into a designated list. If faculty decided to make this a mandatory activity, in order for it to be successful each student must have an access to Internet during the class – as a result hardware and connectivity become important aspects of insuring successful delivery.  The majority of students utilized Twitter via smartphones. Our overall experience with Twitter as a backchannel was positive, but many students do not have Twitter accounts and are hesitant to create one.  As a result we have been exploring other tools like  Paid versions typically offer additional benefits of keeping the backchannel available over the duration of the entire semester. Students should be reminded that all tweets should be professional in content.

Questions: What tools have you experimented in your lecture-based classes to increase engagement?  If you have tried backchannel, what are some of the tools you recommend?

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