Tag Archives: Twitter

Twitter and Student Networks

Twitter’s 5 today, so it was nice to hear that, a year after we last had contact with the journal JOLT (the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching), they have just published a paper I wrote with Alan Cann, Jo Badge and Stuart Johnson on our use of Twitter with students in 2008/9.

It would be difficult to repeat the same approach now – Twitter being ubiquitous, with many student users; whereas when we ran the project it was still in its infancy – but there are some interesting results, particularly in the ways the undergraduate and postgraduate student groups used the service differently. There is more work to be done around how microblogging can affect the relationship between tutors and students,  and assist in the formation of small communities of practice – tantalising glimpses of which are included here.

Twittering the Student Experience

The results of a study I made with colleagues at the University of Leicester on the use of Twitter with undergraduate and postgraduate groups (see earlier post) has had its first results published in the Alt-N online newsletter:

Twittering the student experience
by Alan Cann, Jo Badge, Stuart Johnson and Alex Moseley
http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/l7qtuceyiq3

This is the first, short, article describing some of the background, methodology and outputs. Further analysis will be provided in forthcoming publications.

Immitters and Irritation

A little while back I came up with the idea of an immitter – essentially a twitter account which would deliver appropriately spaced and relevant tweets to those new to twitter, allowing them to gradually see the usefulness of the tool without having to build up an instant and relevant friend network (which takes some time).

In the context of higher education, the immitter might pull in subject- or topic- specific feeds from elsewhere, mixed with comments from tutors or course administration: all focussed on a particular subject cohort.

However, since this idea was formed, the commercial world has woken up to Twitter, and companies and PR agents are now emitting swathes of marketing tweets and – worse – using searches on vaguely relevant words to follow and retweet our own posts (I recently received a horde of lesbian porn followers when I used the word “bi” in a very much unrelated tweet; and the reporting of a toy robot race with my daughter which included the word “scientific” was retweeted to a wide audience by the rather too eager @ScienceTweets organisation). It is now getting more and more difficult to keep your Twitter followers in check, and keep your feed relevant and free from spam – indeed, many people are starting to protect their updates to protect their sanity, which rather goes against the Twitter ethos.

So, I go back to the original aims for the academic immitter, and suggest that some of the companies looking to utilise Twitter for their own marketing emitter should take note:

  • volume of information is critical: 1-4 tweets a day depending on maturity of twitter audience;
  • content of information is even more critical: all tweets should be either directly relevant, or recipients should be able to see the link to their own interests;
  • to achieve the above two aims, the target audience must be a coherent interest group or community;
  • may be automated (via relevant feeds etc.), manual or a mixture of the two. Some manual input probably required to ensure relevance of content.

Reflection in small, assessed, bites?

Following a very thought-provoking post by Alan Cann:

http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/2009/02/dont-mention-b-word.html

…I’ve been mulling it over with a coffee. His post talks about his students’ dislike for reflectve writing in blogs – mainly due to the time and thought it requires. It combines two key topics (reflection and modern, appropriate, assessment) – both of which are vital, I think, for the near future in education.

Myself and Alan have already tweeted about the difference in expectation/ease of reflection in Arts/Sciences, which means that some longer forms (blogs, wikis) do work to a certain extent in Arts subjects, contrary to Science contexts. However, this still leaves two problems: reflection for scientists (that could be a conference in its own right, no?!) and appropriate and clear assessment.

For the first, I like the idea of micro- or mini- blogging. short statements which encourage instant and secondary reflection (just finishing a class/activity, and in the evening – for example) combined with communal comparison (‘I thought bit X was really unclear: I can’t see how it fits in’ / ‘I agree – foxed me too. Anyone get it?’) We know scientists talk in single sentences ;-) so Twitter (or my proposed 300-character mini blogging service, Yakkus) might be just the thing.

Visual Assessment Guidelines

Visual Assessment Guidelines

For assessment, I’ve had the same problem as Alan. Complaints from students that it’s too difficult to comprehend; increasingly convoluted attempts to express it. With micro- mini- blogging, this should be easier. A string of sample tweets/yakks down the page, each with a green-yellow-red coloured bar indicating the depth of reflection and collaboration (see example at side). At-a-glance assessment guidelines.

The more I think about this, the more I like it. Any thoughts from the scientists?

Will this twittering come to any good?

Twitter is suddenly flavour of the month, as even your Grandmother will tell you (mine told me yesterday, at any rate). Boosted in recent months by high profile twitterers Steven Fry (http://twitter.com/stephenfry) with 122,000 followers and counting, a reformed Jonathan Ross (http://twitter.com/Wossy) with 56k and US President Barack Obama (http://twitter.com/BarackObama) topping the lot with 225k – although since his inauguration he’s been rather quiet. Both Fry and Ross also recently brought Twitter into the real world, the former tweeting (via a proxy) a speech in Apple’s London Store, taking questions from Twitter as well as a live audience (see the #fryappletalk tag stream); the latter taking a random word from Twitter and planning to insert it in the Bafta ceremony on 8th Feb. To give it the final official sanction, the BBC ran a major news item concerning the microblogging site last week following tweets covering the US plane landing in the Hudson River.

At the University of Leicester we’ve been trialling our own Twitter revolution, providing small groups of students with iPod Touches (courtesy of a succesful bid to the JISC HEAT3 scheme) for four weeks, and asking them to tweet their location and activity, and (optionally) anything else they wanted. The aim was to find out more about the modern student experience (where and how they go to study and relax). This is not the first use of Twitter in education, I should note (see Diane Skiba’s roundup and check out the Twitter stream to any conference worth its salt nowadays), but it is still a fledgling area.

Working with Alan Cann (who introduced me to Twitter last year and gives a good intro to it) and Jo Badge in Biological Sciences, and Stuart Johnson in the Student Learning Centre, we have so far trialled the service with a first year undergraduate science group, and (currently) a postgraduate cohort in Museum Studies.

The undergraduate group took a little time to get started, but started to introduce study and social tweets in amongst their location/activity ones (such as ” is rather worried about the assessment tomorrow and is preparing herself for failure” and the rather illuminating “has the words ‘russian bride’ written on his hand, and can’t remember much of last night…. Now for chemistry revision”). 

What’s been fascinating me, though, is the postgraduate group in my own Faculty. A group of ten Museum Studies students, all taking a module on Digital Heritage which I teach on, they launched themselves into Twitter from the word go. It has become their way of discussing seminars, bouncing ideas, co-ordinating study sessions, sharing links and references, etc. (“Reading about kandinsky and art and music. How apt on an iPod”; “will send you those articles about e-games and museums”; “we’ve re-arranged for Wednesday at 3pm” ): watching the Twitter stream is a fascinating insight into the way modern postgraduates operate. Furthermore, their tutor created a special Twitter account of his own, and uses it to make them aware of his availability or any extra sessions or events: in turn the students use it to ask quick questions and clarify points of study.

It will be very interesting to see whether this constant and clearly useful dialogue continues when the iPods are returned in a week – I suspect it will, given that many tweets are sent from mobile phones or laptops rather than the devices themselves - but regardless, it’s a wonderful example of how an engaged, specialised peer group have embraced and turned Twitter to their own advantage.

More results and reflection to follow.