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Uses of Twitter in Higher Education


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									Uses of Twitter in Higher Education
ALT One day Workshop 4th May 2010 – National College Nottingham

Matt Lingard – Learning Technologist at the London School of Economics

Tony McNeil – Principal Lecturer in Educational Technology at Kingston University

Alan Cann – Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of

The workshop provided an introduction to Twitter, a microblogging/social networking
service, and its potential uses in HE. It covered some of the basic functions of how to
create and use an account along with advanced features which help to extend its
potential uses. Case studies were also presented from practitioners who had been
involved in using Twitter in learning and teaching and ideas for best practice were


How could I use Twitter in my teaching?

Using Twitter as a broadcast medium
Twitter is a great way of communicating information to other people. It could be used to
send out useful links, recommend reading materials, special lectures, and information
from an individual, department or organisation.

However, it is important to ensure that the information you transmit via Twitter is not
vital as Twitter is not checked as regularly as email and you can not guarantee that the
student will see the message which you send out.

Case Study – University of Bath
Dr Sabah Abdullah used Twitter for an undergraduate module in Economics (Ramsden
2009). Twitter was used to supplement the recommended reading list with relevant news
items. A module-specific Twitter account was created using the module code and
instructions were provided to students on how to create their own Twitter account, and
on how to follow the module account. Use of Twitter was encouraged through references
in lectures. Generally, Dr Abdullah posted the URL of relevant articles via Twitter.

Ramsden, A. (2009). Using micro-blogging (Twitter) in your teaching and learning: An
introductory guide. Discussion Paper. University of Bath. Retrieved February 19, 2010,
from http://opus.bath.ac.uk/15319/1/intro_to_microblogging_09.pdf
McNeil, A. (2010) Twitter in Higher Education – Case Studies of Practice, University of
Kingston. Retrieved, May 6 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/27156556/Twitter-

Using Twitter as a conversational medium
Twitter can be used to facilitate communication between students and teachers as well
as at a peer to peer level. This could be done within a large lecture to help pull students
into the discussion, helping them to feel more confident about contributing. Twitter limits
your message to 140 characters, this helps to force the student to focus on the central
point they are trying to make.

The use of backchannels and hashtags allow you to have these contributions displayed
during the lecture itself so you can respond to the messages within the lecture itself or
after the event. The hashtag can also be searched for on Twitter after the event ,
enabling students to review what was discussed within the lecture and use this as a
study aid.

Case Study - University of Texas, Dallas
Dr Monica Rankin used Twitter as a means of encouraging greater student participation
in large-group classes. Her intention was to “pull more students into a class discussion
which [she] wouldn‟t ordinarily be able to do with that many people” (Kesmit3 2009).
Her students reported that the experiment worked well and helped them, in the words of
one, to “pipe up and be heard” in a large-group context that can be “a little intimidating”
(Kesmit3 2009). Hashtags – e.g. #h1302w08 – were used that included both a module
code as well as a reference to the week in which the discussion was taking place. This
case study illustrates the deployment of Twitter as a conversational medium used to
enable in-class („backchannels‟) and well as post-lecture comments and reflections.

Kesmit3 (2009). The Twitter Experiment: UT, Dallas. YouTube. Retrieved February 19,
2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WPVWDkF7U8

McNeil, A. (2010) Twitter in Higher Education – Case Studies of Practice, University of
Kingston. Retrieved, May 6 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/27156556/Twitter-

Twitter for learning communities
By encouraging students to post questions, queries, comments, share resources and
other relevant information to Twitter, it starts to create its own learning community. It
fosters informal learning within the group and allows them to quickly communicate with
each other without having to wade through a long blog post.

Case Study - University of Colorado, Denver
Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) have recently published an evaluation of their use of Twitter
on a module on instructional design and technology. The authors encouraged their
students to use Twitter in a variety of ways: to post questions and queries to one
another as well as to the course team, to send student-to-student direct messages, to
tweet comments on relevant news events, to share resources, to reports on conferences
that were not attended by some of their fellow students, to links to student blogs and to
exchange personal information (e.g. a student tweeting they‟re tired and off to bed
which receives two replies wishing her a good night‟s sleep). The authors claim that the
use of Twitter can enhance students‟ perception of a sense of „social presence‟, an
important quality that helps promote student involvement, commitment and retention.
They conclude that Twitter is good for “sharing, collaboration, brainstorming, problem
solving, and creating within the context of our moment-to-moment experiences” (Dunlap
& Lowenthal 2009).

Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to
Enhance Social Presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2). Retrieved
February 19, 2010,, from

McNeil, A. (2010) Twitter in Higher Education – Case Studies of Practice, University of
Kingston. Retrieved, May 6 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/27156556/Twitter-

Twitter as a data collection tool
Twitter has the potential to collect lots of useful data from students and staff. This can
be especially useful if you are looking to get feedback from students about their use of a
resource. For instance you have asked them to use NOW (NTU‟s virtual learning
environment) during their learning, you ask them to tweet about how they are using it.
The content of these tweets provides you with information about how useful students
find the resource and maybe some ideas for improving the learning that takes place in
this space.

Case Study - Sheffield Hallam University
The Academic Innovation Team used Twitter as a means to collect student feedback on
informal learning spaces. The team saw Twitter as “an innovative data generation
method” (Aspden & Thorpe 2009) relevant to the life styles of the students who
reflections were being sought. 15 students were recruited to take part in a two-week
study in which they were required to tweet an average of three times per day about their
learning activities and the spaces they were using. Most of the student volunteers chose
to register their phones to allow SMS tweets and used a combination of PC- and phone-
based updates. The team created a dedicated project account
(http://twitter.com/learningspaces) which followed the student volunteers. The benefits
of using Twitter over print-based data collection tools included “the ability for
participants to update anytime, almost anywhere, and through a variety of devices that
are integral to their lives (cell phones, laptops, desktop PCs)” (Aspden & Thorpe 2009).
Use of Twitter also helped avoid “the difficulties associated with information recall and
[...] the risk of not having the appropriate equipment to record key events” (Aspden &
Thorpe 2009). The limited length of tweets meant that updates were tended to be
concise and focused. Finally, the „real time‟ and public nature of tweets helped inform
ongoing institutional initiatives (e.g. the redevelopment of the learning centres) that
would have otherwise had to have waited until data had been collated and evaluated if
more traditional data collection methods had been used.

Aspden, E.J. & Thorpe, L.P. (2009). Where Do You Learn?: Tweeting to Inform Learning
Space Development, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 32(1). Retrieved February 19, 2010, from
h ereDoYouLearnTweetingtoInfor/163852

McNeil, A. (2010) Twitter in Higher Education – Case Studies of Practice, University of
Kingston. Retrieved, May 6 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/27156556/Twitter-
Twitter Basics
Here are some guides which cover the basics of using Twitter

Introduction to Twitter
Link to Twitter an Introduction
Link to A glossary of key Twitter terms

Signing Up
Link to Creating Your Twitter Account

Following People
Link to Following People on Twitter

Post a Tweet
Just click in the box and start typing. Remember you are limited to 140 characters so try
to think careful about the words you do need and which can be left out without
compromising the point that you want to make.

Replying to a Tweet
Replying to a tweet is easy, either:

Start the message with @ and then include the person who you are replying to
username e.g. @lauraskelton. Then type your message.


Use the built in reply link on the bottom right of the person‟s tweet that you want to
reply to.

                           Figure 1 - Tweet showing reply icon

What happens if you read someone‟s message and you would like to let the people who
follow you know about this? This is called a „Retweet‟. This involves copying the content
of another person‟s post in order to share it more widely; a retweet usually
acknowledges the original author and is the main way that twitterers share information
across networks. It can also help you to find new people to follow.

To retweet either:
Start by copying the message from the original user. Then start you message with RT to
indicate it is a retweet, follow this with @ and then the username of the individual e.g.
RT @lauraskelton. Then copy in the message. Once this is posted it becomes a retweet.


Another option is to use Twitter‟s in built retweet function this can be found in the
bottom right corner of someone else‟s tweet.

                          Figure 2 - Tweet showing retweet icon

The above example also shows how a retweet looks.

A hashtag is a way to unite global Tweets around the same topic. Hashtags can be
searched so if you type the hashtag into a search it will bring up all tweets using this tag.
This can help you find tweets around a particular topic but also helps others to find your

Hashtags are becoming more popular with Twitter users. One reason for this is that by
telling users within a group to use a particular hashtag you can then see all contributions
from a group and potentially contributors from outside that group who use that hashtag.
This has started to become common place at conferences where a hashtag is used to
represent all posts about that conference e.g. #ALT-C2010. This idea can easily can be
transferred to a classroom setting where you get students to use a hashtag for a
particular lecture, or even for a week on the course e.g. #BIOL22044_Wk2.

The use of hashtags can then lead to other functions of Twitter such as backchannels
and statistics. These are talked about in later sections.

Including Pictures
You can also include pictures within your „tweet‟ to do this you will need to use an
external website like the ones listed below. Once uploaded the site provides a link to put
in your tweet which will take readers to the picture.
    - http://twitpic.com/
    - http://img.ly/
    - http://twitgoo.com/
    - http://www.mobypicture.com/

Including Links
If you want to include a link to a website within your tweet you can just copy and paste
it in. However this link can potential take up most of your character allowance (140)
leaving you with no space to say why you are tweeting the link. In order to help save
characters you can use a url shortener. Again like inserting pictures this function is
provided by an external website rather than within Twitter. Simply paste in the link and
the site will create a new shorter link, to the same place, which you can then paste into
your tweet.
    - http://tinyurl.com/
    - http://bit.ly/
    - http://ow.ly/url/shorten-url

Tweeting from a mobile devices
With mobile devices like mobile phones, PDA‟s MP3 players (e.g. iPod Touch)
increasingly having the ability to connect to the internet users are starting to use them
to link to social media sites like Twitter. This allows them to always be connected to the
site and keep up to date with what is going on in their social network. As described
earlier there are many ways that sites like Twitter can be used for educational purposes.
Accessing Twitter via a mobile device allows the student to be flexible about when they
contribute. Users can tweet either via SMS text message or using applications loaded
onto the phone.

Advanced Twitter
Twitter Clients
There are some really good web-based „clients‟ though that offer a better user
experience of Twitter and that are particularly helpful if you‟ve multiple accounts or
following a number of hashtagged conversations. Take a look at the link below for some
of these.

Scheduled Tweets

Polling Tools

Twitter Widgets
You can embed these within your website, VLE (including NOW) or within a Facebook or
iGoogle page. Below is a link to the site used to get the code for the widget and a video
on how you can get this video into NOW.


Twitter Lists
These allow you to filter tweets to a particular group of people.

Twitter Groups
These allow you to follow a group of people easily. You can also search for other lists
that have been created to find users it may be relevant to follow.
http://tweepml.org/ – Create groups of people
http://tweepml.org/Learning-Technology-professionals/ Example list of learning
technology professionals

Displaying Twitter Backchannels
Twitter is also widely used today by audiences to create backchannels at technology
conferences. When audience members add an event hashtag to their tweets (for
example, #ALT-C2010) anyone can run a Twitter search to review all the backchannel
tweets related to that event. These can then be displayed using another website which
collects these tweets and can then be displayed behind the presenter. Alternatively there
is also some software which allows you to display this on a PowerPoint slide.

Twitter Statistics
TweetStats is a very nice free application that lets you see various stats about your
tweets for free.

Mentionmap is a visualization that allows you to explore a users Twitter network. Users
can discover which people interact the most, what they are actually talking about, and
what people are relevant to follow on Twitter.
http://apps.asterisq.com/mentionmap/ example of how this looks

There are also sites which provide stats on the use of hashtags within Tweets. This helps
to show trends in what people are talking about along with statistics about when they
posted these tweets.

Twitter Archive
http://twapperkeeper.com/index.php - A Jisc funded service which enables you to
archive a hastag. You can also do this by subscribing to the RSS feed for that tag and
then putting this in Google Reader.

Alternatives to Twitter

Case Studies of practice
University of Leicester Twitter Projects
Found that students used it for Peer support, personal learning networks, arrange
meetings and collect data for measuring student experience.


Kingston University Twitter Projects
Talks about the use of Twitter to support English Literature.
They found that it struggled to gain acceptance and momentum.

Alternative Technology – Moving on from Twitter

http://friendfeed.com/ – Facebook has purchased this and have been using some of its
features to enhance Facebook.


Further Reading

Boyd, D., Golder, S., Lotan, G. (2010) Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of
Retweeting on Twitter, HICSS-43. Available online at

Cann, A., Badge, J., Johnson, S., Moseley, A. (2009) Twittering the student experience.
ALT Newsletter, Issue 17 avaiable online at http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/l7qtuceyiq3

Jones, S., Lea, M.R. (2008) Digital Literacies in the Lives of Undergraduate Students:
Exploring Personal and Curricular Spheres of Practice, Electronic Journal of e-Learning,
Vol.6, No.3, pp.207-216. Available online at http://www.ejel.org/Volume-6/v6-

McNeil, A (2009) More than just passing notes in class? Reflection on the Twitter enabled
backchannel, Kingston University. Available online at
Twitterenabled-backchannel accessed 7th May 2010.

McNeil, A (2009) Twitter in Higher Education, Kingston University. Available online at
http://www.scribd.com/doc/20025500/Twitter-in-Higher-Education accessed 7th May

Shirky, C (2008) Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organising without
Organisations, Allen Lane.

Stevens, V. (2008) Trial by Twitter: The Rise and Slide of the Year's Most Viral
Microblogging Platform, TESL-EJ, vol.12, no.1. Avaliable online at http://www.tesl-

Using Twitter to form communities of practice

Usage habits and trends

Weller, M. http://blip.tv/file/1367367/ and

Wheeler, S (2009) Teaching with Twitter available online at http://steve-

Young, J. (2009) Professor Encourages Students to Pass Notes During Class -- via
Twitter avaialbe online at http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Professor-Encourages-

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