University of Tübingen: Study by the University of Tübingen shows the potential of online communities and reveals deficits in the digitization process in schools

During the school closings due to the corona pandemic, teachers have increasingly used social media platforms such as Twitter as a source of information and for further training. They networked in the online community and exchanged views on the challenges of switching to digital teaching. The most pressing issues were good digital teaching, the lack of software and insufficient digital know-how. At the same time, the Twitter posts showed the deficits in the education system in terms of digital equipment and the teaching of relevant skills to teachers. This is the result of scientists from the Hector Institute for Empirical Educational Research at the University of Tübingen, of the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media Tübingen and the Institute for Educational Science of the University of Tübingen. The study was recently published in theJournal of Educational Science published.

Among other things, over 21,000 contributions, so-called tweets, from several thousand users in the period from January 6 to June 3, 2020, which were published under the hashtags #twitterlehrerzimmer or #twlz, were evaluated. Hashtags can be treated like keywords and connect the members of a community. With the help of computer linguistic methods, topics of the tweets were determined, as well as the reactions they provoked, for example if they were circulated particularly frequently, received strong approval or were intensively discussed.

It was found that the topics before and during the school closings differed little and that the Twitter teacher’s room was already being used for exchanges and networking with regard to digital lessons before the schools closed. It can be assumed that the digitally supported lessons in Germany before the corona pandemic were previously mainly left to those media enthusiasts who, for example, had familiarized themselves with the topic out of personal conviction. During the school closings, the number of tweets increased as expected and the topic was brought even more into focus. Before the school closings, there was rather the desire for change in the room, which was caused by the words educational emergency and educational revolution, which are often used in contextwas expressed. During the school closings, the unknown situation of digital distance teaching was discussed. For example, the buzzword homeschooling was used in combination with words such as media literacy , and the focus was on the tools that enable digital teaching.

In order to find out which challenges and opportunities were discussed in the Twitter teacher’s room during the school closings, the content of the tweets that generated the greatest response was analyzed: they received many likes and were often shared or commented on. The three most pressing challenges named were the design of good digital lessons, the lack of software for digital teaching and learning and insufficient digital know-how to carry out digital lessons. The three greatest opportunities that arose were the opportunities for networking and exchange, the offer of digital material and the offer of tips and explanations. These offers were also the most common ones.

“This can be interpreted as an indication of the great need for materials, software as well as tips and explanations for use and implementation in digital teaching,” explains Dr. Tim Fütterer from the Hector Institute for Empirical Educational Research and first author of the study. For example, a tweet introducing a free geography app was shared the most. The high workload caused by the switch to distance learning and the lack of software were discussed the most.

“Education policy could use social media platforms like Twitter to get an impression of pressing problems in real time,” said Fütterer. However, the scientist points out that the teachers who are active in the Twitter classroom community are likely to have a high media affinity. “However, this restriction also gives rise to the fear that the deficits with regard to digitization in schools, which our study revealed, are even greater.”

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