Emerging peer support networks on twitter


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Alan Cann, Jo Badge, Stuart Johnson, Alex Moseley, University of Leicester
Presentation given to Learning Futures Festival
14 Jan 2010

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  • In the summer of 2008 we were awarded 10 iPod Touch devices through the JISC TechDis HEAT3 scheme (http://www.techdis.ac.uk/) to evaluate their potential as low-cost mobile gateways to microblogging services.
  • The iPod Touch was chosen for its ease of use, multi-mode nature, wifi capabilities, and for its attraction as a device to students, in particular as an iPod music player.
  • Twitter was selected at the start of the project. Several other microblogging systems were in use at the time (e.g. Plurk, Jaiku) but the staff leading the project were already using twitter with a desktop client (twhirl) that allowed for multiple account management. The staff had already made dedicated teaching accounts on twitter so these could be used to follow the students involved in the project. The overall aim of the project was to evaluate the student use of the iPod touch through messages on twitter. However, the project led to some unexpected outcomes and findings about the use of twitter by students.
  • Two cohorts of students participated in the study:1. campus-based first year undergraduate students in the School of Biological Sciences, all 18-19 years old, who were participating in their first semester of higher education. Four members of staff were involved in supporting and promoting the project: one academic, two learning technologists and one member of the central Student Support and Development Service.  2. campus-based postgraduate masters-level Museum Studies students who ranged in age from 21-41, participating as part of a Digital Culture module in their second semester of the course. Five members of staff were involved in supporting and promoting the project: two academic members of staff, one from each department involved, two e-learning technologists and one member of the central Student Support and Development Service.To incentivise recruitment, several students were selected at random to keep one of the iPod Touches at the end of the project. Participating students were required to tweet at least four times per day, reporting for example, "I am in the library writing an essay for module x". They were asked to include a unique ‘hashtag’ in their tweets.
  • Students were given almost no instruction on using the iPod touch. Minimal instructions were provided online on a wetpaint wiki, but most students used this only to set up email accounts to synchronise with University mail. The students reported very few technical problems using the iPods and used a wide variety of the services to them through the apps included and by downloading free apps.
  • Tweets from undergraduate and postgraduate students demonstrated the wide variety of uses of twitter. The hashtags were easily tracked using RSS and very little staff time was involved in generating a permanent record of the data stream. Tagged messages were collated and archived via the RSS feed from the hashtag using an RSS aggregator (Google Reader), since Twitter content does not remain on the system indefinitely.A short online questionnaire provided some additional feedback on the use of the iPod touch and students previous experiences of twitter.None of the students reported any difficulties in using the iPod Touches. Very little training was provided, the devices were very intuitive to use.Most of the students used the iPod Touch to listen to music, watch videos on YouTube and for many other purposes.None of the students reported that they were previous users of Twitter before starting the study, but all stated that they used Facebook regularly and a third used some other form of social networking sites. We also asked them about their impression of the iPod Touch.
  • The average number of tagged messages per day varied from 1 to 10, with a group daily average of 5 for the undergraduates (1082 in total) and 2 for the postgraduates (699 in total). The students varied in the networks they created. In general, the undergraduates showed a wider network spread than the postgraduates.All of the study participants used more than one client to access the Twitter service, the average number of clients used being 4.
  • Students used twitter for much more than we asked and on a wide variety of platforms, not just on the iPod Touch. The device was not the important factor in them using twitter, the service was more important.Messages were sent from across the University of Leicester campus, student halls, cafes, bars, on busses and any other locations where students were working or networking, and the client used was the most convenient one at the time. 
  • Emerging peer support networks on twitter

    1. 1. Emerging peer support networks on twitterAlan Cann, Jo Badge, Stuart Johnson, Alex Moseley<br />www.le.ac.uk<br />
    2. 2. 10 iPod Touches<br />
    3. 3. Twitter<br />Mobile phones/ SMS<br />Dedicated iTouch apps<br />Browser based<br />Staff members resident<br />
    4. 4. Two groups of students<br />Biological Sciences first yr undergraduates (7)<br />Museum studies postgraduates (8)<br />
    5. 5. Using the iPod touches was easy<br />
    6. 6. Microblogging using Twitter<br />doing metabolism questions over msn, testing each other is a fab way to learn! If only I knew any answers.<br />is rather worried about the assessment tomorrow and is preparing herself for failure<br />Got up at 7 and look the black sky out of my window. Just browsing the website of National Sports Museum http://www.nsm.org.au/<br />Reading about kandinsky and art and music. How apt on an iPod<br />
    7. 7. Comparing undergraduate and postgraduate activity<br />
    8. 8. Twitter was used in other ways<br />
    9. 9. Undergraduate tweets<br />
    10. 10. Networks<br />
    11. 11. Postgraduate tweets<br />
    12. 12. Networks<br />
    13. 13. Acknowledgements<br />This project was supported by<br />JISC TechDis Heat 3 scheme<br />