Nov. 16, 2009 An experiment into the use of social media at the University of Leicester has shown that Twitter, an online blogging service, can act as an exceptional communication tool within academia.
The study, published by the Association for Learning Technology, discovered that 'tweeting' helped:
- Develop peer support among students -- with activity rising just prior to assessment deadlines or during revision for exams
- Develop personal learning networks -- students used the network when they were preparing assessed work or revising for tests, often in situations when they were physically isolated from their peers
- Students to arrange social meetings
- The researchers also found Twitter to be very attractive as a data collection tool for assessing and recording the student experience, with a wide range of free and increasingly sophisticated online analysis tools available.
Dr Alan Cann, of the Department of Biology, who led the study said: "The academic departments involved in the study were so impressed with the affordances of Twitter that they have continued to use it in their pedagogic academic practices and plan to work with other bodies in the University such as the Student's Union to promote the use of Twitter as a lightweight communication channel in the coming academic year."
The researchers set up a system where students in their first term of higher education would communicate by 'Tweeting.' Prior to this exercise, all but one of the students had never used Twitter before. At the end of the study, research showed that 'Approximately half of the students involved in the project have continued to use Twitter.'
Dr Cann said that the awareness of Twitter has changed hugely over a year. 'One year ago, searches for mentions of our own university on Twitter revealed little of interest. Currently, similar searches show a growing volume of conversation between existing students, often across institutional boundaries, and from prospective students, commenting on perceptions of the university and higher education in general.'
The Leicester Tweets showed that students were eager in exploring the benefits of Twitter and regularly updated their status', informing others about their activities -- 'I am in the library writing an essay for a module x … ' … '…Is rather worried about the assessment tomorrow and is preparing herself for failure,' using a unique hashtag code. These 'Tweets' imply a sense of community between the students. Other students following these 'Tweets' would be able to relate these outlooks, encouraging them to correspond to their peers.
As well as acting as a peer-support tool, Twitter was also used as a contact path between students and staff. Dr Cann said that the students, 'frequently used Twitter in preference to alternative channels such as email to contact tutors to ask questions or arrange meeting.'
Dr Cann acknowledged that the general perception of Twitter was that it is 'populated only by chattering celebrities.' Nevertheless, he realised that 'Twitter is a 'powerful personal research tool, populated by carefully selected individuals we have chosen to "follow" for their knowledge and insight.'
Dr Cann concluded from the findings and an online survey that the students 'frequently used Twitter in preference to alternative channels.' Dr Cann's study proves that Twitter does act as an effective peer-support tool as well as an efficient service for student-staff communication.
As a result of Dr Cann's experiment, the appeal of Twitter has extended and plans are being developed to work with other bodies in the University such as the Student's Union to promote the use of Twitter as a lightweight communication channel in the coming academic year.
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