Udacity changes track

The big news this week in open learning is the change in direction for one of the largest advocates of open degree type courses Udacity. A profile of Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun published by Fast Company highlights the recognised problem of low completion rates in MOOC type open courses as being the reason behind Udacity’s switch in emphasis towards corporate sponsored technical and vocational training. However it does seem more likely that business models driven by company investors are behind this new strategy. Other points raised in this article:

  • Improving the quality of the course materials, interactivity, pedagogy etc did not appear to affect the low completion rates.
  • Open on-line courses were not a good fit for disadvantaged students outside the university system

The type of students recruited by open free MOOC type courses (they are generally already well educated) and the low completion rates of those enrolled are both valid issues. However when courses are free and open the commitment to completion is low and many enrolled students will do so for reasons other than certification and completion. I know this because I am currently participating in an open course on Global Health run on the Coursera platform by the University of Geneva and I have no intention of completing the course formally. Instead for me this course is an opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives which I am using to reflect on our Physiopedia project.

The implications of Udacity’s actions… I think over the coming year we may see other players in this market who are driven by the the bottom line also change focus as short term business models founder. Those that are driven by the desire to educate more widely and openly should not and hopefully will not give up on the MOOC model because in terms of learning it works and has global reach.

9 rules for identifying good technology

This is a great set of rules to assess technology against (from Stephen Downes):

  1. Good technology is always available
  2. Good technology is always on
  3. Good technology is always connected
  4. Good technology is standardized
  5. Good technology is simple
  6. Good technology doesn’t require parts
  7. Good technology is personalized
  8. Good technology is modular
  9. Good technology does what you want it to do


A reform agenda for education

You can sense the frustration articulated by this english teacher in the article Academic Teaching Doesn’t Prepare Students for Life by Shelley Wright. Educations at school, college and university often feels like a series of examinations/hoops to jump through with no long term impact or use. However she does offer hope through empowering her students to re-imagine their learning experience.

I particularly liked this quote:

As I’ve worked with my students, we’ve come to realize they need to be able to answer three questions, regardless of what we’re researching:

• What are you going to learn?

• How are you going to learn it?

• How are you going to show me you’re learning?

How they get to this last question is often their decision. And what they come up with never fails to surprise me.

Reflections on wikis and Physiopedia

A couple of recent articles that highlight weaknesses in the collaborative authoring model utilised by wiki based sites such as Wikipedia have led to some thoughts about our own wiki based project Physiopedia.

One article in MIT Technology Review is titled The Decline of Wikipedia. The main problem they highlight is the decreasing numbers of people involved in contributing to and maintaining the wiki content and the limited diversity of the editors that are involved.

“The volunteer workforce… …has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking”

They point to several reasons for this decline:

  • The volunteers are predominately male and this community “operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers”.
  • Software devised to combat vandalism by automatically reversing incorrectly formatted edits and issuing email warnings, actively discourages new contributors who are likely to make mistakes in their initial edits.
  • The editing interface displays wiki markup language rather than using a more friendly WYSIWYG editor such as used by nearly all other authoring software.

The article authors also point to a long term issue faced by Wikipedia which is that the democratic nature of wikis discourage experts from contributing, given that their work, like anyone else’s, can be overwritten within minutes.

Wikipedia is adopting several strategies to resolve this problem:

  • The addition of a Thank button (akin to the Facebook like button) which gives fellow editors the opportunity to provide positive feedback for good contributions to articles.
  • New editors are now encouraged to initially carry out basic edits on suggested articles to gain experience and learn how to use the editing tools before embarking on more involved contributions.
  • A visual editor that makes editing article content less daunting (currently only available in Beta).

The second article that raised issues with collaborative authoring and specifically how these activities relate to learning is the Crowd Learning section of the 2013 Innovating Pedagogy report. The interesting contributions are in comments on this article where Liz FitzGerald notes several responses to problems of accuracy and coherence in collaboratively authored content:

  • Use of peer moderation
  • Use of reputation systems
  • The make up of the editing community (particularly where members are not anonymous and from a professional background)

Two sites are suggested as examples where these approaches are used:

  1. h2g2 – a collaboratively authored guide where entries have to be approved before going live and article contributors are publicly acknowledged in the article sidebar.
  2. iSpot – a nature spotting site which uses a reputation system (reputations on iSpot) to publicly acknowledge the best contributors to the site.

Implications for Physiopedia

There are a variety of reasons why many of the issues identified in these articles do not apply to Physiopedia:

  • Authoring accounts require users to be registered or student physiotherapists, so the community is purposefully not diverse and is professional.
  • No edits can be made anonymously so vandalism is unlikely to be a problem (we have yet to see any instances of vandalism in the 5 years of running the site).
  • Our authoring community and the size of the site are relatively small and so the bureaucracy involved in editing and managing the site also remains small and there are no automated systems for rejecting edits.
  • The editing interface provided to users by default is a simple WYSIWYG editor with the option to view and edit wikitext for those with appropriate skills.
  • The Physiopedia volunteers induction programme encourages new editors to start with simple tasks to build experience using the system before starting more ambitious editing tasks.
  • Volunteer reputations are acknowledged with badges/belts which are displayed on their Physiopedia profile page.
  • Article contributors are publicly acknowledged in the author’s box on each page, with original editors and the most significant contributors being displayed most prominently.

However these two articles do raise several issues which I feel we will still need to consider:

  • Physiopedia’s editing community mainly come from the musclo-skeletal specialism of physiotherapy and other areas of the profession are poorly represented in articles. We need to actively reach out to these other domains and encourage contributions.
  • As noted in a recent post on our participation on a global health MOOC, we may need to consider involving other health professions in editing content in order to provide a multidisciplinary perspective in articles where this is appropriate.
  • The Wikipedia Thank button is interesting as a simple positive feedback mechanism. This could be displayed on the published article and all article contributors could receive credits when these are clicked. An alternative positive feedback mechanism could draw on to the number of social media shares each Physiopedia article receives, with the related authors being notified and/or receiving credits when certain levels are reached.
  • The reputation of article authors could be acknowledged more prominently by displaying appropriate icons next to the author names in the article authors box.
  • As experienced by Wikipedia, Physiopedia also struggles to involve recognised experts in the creation of articles related to their areas of expertise. This is an issue identified in the MIT article as being inherent due to the democratic nature of wikis. Options such as protecting articles written by experts from subsequent edits and/or the clear identification of a topic expert (as opposed to article author) within the article author’s box may help recruit such contributors.

The Decline of Wikipedia article doesn’t suggest that Wikipedia is likely to disappear or become irrelevant any time soon. Wikipedia is still the 6th most visited website and its content is increasingly being used by “intelligent” apps such as Apple’s Siri to answer user queries.

So we feel that through adapting to the changing nature of their user community and being open to innovative new features, wiki participation can be encouraged and resources built of even greater value.

Tips for organizing a MOOC

Thanks to Michael Rowe for highlighting this blog post on 6 steps to organising a MOOC. This provides a great overview for those embarking on running their first MOOC. While we can’t claim to have the level of experience of Dr Muller, we do have our own top tips based on our experience of running a mini-cMOOC this summer:

  • Finding/recruiting collaborators is key… they will help share the sometimes painful burden of providing the 24-7 support that holds the course together.
  • Keep it simple both on platforms/technologies used and tasks assigned, so students can concentrate on the content and sharing/collaborating rather than struggling with using multiple systems and assignments.
  • Don’t assume you have to use a closed or paid for platform. The free and easy to use WordPress.com was perfect for us. Using Google hangouts or Skype would probably satisfy most synchronous needs, but bear in mind with a global cohort synchronous activities would almost always exclude some participants.

Interpreting your cMOOC network…

Following our cMOOC course this summer I was very interested in this article that shows how emerging networks can be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps more important than the networks is the identification of the members who act as connectors between the groups. We certainly saw this behaviour by some participants in our cohort and their contribution appeared to be absolutely key to the success of the course for all involved.

Study Success at Sussex goes mobile!

S3 mobile website

The Study Sussex at Sussex (S3) website for the University of Sussex was a very successful project we completed in 2009. This year to keep up with changes in the devices used by many students to interact with the Internet, we have worked with the team at Sussex to develop a mobile version of this website. Key aspects of this new mobile site are:

  • The mobile version utilises the jQuery Mobile framework to provide the core aspects of the user interface with customised elements such as the menu bar and navigation menus added.
  • A PHP script is used to identify the website viewer’s device and automatically direct them to the appropriate version of the site.
  • The site content for both the normal and mobile sites is drawn from a bespoke content management system to allow content editing to be carried out in one place and immediately be displayed on both versions of the site.
  • The mobile version of the site offers all the content and as rich an experience as the normal site rather than a limited version of the normal site.
  • Site interactions (e.g. tabs, accordions, hide / reveal elements, quizzes etc) have been redeveloped to suit the inaccuracy of a touch screen and limited display sizes.
  • Video is embedded in the site pages using YouTube to enable the site to deliver video on the maximum number of device types.
  • Mobile site accessibility is enhanced through hide and reveal transcripts for videos and podcasts.
  • Site search is provided by a Google custom search facility styled to match the design of the mobile site.
  • Users can opt to view either the normal or mobile sites whatever device they are using.

Example screenshots:

S3 mobile site home page
S3 mobile site home page
S3 mobile site menu displaying hide and reveal sections
S3 mobile site menu displaying hide and reveal sections
S3 mobile site search results page
S3 mobile site search results page
S3 mobile quiz questions displaying feedback
S3 mobile quiz questions displaying feedback
S3 mobile site podcast with revealed transcript
S3 mobile site podcast with revealed transcript
S3 mobile site displaying embedded YouTube video
S3 mobile site displaying embedded YouTube video

Embed code available for Dragster 3

Following requests we have added a facility to embed your Dragster 3 activities in blog posts and web pages using a similar method to that provided by YouTube. On your Dragster 3 activity publish page you will now find a Dragster 3 activity embed code displayed near the bottom of the page (see below). Select this code and copy to your clipboard (Ctrl C or right click and select Copy – see below).

Select and copy embed code

Paste this code into the HTML of a blog post or the HTML of a web page to display your Dragster 3 activity.

Paste the embed code into the HTML of a blog post using WordPress

Tips – You can amend the dimensions of the embedded activity by editing the values of the width and height attributes in the embed code. You will want to maintain the same ratio between width and height. So example dimensions for a landscape Dragster activity are 900 by 490, 600 by 327, 450 by 245.

You can disable the embed facility in the Dragster 3 activity settings.


Below is an example embedded Dragster 3 activity embedded with a width of 600 and a height of 327:

<iframe src="http://www.webducate.net/dragster3/publish/embed.php?c=Nt5HaqTiHPMI" width="600" height="327" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review

Twitter literature review

As background for a project researching the use of Twitter in the teaching of Physiotherapy students at the University of Nottingham, we wrote a literature review of published research on the use of this social communication platform in teaching and learning.  We would like to thank Roger Kerry (@RogerKerry1) for funding this work and also letting us share this review here. Please feel free to mention any pieces of literature we have missed in the post comments… thanks!

Tweed project literature review

Tony & Rachael Lowe
24th May 2012

Brief background

Launched in July 2006 Twitter is a microblogging service that allows its users to publish short text messages (Wikipedia 2012). Twitter has been staggeringly successful with the site now one of the ten most popular on the internet (Alexa 2012). The prompt presented to users has changed over time to reflect developments in the nature of the use of the service. Initially this prompt asked “What are you doing?” This became “What’s happening?” in November 2009. The twitter interface now prompts you to “Compose new tweet” in May 2012. This reflects the move from comments on personal activities to a very wide range of message types and usage behaviours (Dybwad 2009). The widespread use of twitter clients to author and monitor tweets means many users are not now exposed to twitter’s own website or prompts (Sysomos 2009).

The twitter experience curve

New Twitter users commonly describe an experience curve that travels from scepticism, trial participation, conversion (getting it), dramatically increasing usage and connections (Levine 2007, Stevens 2008, Seimens 2008, Shepherd 2009) through to potential overload (Sierra 2007). According to these authors and others (e.g. Clay 2008), the experience of “getting” twitter involves establishing a network, following these people developing a sense of who they really are and realising you can call on them for almost instantaneous help at any time. Cann (2009) goes as far as to suggest that Twitter is akin to a semantic web that directs people to relevant information more effectively than Google searches.

History of twitter use in education

Educators were quick to recognise the potential offered by the Twitter platform. Educause’s briefing on Twitter in 2007 identifies at an early point some of the potential benefits of using Twitter in an education setting (Educause 2007). Nancy White (White 2007) set up a wiki page for sharing various stories about twitter use which include several education applications. An early innovative application is highlighted by Carvin (2007) who describes a teacher setting a collaborative story writing task for his students using twitter, an approach he termed “twittories”.

By 2008 authors have identified Twitter as particularly appropriate for language learning (Dickens 2008) and a service offering language learning quizzes via Twitter had been established (TwitterLearn 2008). Educators in other disciplines are by 2008 documenting benefits and ideas for using Twitter (Parry 2008). Other authors continue to expand on the potential educational uses, identify drawbacks and offer tips (Grosseck & Holotescu 2008) and Alsac (2008) provides a presentation that illustrates typical educator and student uses of twitter with annotated screenshots from applications at a college.

In 2009 Twitter is being presented and discussed at elearning conferences with best uses and practices being identified (Wheeler 2009) and mainstream media widely reported on Monica Rankin’s Twitter Experiment (2009a & 2009b) in which Twitter is used to support the teaching of history.

2010 saw the launch of an on-line platform for running courses based almost entirely on tweets and status updates (Hootcourse 2010) and adoption and experimentation continues to grow. It’s not until 2011 and 2012 that more rigorous scientific studies are reported that seek to evaluate the impact that Twitter has on learning outcomes (Junco, Heiberger & Loken 2011 and Junco, Elavsky & Heiberger 2012) and to propose best practices based on quantitative evidence.

Characteristics of Twitter and how these relate to educational use

140 character limit – probably the key characteristic of Twitter is the limit on the length of each Tweet. Several authors have argued that rather than this being a drawback, this characteristic offers benefits for learning. Educause (2007) suggests this helps develop skills “in thinking clearly and communicating effectively”. Rankin (2009a & 2009b) notes that this forces students to focus on a central point. Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) argue that communicating in this style is a “professionally useful skill for students to develop”.
Dickens (2008) identifies how this limit is particularly useful for language learning and Jenkins (2009) showed how this limit can even be applied to philosophical arguments. However this aspect of Twitter, SMS messaging, Facebook updates has also been blamed by academics for contributing to declining english writing skills (Kelley 2010) although Parry (2008) argues the opposite is true and it can be used to develop these same skills.

Public and widely used – generally Tweets are published completely openly and so the nature of what could be written by students is sometimes a cause for concern. The contrasting experiences of Pound-Woods (2012) and Hepburn (2011) illustrate that inappropriate tweeting is not universally a problem. This is also educationally beneficial as noted by Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) who describe that the awareness of writing for an audience other than their tutors and peers “helped our students learn to be sensitive to their audience, and make professional decisions about what perspectives and ideas they should publicly contribute and what perspectives and ideas should remain private.” Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) also note that getting students to use twitter and connect with other twitter users within their domain encourages “enculturation into the professional community of practice”.

Almost instantaneous – Twitter unlike email and discussion forums is a communication tool that anticipates participation and response within very short time frames. Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) observed that students are aware of this and primarily used twitter for time-sensitive matters (e.g. raising issues, clarifying assignments, reporting emergencies).

Unstructured – unlike discussion forums and emails, Twitter streams do not have an imposed structure. It is up to users to embed agreed hashtags within their tweets or to direct replies to other users, if they want to associate their contributions with an ongoing activity or conversation. Costa, Benham, Reinhardt & Sillaots (2008) note that this lack of a structure is a serious problem for some students. Advanced twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are utilised by some users to impose structure on complex Twitter streams and Honeycutt & Herring (2009) argue that these tools are important in using Twitter for conversation and collaboration.

Particularly suited to mobile participation – the relatively simple interface required to read and write Tweets means there are many tools available on mobile devices. This means users can participate in their Twitter stream from nearly any location and at any time.

Twitter in context with other social media

Twitter is one of a number of social media platforms available. Different platforms suit different sorts of interactions and appeal to different sections of society and expert users will seek to integrate their activity across a selection of these platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a personal blog). Hepburn (2011) describes a similar approach to integrating the use of a selection of social media platforms to support a course. Another example of integration is offered by Mollett, Moran & Dunleavy (2011) who suggest the use a widget to display tweets within their VLE.

Since the arrival of widely used social media platforms (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter etc) they have had a significant influence on educator and academic activity. For example, Mandavilli (2011) describes the impact social media is having on the academic peer review process which is now increasingly taking place in public once articles are published. In many cases these impacts are leading to problems. Freidberg (2010) highlights the issue of teachers’ confusion about appropriate ways to use social media and in separating their personal and professional lives on-line. Students, pupils and parents also have issues with appropriate use of social media with many examples of cyber bullying directed at teachers reported (NASUWT survey reported by Mulholland 2012).

The clear separation between personal and professional use of these platforms by educators (as observed by Young 2011) is not necessarily the most appropriate response. Studies have shown that college students who accessed the Facebook profile of a teacher with high self-disclosure anticipated higher levels of motivation and a more positive classroom climate (Mazer, Murphy & Simonds 2007). Studies by Weider (2011) and Johnson (2011) draw similar conclusions for open disclosure in educator Twitter use.

The personal ownership of accounts and profiles on social media platforms challenges the approach taken by traditional top-down education policies. Professor Gaunt-Palmer who identifies a problem of academics infantilising students states “one way in which tutors could improve the relationship with their students was to embrace the ideals of social media” through telling the truth and communicating with students as equals (Cunnane 2011).

There are significant issues and concerns about using these platforms to support teaching. Walker, Dziuban & Moskal (2012) report that studies “conclude that students compartmentalize their communication tools into social tools for social engagement and work tools for work time. Rarely do they cross boundaries, as student motivations are perceived differently with each communication tool.” This is likely to be more of an issue for using Facebook in teaching which is widely used for socialising, than twitter which is not currently widely used by healthcare students socially or otherwise (Giordano 2011).

There are those who see fundamental problems with using these tools to support teaching.
Friesen & Lowe (2012) argue that the philosophies embodied in the functionality provided by commercial social media platforms will only ever poorly support educational discourse because they actively discourage division and dissent. This issue may become more significant for Twitter as it seeks to develop a sustainable business model and as this is likely to involve changes to the functionality and behaviour of the platform (Barnett 2012).

Social Media Fatigue

Another negative theme developing around social media use is the concept of social media fatigue. Apart from the overwhelming volume of interactions and the related potential for distraction, overload or social media fatigue reflects a recognition that the sharing of information on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter does not create knowledge. Seimens (2011) states that “Social media is about flow, not substance”. Shepherd (2010) worries that “we’re all becoming very good at passing interesting information on from one to another, but not actually reading and reflecting on any of it.”

Clay (2009) identifies ten reasons why twitter will eventually fall from grace such as spam posts, fake followers and changes in on-line fashion. This may already be the case with Indvik (2012) reporting that the newer service of Pinterest is gaining ground on Twitter.

Examples of Twitter use in education

There are numerous documented examples of Twitter being used in education. In one of the highest profile examples, Rankin (2009a & 2009b) describes use of twitter to facilitate in class discussions for a large group of students. She highlights that Twitter had limitations when it came to discussions as it is “difficult for students to reply to each other, and the discussion stream tended to wander. By the time a comment was posted and students had a chance to respond to it, several other tweets had gone up and new ideas had been introduced”. This is an issue with Twitter also noted by Costa, Benham, Reinhardt & Sillaots (2008) who report some students “felt quite overwhelmed by its rather chaotic structure, as Twitter and Twemes do not allow threaded discussions and organisation of content into topical areas” and Shepherd (2010) who suggests that “Twitter seems to have very limited usefulness as a vehicle for discussion. Once a dialogue extends beyond a few tweets, there’s simply too much traffic”.

There are numerous guides and sets of tips available to help educators seeking to use Twitter in their teaching (e.g. Edudemic 2012). Not all of this advice is consistent. A selection are summarised below:

Hawks (2012) recommends that:
Use a separate Twitter account for each class,
Let students make the first move rather force participation,
Bring the feed into the classroom illustrate its significance

Mollett, Moran & Dunleavy (2011) provide an educators’ guide to Twitter that recommends use of separate class Twitter accounts, the adoption of a conversational style and providing positive feedback via Tweets. Hepburn (2011) report that tutor re-tweeting student Tweets is an effective form of positive feedback.

Wicks, Via & Rhode (2011a & 2011b) provide an on-line course and video on teaching with twitter. Tan (2012) paraphrases the teaching strategies offered by Wicks, Via & Rhode (2011a & b) to:

  • Make Twitter use compulsory by grading it
  • Do not assume students know how to tweet effectively (provide training and set expectations)
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful tweeting, e.g., getting ideas or resources, connecting with classmates
  • Do not use Twitter just to disseminate information in a teacher-centred way
  • Allow Twitter use to stew: Give it time and monitor it

Tan (2012) goes on to argue against grading student twitter use “Twitter use can be enforced by holding a grade over students’ heads, but I doubt that the energy in such a use will ever get near that of personal learning networks that emerge naturally and over time.”

Young (2009) offers a review of using twitter as a live back channel during a conventional face-to-face teaching course identifying problems that occurred and appropriate strategies adopted by the educator. Related to this approach, Hengstler (2009) identifies the concept of a “twitter jockey” to manage the back channel for the educator and suggests this is a role that can be fulfilled by a student in the class.

There are numerous other documented examples of Twitter use in education. A selection are summarised below:

  • KQED Do Now (2012) weekly activities designed to encourage students to explore current issues in media using twitter or blog comments in response to a topical questions e.g. “Should same-sex couples in the U.S. be allowed to marry? Why or why not?”
  • Media students are encouraged to use twitter during lectures (Pound-Woods 2012) and examples of constructive and unconstructive use are observed.
  • Tobin (2011) reports on a weekly scheduled twitter based meeting that provides a teacher-to-teacher peer support network.

Markham & Belkasim (2011) describe using Twitter for international collaboration as part of a course.
Stiege & Burger (2010) describe the use of Twitter as a platform for ongoing course evaluation.

Twitter in healthcare education

Healthcare related schools and educators were early adopters of Twitter (Hewett 2009 lists 9 medical schools with twitter accounts). However, a survey in 2011 (Giordano 2011) surveyed social media use amongst health professional students (including physiotherapy) in the US and found that while Facebook was widely used while “very few were using Twitter”.

Terry (2009) and Bauman (2009) propose many potential uses of Twitter in healthcare. One innovative example being practiced is using twitter to encourage healthier lifestyles in young people (Young 2010).

Anne Marie Cunningham (Cunningham 2012) is very active in reviewing and thinking about the growing use of social media platforms within healthcare. She (Cunningham 2010a) encourages the use of all social media to communicate health information to the public but warns against using these platforms for direct communication between health professionals and their clients. An example of her work to promote the use of Twitter as a tool for CPD is a screenshare tutorial illustrating using twitter to get answers from your network (Cunningham 2010b).

Two example ongoing Twitter based healthcare education projects are:

  • Gasclass (2012) which provides a blog and twitter stream which posts weekly anaethesia scenarios and resources for discussion via twitter hash tag.
  • Twitter Journal Club (2012) meets fortnightly to critique medical papers.

Twitter and social media related research

There is a relatively small amount of published research that considers the use of Twitter in education. The majority of this research offers limited quantitative evidence of the impact on outcomes, focusing instead on qualitative analysis of tweet content and the responses to the experience by participants gathered in surveys. Below are a selection of studies summarised in chronological order:

Costa, Benham, Reinhardt & Sillaots (2008) describe how twitter was used to support a summer school. The analysis of tweet content utilised a Wordle word cloud (http://www.wordle.net/) to identify themes. The authors describe how voluntary participation grew virally through a desire “to be where the action is”.

Ebner & Schiefner (2008) report on a survey of users experiences following the use of micro-blogging to support their research subject.

Cann, Badge, Johnson & Moseley (2009) describe a project where iPod touch devices were distributed to students studying biological sciences and were required to tweet as part of their studies. The impact was measured using a survey and an analysis of the networks formed and tweets sent. It is reported that students formed informal peer-support networks using the twitter platform.

Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) offer a limited review of twitter in education and present 5 guidelines for use:

  • Establish Relevance for Students
  • Define Clear Expectations for Participation
  • Model Effective Twitter Use
  • Build Twitter-derived Results into Assessment
  • Continue to Actively Participate in Twitter

Borau, Ullrich, Feng & Shen (2009) study the use of twitter in language teaching. They analysed student tweets for patterns and development in language use and used a questionnaire to investigate usage behaviours and its impact on students’ perceptions of their ability to communicate.

Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs & Meyer (2010) analyse the use of twitter over a period of 70 days of a course within a programme on supply chain management. Based on the levels of use observed the authors argue that “it is highly probable that learning took place” and this learning is process oriented and informal.

A study of discussion forum use reviewed by Dixon (2012) offers parallel implications for moderating Twitter use for learning:
model conversation and collaboration in twitter stream rather than just make a series of statements
try to draw in all participants

Probably the most rigorous research studies into the effectiveness of Twitter in higher education and best practices in its use are by Junco, Heiberger & Loken (2011) and Junco, Elavsky & Heiberger (2012).

Junco, Heiberger & Loken (2011) compared engagement and grades for groups of students that did and did not use Twitter. A positive impact was identified through analysis of variance using ANOVA models and content analyses of samples of Twitter exchanges were used to investigate how Twitter use may have had this impact.

Junco, Elavsky & Heiberger (2012) compared required twitter use with voluntary use and concluded that for improved engagement and grades twitter must be used in an appropriate way:

  • Professors must participate
  • Twitter use must be structured – “Twitter should be integrated into the course in educationally relevant ways… …having a theoretical reason to use Twitter and implementing that reason into the course pedagogy will maximize the benefits achieved.”
  • Twitter use must be required


Both research and anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that appropriate use of Twitter offers significant potential for improving education outcomes. There are many different ways Twitter can be used within teaching and its is not clear at this stage if any one approach is better than others. Junco, Elavsky & Heiberger (2012) offer the only guidance in this area supported by empirical evidence, however the requirement that Twitter use is compulsory appears to conflict with the opinion and anecdotal evidence offered by some other educators.

Based on our own reflections and experiences, there appear to be two aims to be considered in the development of a protocol for use of Twitter in physiotherapy education:

  • Maximising the positive outcomes for the module/course being studied.
  • Encouraging appropriate practices in using Twitter to support the students’ development and management of a personal long term professional support network.


Alexa, 2012, “Twitter.com site info” http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/twitter.com (accessed 22/05/2012)

Alsac, B., 2008, “Twitter And Other Mobile Izing Tools For Teaching And Learning”, Slideshare, 11 May, http://www.slideshare.net/befitt/twitter-and-other-mobile-izing-tools-for-teaching-and-learning (accessed 22/05/2012)

Barnett, E., 2012, “Twitter founder Jack Dorsey defends business model”, The Telegraph, 23 January, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/9032348/Twitter-founder-Jack-Dorsey-defends-business-model.html (accessed 28/05/2012)

Bauman, P., 2009, “140 Health Care Uses for Twitter”, Phil Bauman, 16 January, http://philbaumann.com/2009/01/16/140-health-care-uses-for-twitter/ (accessed 26/05/2012)

Borau, K., Ullrich, C., Feng, J. & Shen, R., 2009, “Microblogging for Language Learning: Using Twitter to Train Communicative and Cultural Competence”, ICWL 2009, LNCS 5686, pp. 78–87, http://www.carstenullrich.net/pubs/Borau09Microblogging.pdf (accessed 23/05/2012)

Cann, A., 2009, “Twitter Drives Traffic to Blogs and Social Networks”, Son of SoTI, 12 March, http://ajcann.posterous.com/twitter-drives-traffic-to-blog (accessed 23/05/2012)

Cann, A., Badge, J., Johnson, S. & Moseley, A., 2009, “Twittering the student experience”, ALT Online Newsletter, Issue 17, 19 October, http://archive.alt.ac.uk/newsletter.alt.ac.uk/newsletter.alt.ac.uk/l7qtuceyiq3.html (accessed 23/05/2012)

Carvin, A., 2007, “Collaborative Writing, 140 Characters at a Time”, PBS Teachers, 18 December, http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2007/12/collaborative_writing_140_char_1.html (accessed 22/05/2012)

Clay, J., 2008, “It’s all about the coffee”, e-Learning Stuff, 5 December, http://elearningstuff.net/2008/12/05/its-all-about-the-coffee/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Clay, J., 2009, “Ten reasons why Twitter will eventually wither and die…”, e-Learning Stuff, 26 April, http://elearningstuff.net/2009/04/26/ten-reasons-why-twitter-will-eventually-wither-and-die/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Costa, C., Benham, G., Reinhardt, W. & Sillaots, M., 2008, “Microblogging In Technology Enhanced Learning: A Use-Case Inspection of PPE Summer School 2008”, European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (ECTEL) 2008, 16-19 September, http://know-center.tugraz.at/download_extern/papers/2008_ccosta_microblogging.pdf (accessed 23/05/2012)

Cunnane, S., 2011, “Higher education students are adults who deserve respect, says US scholar”, Times Higher Education, 11 August, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=417100 (accessed 22/05/2012)

Cunningham, A. M., 2010a, “Health professionals and social media”, Slideshare, http://www.slideshare.net/amcunningham/health-professionals-and-social-media?from=ss_embed (accessed 26/05/2012)

Cunningham, A. M., 2012, “Wishful thinking in medical education”, http://www.wishfulthinkinginmedicaleducation.blogspot.fr/ (accessed 26/05/2012)

Cunningham, A. M., 2010b, “Social learning with Twitter”, Wishful thinking in medical education, 14 July, http://wishfulthinkinginmedicaleducation.blogspot.fr/2010/07/social-learning-with-twitter.html (accessed 26/05/2012)

Dickens, S., 2008, “Twitter – microblogging”, Digitalang, 29 April, http://www.digitalang.com/2008/04/twitter-microblogging/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Dixon, N., 2012, “Are On-line Discussion Forums Conversations?”, Conversation matters, 20 April, http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2012/04/are-on-line-discussion-forums-conversations.html (access 23/05/2012)

Dunlap, J. & Lowenthal, P., 2009, “Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to
Enhance Social Presence”, Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), http://www.patricklowenthal.com/publications/Using_Twitter_to_Enhance_Social_Presence.pdf (accessed 23/05/2012)

Dybwad, B., 2009, “Twitter Drops “What are You Doing?” Now Asks “What’s Happening?””, Mashable, 19 November,
http://mashable.com/2009/11/19/twitter-whats-happening/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Ebner, M. & Schiefner, M., 2008 “Microblogging – more than fun?”, Procceding of IADIS Mobile Learning Conference 2008, Inmaculada Arnedillo, Sánchez and Pedro Isaías ed., Algarve, Portugal, p. 155-159 http://lamp.tu-graz.ac.at/~i203/ebner/publication/08_mobillearn.pdf (accessed 22/05/2012)

Ebner, M., Lienhardt, C., Rohs, M. & Meyer, I., 2010, “Microblogs in Higher Education – A chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning?”, Computers & Education, 55, 92–100, http://www.cblt.soton.ac.uk/multimedia/PDFs10/micriblogs%20in%20higher%20education%20process%20orientated%20learning.pdf (accessed 23/05/2012)

Educause, 2007, “7 things you should know about Twitter”, July, http://www.educause.edu/ELI/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutTwitt/161801 (accessed 17/05/2012)

Edudemic, 2012, “100 Ways To Use Twitter In Education, By Degree Of Difficulty”, http://edudemic.com/2012/04/100-ways-to-use-twitter-in-education-by-degree-of-difficulty/ (accessed 21/05/2012)

Freidberg, J., 2010, “Don’t tell teachers how to act on Facebook, says union”, Mortarboard Blog, the Guardian, 13 September, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2010/sep/13/teachers-know-what-to-do-on-facebook (accessed 22/05/2012)

Friesen, N. & Lowe, S., 2012, “The questionable promise of social media for education: connective learning and the commercial imperative”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning
Volume 28, Issue 3, pages 183–194, June, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00426.x/full (accessed 26/05/2012)

Gasclass, 2012, http://gasclass.wordpress.com/ (accessed 26/05/2012)

Giordano, C., 2011, “Health professions students’ use of social media”, J Allied Health, Summer;40(2):78-81 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21695367 (accessed 21/05/2012)

Grosseck, G. & Holotescu, C., 2008, “Can we use twitter for educational activities?”, The 4th international scientific conference elearning and software for education, 17-18 April, Bucharest, http://www.cblt.soton.ac.uk/multimedia/PDFsMM09/Can%20we%20use%20twitter%20for%20educational%20activities.pdf (accessed 23/05/2012)

Hawks, J., 2012, “Best practices and tips for Twitter in the higher-ed classroom”, http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/teaching/resources/twitter-best-practices-2012.html (accessed 21/05/2012)

Hengstler, J., 2009, “Twitter Jockeying Process Update:”, http://www.viu.ca/education/ed_tech/canadamoot09_01.asp (accessed 21/05/2012)

Hepburn, S., 2011, “#Twitter As A Teaching Aid-Some Interesting Figures”, Scriptwriting, 2 March, http://uwsscriptwriting.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/twitter-as-a-teaching-aid-some-interesting-figures/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Hewett, J., 2009, “Twitter for medical education – what is it and why should I care?”, Slideshare, http://www.slideshare.net/jkhewett/twitter-in-medical-education (accessed 26/05/2012)

Honeycutt, C., & Herring, S., 2009, “Beyond Microblogging: Conversation and Collaboration via Twitter”, Proceedings of the Forty-Second Hawai’i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-42). Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press, http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/honeycutt.herring.2009.pdf (accessed 23/05/2010)

Hootcourse, 2010, http://hootcourse.com/about/ (accessed 19/05/2012)

Indvik, L. 2012, “Pinterest Drives More Traffic to Blogs Than Twitter [STUDY]”, Mashable, 8 March, http://mashable.com/2012/03/08/pinterest-more-traffic-twitter-study/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Jenkins, C., 2009, “Philosophy Short and Tweet”, Thoughts Arguments and Rants, 16 April, http://tar.weatherson.org/2009/04/16/philosophy-short-and-tweet/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Johnson, K., 2011, “The effect of Twitter posts on students’ perceptions of instructor credibility”, Learning, Media and Technology, 36:1, 21-38, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439884.2010.534798#preview (accessed 23/05/2012)

Junco, R., Elavsky, M. & Heiberger, G., 2012, “Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success”, British Journal of Educational Technology, http://reyjunco.com/wordpress/pdf/JuncoElavskyHeibergerTwitterCollaboration.pdf (accessed 25/05/2012) NB – This study is summarised in an infographic available at http://blog.reyjunco.com/twitter-101-best-practices-in-using-twitter-in-the-classroom-infographic (accessed 25/05/2012)

Junco, R., Heiberger, G. & Loken, E., 2011, “The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Volume 27, Issue 2, pages 119–132, April, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x/full (accessed 7/05/2012)

Kelley, S., 2010, “Texting, Twitter contributing to students’ poor grammar skills, profs say ”, The globe and mail, 2 February, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/texting-twitter-contributing-to-students-poor-grammar-skills-profs-say/article1452300/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

KQED Do Now, 2012, KQED Education, http://education.kqed.org/edspace/category/do-now/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Levine, A., 2007, “SPLJ 2.0”, Cogdogblog, 26 April,
http://cogdogblog.com/2007/04/26/splj-20/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Manadavilli, A., 2011, “Peer review: Trial by Twitter”, Nature, 469, 286-287, http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110119/full/469286a.html (accessed 23/05/2012)

Markham, S. & Belkasim, S., 2011, “Collaborating across international boundaries: using twitter as a tool in the classroom”, Proceedings of the 16th annual joint conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education, Pages 382-382, http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1999895 (NB full paper not reviewed due to access)

Mazer J., Murphy R. & Simonds C., 2007, I’ll see you on ‘Facebook’: the effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate. Communication Education 56, 1–17, http://www.gtaan.gatech.edu/meetings/handouts/MazerFacebook.pdf (accessed 26/05/2012)

Mulholland, H, 2012, “Teachers report widespread cyberbullying by pupils and parents”, the Guardian, 7 April, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/apr/07/teachers-widespread-cyberbullying?INTCMP=SRCH (accessed 22/05/2012)

Parry, D., 2008, “Twitter for Academia”, AcademHack, 23 January, http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2008/twitter-for-academia/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Pound-Woods, R., 2012, “Twitter: lecture-hall resource or a waste of students’ time?”, Blogging students, the Guardian, 20 April, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2012/apr/20/twitter-internet?INTCMP=SRCH (accessed 22/05/2012)

Rankin, M., 2009a, “The Twitter Experiment – Twitter in the Classroom”, Youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WPVWDkF7U8 (accessed 23/05/2012)

Rankin, M., 2009b, “Some general comments on the Twitter Experiment”, http://www.utdallas.edu/~mrankin/usweb/twitterconclusions.htm (accessed 23/05/2012)

Seimens, G., 2008, “Twitter, Twitter, Twitter”, Elearnspace, 20 March, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2008/03/20/twitter-twitter-twitter/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Seimens, G. 2011, “Losing interest in social media: there is no there there”, Elearnspace, 30 July, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2011/07/30/losing-interest-in-social-media-there-is-no-there-there/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Shepherd, C., 2009, “Three months a-Twittering”, Clive on Learning, 10 March, http://clive-shepherd.blogspot.fr/2009/03/three-months-twittering.html (accessed 20/05/2012)

Shepherd, C., 2010, “1000 tweets but still not sure why”, Clive on Learning, 5 January, http://clive-shepherd.blogspot.fr/2010/01/1000-tweets-but-still-not-sure-why.html (accessed 20/05/2012)

Sierra, K., 2007, “Is Twitter TOO good?”, Creating passionate users, 16 March,
http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/is_twitter_too_.html (accessed 22/05/2012)

Stevens, V., 2008, “Trial by Twitter: The Rise and Slide of the Year’s Most Viral Microblogging Platform”, TESL-EJ, June, Volume 12, Number 1, http://tesl-ej.org/ej45/int.html (accessed 22/05/2012)

Stieger, S., Burger, C., 2010, “Let’s go formative: continuous student ratings with Web 2.0 application Twitter”, Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Apr;13(2):163-7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20528272 (accessed 21/05/2012)

Sysomos, 2009, “Inside twitter clients”, Sysomos resource library, Nov,
http://www.sysomos.com/insidetwitter/clients/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Tan, A., 2012, “Teach with Twitter?”, Another dot in the blogosphere?, 18 April,
http://ashleytan.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/teach-with-twitter/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Terry, M., 2009, “Twittering healthcare: social media and medicine.”, Telemedicine journal and ehealth the official journal of the American Telemedicine Association, Volume: 15, Issue: 6, Publisher: liebertonline.com, Pages: 507-510

Tobin, L., 2011, “Twittering classes for teachers”, the Guardian, 9 May,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/may/09/twitter-teachers-forum?INTCMP=SRCH (accessed 22/05/2012)

Twitter Journal Club, 2012, http://www.twitjc.com/ (accessed 26/05/2012)

TwitterLearn, 2008, http://radiolingua.com/about/twitterlearn/ (accessed 22/05/2012)

Veletsianos, G., 2011, “Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18 Oct, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00449.x/full (accessed 26/05/2012)

Walker, J. D., Dziuban, C. D. & Moskal, P. D., 2012, “Case study 20: Transforming Education with Research That Makes a Difference”, from Oblinger, D. G., 2012, “Game changers”, Educause, http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/pub7203.pdf (accessed 26/05/2012)

Weider, B., 2011, “Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 29th, http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professors-with-personal-tweets-get-high-credibility-marks/30635 (accessed 21/05/2012)

Wheeler, S., 2009, “Teaching with twitter”, Learning with ‘e’s, 2 January,
http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.fr/2009/01/teaching-with-twitter.html (accessed 22/05/2012)

White, N., 2007, “Twitter Collaboration Stories”, wikispaces.com, http://onlinefacilitation.wikispaces.com/Twitter+Collaboration+Stories (accessed 22/05/2012)

Wicks, D., Via, S. & Rhode, J., 2011a, “Twitter in Edu”, sites.google.com, https://sites.google.com/site/twitterinedu/ (accessed 23/05/2012)

Wicks, D., Via, S. & Rhode, J., 2011b, “Teaching with Twitter”, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D3qYj4Mdaw (accessed 23/05/2012)

Wikipedia, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter (accessed 21/05/2012)

Young, J. R., 2009, “Teaching With Twitter: Not for the Faint of Heart”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov 22nd, http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-With-Twitter-Not-for/49230/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en (accessed 21/05/2012)

Young, J. R. 2011, “Academics and Colleges Split Their Personalities for Social Media”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19th, http://chronicle.com/article/AcademicsColleges-Split/127936 (accessed 21/05/2012)

Young, M. M., 2010, “Twitter Me: Using Micro-blogging to Motivate Teenagers to Exercise”, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Volume 6105, Global Perspectives on Design Science Research, Pages 439-448

eLearning interactions the implications of mobile devices

mobile site mockups

One of our current projects is to revisit a highly interactive website we developed in 2009 to produce a version of this site which is appropriate for users of smart phones and tablets. As we know embedding interaction into our web content, when done well, can significantly enhance the user’s learning experience. However it seems obvious that the sort of interactions we have developed over the years for desktop users of our websites do not translate well onto mobile devices for several reasons:

  1. Small screen display – restricts the amount of information, images etc that can be viewed at once limiting the connections that the user can make between different supporting content.
  2. Limitations of touch – while using touch on mobile and tablets provides an appealing tactile experience, it is clumsy and sometimes slow in comparison with using a mouse of a desktop.
  3. Context - the circumstances in which a user is likely to visit a site using a mobile of tablet device are different to that in which a desktop is used. They are more likely to be surrounded by distractions in their environment, they are likely to be spending less time on the site and are unlikely to be viewing the site or even page content comprehensively.

In addition, Flash for years the default mechanism for implementing the majority of complex e-learning interactivity is not ever going to be available to most users of mobile and tablets and so needs to be substituted by standards compliant solutions (javascript, HTML5 et al).

Our initial approach to this project was to apply a responsive web design template on the website, whereby CSS is used to dynamically adapt the site layout to screen size used by the viewer. It became immediately apparent that retrofitting such a template on an existing site with predetermined HTML structures and CSS was very difficult and in this case wasn’t going to be viable. In addition such an approach was not going to be sufficient to adapt the existing interactive elements of the site. This led us to the decision to use an entirely different template to display the site content to mobile users (i.e. a separate mobile site) with design and navigation concepts drawn from best practice in web-app design. It is reassuring to see that our own interpretation is supported by extensive usability testing (see the Useit mobile site versus full site usability study).

Following this decision we have been building mock ups of various interactive elements of the current site usingjQuery Mobile for testing purposes (see screenshots above). This was based on the premise that in order for these interactions to be appropriate to mobile users and to a lesser extent tablet users they needed to make allowances for the restricted display space by removing less important content and interactivity, and provide large, clear elements for the remaining user interactions. Key elements for achieving this have been identified as buttonscollapsible sets (accordions) and various list views offered by this development framework.

At this point these mock-ups are still being developed and we are working towards a summer scheduled release of the finished mobile site. Between now and then we are anticipating learning a great deal from student testing of these mock ups.