Can Twitter actually help students engage in their classes? A new study attempts to find out. I’ve always thought that Twitter gets a free ride in the media. It powers revolutions! It makes us all journalists! It harnesses social currency to build buzz, holy shit!

As the world seemingly melts into Twitter’s arms, it’s nice to see a few professors using the scientific method to actually examine how Twitter affects our lives; specifically whether it can increase student engagement. If you feel like exercising your collegiate research skills, you can read the whole paper for free at the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, where it was recently published. Basically, Dr. Reynol Junco used a few class sections at Lock Haven University as experimental and control groups, engaging with some students through Twitter, and the control students from a Ning message board. At the end of the semester, the Tweeting students boasted a statistically significant increase in both engagement and grades.

We’ve talked about using Twitter in the classroom before, and it seems like a pretty cool idea. I do wonder if this is more a matter of students getting to use a shiny new toy than Twitter actually being so well-suited for learning, and it would be nice to see if the students continued to use it voluntarily after the study ended. In any event, it’s nice to see some hard research that treats Twitter with a healthy dose of skepticism, rather than simply assuming that it’s the right tool for the job.