The value of social media in helping to build an academic community is often quoted as one of the advantages of using it in a distance-learning environment. Its systematic use can also facilitate discussions on current events and real-life examples, and provide students with the opportunity to create/curate related content. This coincides with the Connectivist idea of nurturing and maintaining connections to facilitate continual learning (Siemens, 2005).
We decided to incorporate social media into a brand new, Level 1 science module, launched in September 2016. It has a large student population – over 1,200 students – with a younger-than-average (for our institution) demographic. The main objective was to create an additional communication channel that generated a learning community, using a digital environment where students were already present (Twitter). Although aimed primarily at students registered on the module, this channel was deliberately made publicly accessible, thereby exposing students to a wider range of perspectives on the subject. It is precisely through interaction of different sets of perspectives that a community can arrive at new knowledge (Downes, 2008).
By displaying the Twitter feed on the module’s VLE site, even students who prefer not to sign up for their own account are able to observe what is happening there.
This session explores our strategy for using Twitter on the module, including: roles of academic and support staff; categories of tweet; use of hashtags to promote a tweet-chat debate; and polls to support live, webcast events.
Although the current presentation has not yet ended, preliminary data suggests a high level of engagement with 289 followers (over 20% of students on the module), 144,000 impressions, and 6,196 profile visits, plus very positive qualitative feedback.
Once the presentation ends in early June 2017 we will review engagement in full.
The session will also describe how the quantitative and qualitative impact of the Twitter feed will be measured by using a combination of Twitter’s own data analytics provision and direct feedback from students who follow the account, e.g. categorising the tweets and interactions and comparing them to our original plan. We are particularly interested in understanding what types of interaction were considered most useful by students, and how following the Twitter feed fitted with their existing digital habits and/or developed their digital capability. We will reflect on the experience of the academic and support staff involved, and we will also include the views of those students that chose not to engage directly with Twitter, but instead accessed the content via the feed displayed the module’s website. Finally, we will explore how the approach piloted on this module could be deployed at scale and adapted for use in other subject areas – or at your own institutions.
Siemens, G. (2005) ‘Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age’, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), pp. 3–10.
Downes, S. (2008) ‘Places to Go: Connectivism & Connective Knowledge’, Innovate: Journal of Online Education, Vol. 5: Iss. 1, Article 6.