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Twitter in HE:

Social media, academic literacies and

online learning communities

Anthony McNeill

Dissertation submitted in part requirement for

the MA in New Literacies of the University of

August 2010

This study reports on a case study of the use of Twitter to support learning, and the

development of a learning community, on a final-year module on Shakespeare and Popular

Culture at Kingston University (UK). Its focus is on Twitter not simply as a one-to-many or

broadcast technology, but, rather, as a many-to-many or participatory technology that

supports the creation and development of personal learning networks instantiated through a

range of dialogic interactions. The role of social media tools such as Twitter within higher

education has been the subject of intense debates at academic conferences, the blogosphere

and, more recently, published research with many academics excited by its potential to

transform pedagogic practice. However, analysis of student tweets and feedback via a survey

and individual semi-structured interviews reveals that Twitter is perceived by students to fall

between educationally useful virtual learning environments (e.g. Blackboard) and personally

meaningful ‘vernacular’ technologies such as Facebook, the dominant social networking site.

Occupying an awkward space between the ‘school tools’ of Blackboard and the ‘cool tools’

of Facebook, Twitter’s potential in Higher Education is at best problematic


1. Background and context 1-7

2. Literature Review 8-13

3. Methodology and methods 14-23

4. Analysis and Findings 24-59

5. Conclusions 60-64

6. Recommendations 65-67

References 68-74


Appendix 1: Research Information Sheet

Appendix 2: Twitter: An Introduction
Appendix 3: Creating your Twitter account
Appendix 4: Following people on Twitter
Appendix 5: A glossary of key Twitter terms
Appendix 6: Twitter activities for Shakespeare and Popular Culture
Appendix 7: Twitter student questionnaire
Appendix 8: Twitter interview questions
Appendix 9: University Research Ethics Application Form

1. Introduction

1.1 Background and context

At the start of the 2009/10 academic year I secured a small amount of funding from

LearnHigher to trial the use of Twitter in higher education. My hunch was that the bid

was successful, at least in part, because of Twitter‟s new-found status as education‟s

most „on trend‟ technology in a year in which the service frequently made the


Fig. 1: Twitter at the intersection of three dominant trends in digital culture:

social networking sites, mobile and handheld devices and micro-content production

Moreover, the decision to fund the project took place against the backdrop of

increasing interest in the use of Web 2.0 or, as they are now more commonly referred

to, social media technologies in higher education. A JISC report, for example, stressed

the value of „[b]lending the use of familiar personal technologies – such as iPods,

MySpace or mobile phones – with institutionally based technologies and traditional

practice – such as VLEs, face-to-face classes and lectures – in ways that make

learning more efficient, spontaneous and meaningful‟ (JISC 2007: 25). Peter

Bradwell, in a book on the 'borderless university', singles out Twitter arguing that „the

'micro-blogging' site, is developing past its “what I ate for breakfast” phase into a

useful resource for sharing links, brief ideas and commentary‟ (2009: 29). Moreover,

the blogosphere is full of posts talking up Twitter‟s great potential to educationalists

in all sectors (Ahrenfelt 2009; Gordon 2009; Hart 2009; Wheeler 2009).

I too was caught up in the enthusiasm for Twitter based on my own positive

experiences of Twitter for conference backchannels and for professional networking.

Could the benefits I found in Twitter transfer from one context (i.e. my professional

networking) to another (e.g. student learning)? I was particularly interested in learning

more about undergraduate students‟ „vernacular‟ literacy practices using social media

and ways in which they might be used to support more formal learning through the

creation of communities engaged in regular acts of sharing, encouragement and


My conception of „community‟ has less in common with the „community of practice‟

described by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) and its stress on identity

transformation through the acquisition of a community‟s repertoire of practice but

was, rather, more akin to James Paul Gee‟s idea of an ‟affinity space‟, a „place, or set

of places where people can affiliate with others [...] based primarily on shared

activities, interests, and goals‟ (2004: 73) in which all contributions are equally


1.2 Social media: ‘narratives of promise and threat’

The use of social media technologies such as blogs, microblogging services, social

networking sites and online collaborative tools like wikis or Google docs, in higher

education is, I have mentioned earlier, an area of growing academic interest. Social

media has tended to been constructed, in the narratives around learning technologies,

as offering both „promise and threat‟ (Hand 2008).

There are certainly writers and academics who argue that the use of social media is

having a detrimental effect on undergraduate student learning, and, more specifically,

on the skills and literacies required to produce academic work of an appropriate

standard. Tara Brabazon, for example, describes a „net generation‟ of undergraduates

for whom 'clicking replaces thinking' and who engage in a form of 'accelerated smash

and grab scholarshi' (2008: 39) that consists of 'Googling their way' through the

curriculum (2008: 16). More recently still, in a final article for The Guardian, the late

historian Tony Judt posits a causal connection between social media use and the

decline of academic literacies:

In a world of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter (not to mention texting), pithy

allusion substitutes for exposition. Where once the internet seemed an
opportunity for unrestricted communication, the commercial bias of the
medium – "I am what I buy" – brings impoverishment of its own. My children
observe of their own generation that the communicative shorthand of their
hardware has begun to seep into communication itself: "People talk like texts".
(Judt 2010)

More influential than the narratives of threat, however, are the narratives of promise,

many, although not all of which, are grounded in a number of assumptions made

about the nature of a „net generation‟ of so-called „digital natives‟ and their

technology-mediated practices and learning preferences. For the last decade or so, a

number of influential books and articles have been published heralding the emergence

of the „digital native‟ (Prensky 2001a; 2001b;) or „net generation‟ (Oblinger &

Oblinger 2005; Tapscott 1999) with its distinctive „information-age mindset‟ (Frand

2000) with the potential to radically change the nature of education. What I call here

the discourse of digital nativism has been highly influential in shaping debates and

heightening interest in technologies, including Twitter, deemed to be attractive to

young people.

1.3 What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social-networking and micro-blogging service developed in San Francisco

and first launched in October 2006. Twitter posts, or, „tweets‟, are no longer than 140

characters in length and can include hyperlinks. One becomes a Twitter user, or

twitterer, by creating a personal account and by posting tweets to a personalised

online news feed, or, as it is more commonly known, a 'timeline' which displays them

in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent at the top). The default setting for

Twitter accounts is that user timelines are public unless the account holder decides to

make them private, in which case, they are only accessible to approved followers of

that account. If a Twitter user decides to follow another twitterer, then they will

receive that person's tweets on their timeline. Twitter timelines, therefore, comprise of

both tweets by the account holder as well as the users they are following.

Part of Twitter's popularity is its ease of use and versatility; although Twitter a was

developed initially as a web-based platform, tweets can be sent via a computer or via

a mobile phone as an SMS message. On most mobile phone networks in many

countries, including the UK, users can receive tweets from selected users they are

following as text messages. There are now many free desktop clients (i.e software

users download and install) for Macs and PCs (e.g. Tweetdeck, Tweetie) and mobile

application or „apps‟ as they are more commonly known (e.g. Twitterific, Tweetberry)

for various types of 'smart' phones (e.g. iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia) that make

sending, organising and reading tweets easier.

Due to their brevity, tweets have much in common with the short text-making

practices associated with SMS messages, instant messaging or Facebook status

updates. However, it is blog posts, albeit in a greatly truncated form, that tweets most

closely resemble insofar as tweets tend to be, to use Lankshear and Knobel's

description of blog posts, “hybrids of journal entries and annotations or indices of

links, or some mix of reflections, musings, anecdotes and the like with embedded

hyperlinks to related websites” (2006: 139). Unlike blog posts, there are distinct

categories of tweets, each with their own user-generated conventions:

 simple tweets posted to the news feed; David Silver (2009) makes a
distinction between 'thin' (text only) and 'thick' (text and hyperlink to
other resources) tweets;

 retweets (RTs) or tweets posted to the news feed that copy the content
of another person's tweet in order to share it more widely; a retweet
usually acknowledges the original author (@username) and is the main
way twitterers share information from network to network as well as
engage in conversations (boyd et al. 2009);

 @user messages directed to a particular recipient or recipients which

also appear on the timeline; Honeycutt and Herring (2009) have argued
that the @ sign is “a marker of addressivity” that enables
conversational exchanges in an otherwise “noisy” environment;

 direct messages (DMs) which similar to @ messages insofar as they

are directed at a particular recipient but which, unlike @ messages, are
private and, therefore, do not appear on the timeline; DMs are more
akin to SMS messages or email insofar as they're generally used for
short short, one-to-one exchanges.

The description of Twitter as a social networking site is equally valid insofar as

twitterers have the option of completing a profile to enable other users to find them or

learn more about them. The Twitter profile template is a space for a minimal identity

performance: name, username, a self-description of no more than 160 characters, a

field for the URL of the user‟s homepage or blog and an image, or avatar, that Twitter

users select to represent themselves.

My brief description of Twitter indicates a close fit with young people‟s personal

technologies (e.g. mobile phones which are increasingly internet-enabled) and

technology-mediated textual practices (e.g. Facebook status updates, wall posts, SMS

messages and IM posts). Could Twitter be the social media technology with the most

potential in higher education insofar as it integrates well with students‟ personal


technologies whilst not encroaching upon their privacy in ways that using Facebook


1.4 Research Questions

In the context of current debates taking place in conferences, the blogosphere and

current research, this study will attend to the following research questions:

 To what extent is Twitter embedded in the vernacular technology

practices of the 18-24 age group that remain the dominant category of
students in higher education?

 Can Twitter be used to support the development of learning

communities in the context of formal academic study?

 Do students prefer the use of social media technologies ('cool tools')

like Twitter over institutionally-supported technologies ('school tools')
like the VLE?

 How accurate are the discourses of digital nativism in defining

students' technology-mediated practices and learning preferences?

 Are fears of social media technologies leading to a decline in

„traditional‟ academic skills and literacies justified?

Using one case study of the use of Twitter I want to explore exactly what the potential

of such technologies are and their fit with student learning preferences. In doing so I

want to steer a course between „boosterist‟ and „pejorist‟ discourses, between the

Scylla of over-enthusiastic embrace and the Charybdis of pessimistic recoil.


2. Literature review

2.1 Overview of Twitter in higher education research

A few academics have begun to consider Twitter‟s uses in HE and the blogosphere is full

of posts talking up its potential (Ahrenfelt 2009; Gordon 2009; Hart 2009b; Wheeler

2009). To date, however, there has been little real implementation in higher education for

the purposes of learning, teaching and assessment (marketing, internal communications

and alumni relations are separate uses not under consideration in this study) and even less

formal evaluation of its impact.

A recent survey in the USA conducted by Faculty Focus (2009) revealed that more than

half of nearly 2,000 respondents (56.4%) had never used Twitter. Of the 30.7% who

claimed to be current users of the service, less than half used it as a classroom learning

tool, with slightly more than half have used it to communicate with students (Faculty

Focus 2009: 9). On the basis of current research, it would appear that Twitter remains

relatively underused in higher education with negative perceptions of the tool inhibiting

many from exploring its potential in the near future.

2.2 Twitter and computer-mediated discourse

Some early research into Twitter of relevance to this study relates to new forms of

Twitter-enabled computer-mediated discourse (CMD). Honeycutt and Herring (2009), for

example, have examined the conversational practice of sending „mentions‟ or „@user‟

messages. Honeycutt and Herring argue that the use of „mentions‟ is a form of

„addressivity‟ that indicates the intended recipients of messages that are posted in an

otherwise public forum in order to gain their attention, a pre-condition of

conversation.They argue that use of this type of tweet supports meaningful

conversational exchanges and claim that „despite a “noisy” environment and an interface

that is not especially conducive to conversational use, short, dyadic exchanges occur

relatively often, along with some longer conversations with multiple participants that are

surprisingly coherent‟. (Honeycutt & Herring 2009). More recently, dana boyd and her

co-researchers have examined the practice of retweeting which they too claim to be a

conversational practice:

While retweeting can simply be seen as the act of copying and rebroadcasting, the
practice contributes to a conversational ecology in which conversations are
composed of a public interplay of voices that give rise to an emotional sense of
shared conversational context. (boyd et al. 2010)

Such research highlights some of the emergent Twitter practices adopted by Twitter users

to meet their communicative needs. They also provide a valuable corrective to claims

made by some - „[m]ost of the discussion is worthless and unrelated to the academic

enterprise‟ (Faculty Focus 2009: 6) or „pithy allusion substitutes for exposition‟ (Judt

2010) - that Twitter is a communications medium unsuitable to academic discussion. I

will discuss this theme in more detail in chapter 4.

2.3 Twitter case studies

There have been some interesting and valuable early pilots of the technology that offer

insights into how it might be integrated more widely. Even though not all evaluations

have been published in peer-reviewed journals, it's worthwhile summarising some of the

early uses of Twitter in higher education and describing how they fit with a more

coherent pedagogical model of Twitter use for wider adoption. The first of my case

studies comes from the University of Bristol (UK) and is described in a discussion paper

published online (Ramsden 2009). Dr Sabah Abdullah used Twitter for an undergraduate

module in Economics. Twitter was used to supplement the recommended reading list

with relevant news items. A module- specifc Twitter account was created using the

module code (EC10160). Dr Abdullah also provided instructions for students on how to

create a Twitter account, and on how to follow the EC10160 account. Use of Twitter was

encouraged through references in her lectures. Dr Abdullah would generally read an

online newspaper, and, if an appropriate article was found, then the URL of the article

would be posted via Twitter. This case study of usage illustrates Twitter's potential as a

'broadcast' technology or a means of disseminating information quickly to students in a

way convenient to them. The use of Twitter in this case study replicates some of the

functionality of the announcement tools in virtual learning environments (VLEs) like

Blackboard or Moodle and is an example of a more teacher-led and content-centric

approach to educational technology.

My second case study of Twitter use is from Dr Monica Rankin, a history lecturer at the

University of Texas at Dallas. Her pilot use of Twitter is documented in a short video,

The Twitter Experiment, created by a student and uploaded to YouTube

( as well as social networking sites

like Facebook ( Dr Rankin

has used Twitter as a means of encouraging greater student participation in large-group

classes of around 90 students. 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). The students who appeared in the video reported that the experiment worked well

and helped them, in the words of Dave Schallert, one of the freshman students involved

in the project, to „pipe up and be heard‟ in a large-group context that can be „a little

intimidating‟ (Kesmit3 2009). Also observed in the video was the use of a hashtag -

#h1302w08 – that appears to include both a module code as well as a reference to the

week in which the discussion is taking place. Tweetdeck, a desktop Twitter client was

also seen in a number of shots as the software used to display tweets in the classroom.

This case study illustrates the deployment of Twitter as a conversational medium used to

enable in- class and well as post-lecture comments and reflections. In spite of Dr

Rankin's reservations about the appropriateness of 140 character tweets to undergraduate-

level discussion, the Twitter-enabled interactions support recent claims that „despite a

“noisy” environment and an interface that is not especially conducive to conversational

use, short, dyadic exchanges occur relatively often, along with some longer conversations

with multiple participants that are surprisingly coherent‟. (Honeycutt & Herring 2009).

Tweeted comments and questions also went some way, according to the students

featured, in militating against some of the factors that inhibit student participation in

large-group discussion, namely 'feedback lag', or the suppression of questions due to the

pace of the lecture, 'student apprehension', or the fear of speaking due to the size or

climate of the class and the 'single-speaker paradigm' or assumption that only one person

(usually the lecturer) speaks (Anderson, R.J. et al. 2003).

My third case study comes from the Sheffield Hallam University where the Academic

Innovation Team used Twitter as a technology 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 ( which

followed the student volunteers. The claimed 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.

My fourth and final case study comes from the University of Colorado Denver and

related to the use of Twitter on a module on instructional design and technology course

(Dunlap & Lowenthal 2009). In this case study, 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).

This final case study illustrates something of the flexibility of Twitter to enable a range of

interactions from private messages between peers to arrange meetings and to lightweight

Twitter-based tutorials that engage the whole cohort. The evaluation also supports the

social networking dimension of Twitter, with students clearly comfortable with the

varieties of information exchange and the heightened perception of belonging and of

social connection to both teaching staff and fellow students.


3. Methodology and methods

3.1 Research Questions

In my introduction, I identified the following research questions:

 To what extent is Twitter embedded in the vernacular technology practices

of the 18-24 age group that remain the dominant category of students in
higher education?

 Can Twitter be used to support the development of learning communities

in the context of formal academic study?

 Do students prefer the use of social media technologies ('cool tools') like
Twitter over institutionally-supported technologies ('school tools') like the

 How accurate are the discourses of digital nativism in defining students'

technology-mediated practices and learning preferences?

 Are fears of social media technologies leading to a decline in „traditional‟

academic skills and literacies justified?

3.2 Research Methods

The research questions will be addressed through a systematic analysis of a small-group

case study of Twitter use in Higher Education. My data consists of:

 a corpus of over 120 tweets by 17 undergraduate students using a common

module-specific hashtag;

 16 student responses to a questionnaire on their uses of and attitudes to

Twitter and other technologies (Appendix 7);

 a semi-structured interview with the module leader;

 six semi-structured individual student interviews (see Appendix 8 for

topic areas).

The research therefore took a predominantly qualitative approach to probe the

complexity of students‟ uses of social media, specifically Twitter, and to deconstruct

assumptions made about the putative „tech savviness‟ of „digital natives‟. A qualitative

approach enabled the collection of detailed data of student practices and attitudes and the

analysis of the value and meanings ascribed to different technologies habitually used in

different domains of their lives. For the most part I followed straightforward „content

analytic‟ procedures (Krippendorf 1980: 62) well suited to the analysis of this sort of

qualitative data. Tweets were coded in terms of referential units (Krippendorf 1980: 62)

with a key discrete idea articulated in each tweet. These referential units were then

clustered into broader categories. The interviews were analyzed using an iterative

constant-comparison method (Strauss and Corbin 1998). The interviews were analyzed

according to conventional qualitative methods (Mason 1996; Silverman 1993), looking

for patterns and relevant themes, which were then coded to allow for further analysis. A

second reading of the transcripts enabled a reduction in the number of categories by

combining similar terms and eliminating redundancies.

3.3 Choice of case study

The module was chosen because of the willingness of the academic responsible for its

delivery to trial the use of Twitter in her teaching and is, therefore, an instance of

convenience sampling, a form of non-probability sampling which is therefore not


generalisable. The module leader was willing to trial Twitter because of her perception of

a thematic „fit‟ between the technology and the topics of the course. As the module leader

explained to me in my interview with her in December 2009:

Because it is a popular culture module, engaging with Twitter also helped them
[the students] at the beginning to start thinking about what popular culture is and
what the cutting edge of culture is, and how do we adapt things in our culture. I'd
hesitate to bring it into „From Chaucer to Shakespeare‟ [another module] because
I think the students would find it a bit alien to the material.

English literature is still perceived to be a more „traditional‟ discursive discipline in

which more expansive forms of written text production are a requirement. I was

particularly interested in this exploring the use of Twitter for such a module and in

finding out if the production of microcontent (Alexander 2006) had a useful role to play.

Participants in my study were the 18 students enrolled on the module, the majority of

whom were female, around 21-23 years old and, therefore, examples of „digital natives

(Prensky 2001a, 2001b) or the „Net generation (Tapscott 1998, 2009).

3.4 Research methodology

Because this research focuses on a case study of Twitter use in Higher Education, the

methods chosen are broadly ethnographic. Cousin has defined the aims of case study

research as “to explore and depict a setting with a view to advancing understanding of it”

(2005: 421-22) and has argued that such research is, in its focus on „naturalistic‟ research

settings as opposed to „experimental‟ ones, primarily ethnographic.

My study is best described as what Bloome and Green call 'ethnography-in-education'

(1997: 182). Green and Bloome make a heuristic distinction between what they call

'ethnography-of-education' and 'ethnography-in-education' (1997: 182). The most


significant difference between the two approaches is that in „ethnography-in-education‟,

research practices are 'guided by educational purposes, needs and concerns' (1997: 186).

Moreover, the research is conducted by those inside the academic field - a definition that

would include higher education practitioners like myself who combine academic staff

development with implementation and evaluation of learning, teaching and assessment

initiatives - using „ethnographic tools‟ and adopting an „ethnographic perspective‟.

Green and Bloome make a further conceptual distinction between 'doing ethnography',

'adopting an ethnographic perspective' and 'using ethnographic tools'. „Doing

ethnography‟ involves 'the framing, conceptualising, conducting, interpreting, writing or

reporting associated with a broad, in-depth and long-term study of a social or cultural

group, meeting the criteria for doing ethnography as framed within a discipline or a field'

(1997: 183). „Adopting an ethnographic perspective‟, on the other hand, refers to the

possibility of taking 'a more focused approach (i.e. do less than a comprehensive

ethnography) to study particular aspects of everyday life and cultural practices of a social

group' (1997: 183). Finally, „using ethnographic tools‟ describes 'the use of methods and

techniques usually associated with fieldwork'.

For this research I adopt an „ethnographic approach‟ insofar as my social group is

relatively small - 18 students and a lecturer - which I observe and interact with

intermittently within a relatively short time frame of four months. This period covers the

entirety of the teaching component of the first semester and the start of the assessment

period that follows it. My presence as a researcher was publicly visible via a small

number of tweets sent during Semester 1. I used the main Twitter account I use for

professional purposes - - which includes a short personal

statement and, for the duration of the project, a link to my Twitter project blog

( Although I had been introduced as a researcher, I

presented myself online as available to help with any technical questions:

anthonymcneill: Welcome new twitterers. I'm helping Hermione [module

leader] - shout if you need tech help. I find Twttr easy to use but hard to 'get'- how
about you? #el3456
3:07 PM Oct 5th, 2009 via TwitIQ

In some of my tweets I responded directly to student posts in a way that I hoped would

encourage further participation and create a positive atmosphere:

anthonymcneill: RT @Isabel #el3456 What would Shakespeare have thought of

Twitter? How about: "There's magic in the web of it"
11:34 AM Oct 6th, 2009 via Tweetie

The research „tools‟ I have adopted are also, broadly speaking, those of an ethnographic


... participating, overtly or covertly, in people's daily lives for an extended period
of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, and/or asking questions
through informal and formal interviews, collecting documents and artefacts - in
fact, gathering whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the
emerging focus of inquiry. (Hammersley and Atkinson 2007: 3).

Insofar as I am a Kingston University academic with a keen interest in Twitter and other

social media - although not a member of the English Literature teaching team with

responsibility for teaching or assessing the Shakespeare and Popular Culture module - I

position myself somewhere between what Davies and Merchant (2007) describe as the

„researcher-as-insider‟ and the „researcher-as-analyst‟. I would stress the importance of

my insider knowledge of Twitter and other social media, concurring with Davies (2007)

that „[i]nsider knowledge is required in order to move beyond a fascination with the

exotic, or the alienation sometimes experienced by „„outsiders‟‟ to digital cultures. That

is, the practices need to be researched by those who see beyond the charisma or

alienating potential of technologies‟. (552)


3.5. Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework I am using for this research draws on the work of James Paul

Gee, Brian Street, David Barton, Mary Hamilton and others associated with New

Literacy Studies. New Literacy Studies considers literacy as a social practice and focuses

on distinct domains of practice. It characterises literacy as part of social practices which

are instantiated in „literacy events‟ such as filling in an application form or writing a

shopping list. This contrasts with a description of literacy as a decontextualised cognitive

skill, what Street calls the „autonomous‟ model of literacy (2003). Street also identifies

„the recognition of multiple literacies, varying according to time and space, but also

contested in relations of power‟ (2003: 77) as a key concept of New Literacy Studies.

Colin Lankshear makes the point that

... there are many specific literacies, each comprising an identifiable set of
socially constructed practices based upon print and organised around beliefs
about how the skills of reading and writing may or, perhaps, should be used.
(Lankshear 1987: p58)

The power relations Street referred to are implicit in Barton‟s distinction between what

he calls „dominant‟ and „vernacular‟ literacies. Vernacular literacy practices are, by

definition, not regulated by the formal rules and procedures of dominant institutions and

have their origins in the warp and weft of everyday life. Moreover, they are self-

generated, voluntary and creative although they also tend to be ascribed a low cultural

value by dominant institutions such as schools and universities. Dominant literacy

practices, on the other hand, are more formalised, standardised and are defined in terms

of the formal purposes of the institutions requiring their production. Dominant literacy

practices are also ascribed a higher cultural value (Barton 2007). Some academics

associated with New Literacy Studies have argued that „academic literacy‟ (Ivanic 1998)

or „essayist literacy‟ (Lillis 2001) is an example of a specific configuration of reading and

writing practices with a particularly high cultural value. Teresa Lillis, for example, argues

that: „[a] very particular kind of literacy practice holds sway in higher education which

contrasts with other language and literacy practices‟ (Lillis 2001: 30).

The New Literacy Studies paradigm provides a useful theoretical framework for

exploring undergraduates‟ use of social media for two main reasons. Firstly, literacy

practices have always been in some way mediated by technology (e.g. writing „I love

you‟ with a stick on wet sand or texting „On the train now, shall I pick up dinner?‟ on a

mobile „phone). Secondly, because conceptualising technology use according to distinct

domains, with technology-mediated practices categorised as either „vernacular‟ or

„dominant‟, provides a more sophisticated model than one that views technology

practices as taking place in a single, undifferentiated sphere and allows us to better

understand possible resistances to certain types of technology use in certain contexts and

for certain purposes. As a higher educational practitioner, I am particularly interested in

how vernacular technology-mediated literacy practices might have a role to play in

formal educational contexts and, to some degree, in replacing or contributing to their

dominant literacy practices. I therefore concur with Colin Lankshear and Michele


In many contemporary cultural pursuits young people - as well as older people -

are engaging in the kinds of language experiences that nonetheless could be
leveraged for deep learning of an academic nature, as well as for educational
learning conducive to developing competence in practical professional activities.
(2008: 11)

3.6 Ethical considerations

I attempted to develop a „responsible research relationship‟ (Mauther et al. 2002) which

addressed ethical issues and the sensitivities and power imbalances inherent in the

research process. This included providing all students enrolled on the module with given

an information sheet (Appendix 1) explaining the project, the nature of their participation

and their freedom not to participate should they wish. The Twitter-based activities created

by the module leader (Appendix 6) were neither compulsory nor assessed, making

participation in the pilot project entirely voluntary. Students were incentivised to

participate in some elements of the project: those completing the questionnaire

(Appendix 7) were offered the opportunity to be entered into a prize drawn to win an

iPod Shuffle and those willing to be interviewed were given a £25 iTunes card or £25

book token. The amounts were broadly similar to those paid to students on other

Kingston University research projects and consistent with the University‟s commitment

to find a range of paid work for its students. The mode of students‟ participation in the

research then, was more contractual and consultative than properly participatory (Kindon

et al. 2007).

I considered the research to be „low risk‟ as participation posed no immediate or expected

risks of physical and/or psychological harm or distress to the staff and students involved.

Participants were not asked to put their name on any document. Audio recordings were

used for the purposes of transcription and were deleted once transcription and analysis

had been completed. I have anonymised all participants by replacing their names - and

their Twitter usernames - with those of Shakespearean characters. Although in the UK

such names have clear middle-class connotations (e.g. Hermione), my decision to use

Shakespearean names is meant to pay homage to the playful and humorous tone of some

of the usernames selected by participants and is, therefore, not meant to signify their

socio-economic status.

3.7 Transcription and reflexivity

Do I believe “in fidelity to the original,” you ask. Yes, yes, not because it‟s
possible, but because one must try. (Spivak 2001: 14)

Although external funding allowed me to engage the services of a professional

transcriber, I took the decision early in the project to undertake the transcription myself.

This decision was partially taken in the light of the relatively small amount of recorded

data to be transcribed - under four hours - but mainly because of my developing

understanding of the nature of research transcription as fundamentally interpretive and

not merely a manual task that could be outsourced without impacting on the nature of the

analysis produced. Much recent research (Davidson 2009; Lapadat 2000; Lapadat and

Lindsay 1999; Ochs 1979; Oliver et al. 2005) has tended to reject the positivist paradigm

of transcription as a transparent and unmediated process and has, instead, described it as

a selective and interpretive construction inevitably inflected by the theoretical and

political perspectives of the transcriber or researcher. Oliver et al., for example, claim

that “a transcriber hears the interview through his/her own cultural-linguistic filters”

(2005: 10) and explicitly rejects the notion of the transcriber as an „honest broker‟ able to

transcend cultural or ideological affiliation.

By taking on the task of transcribing I wanted to assume responsibility for the

interpretation of the speech I transform into text and integrate into my analysis. The very

act of transcribing was inextricably linked to my developing understanding of my

participants‟ use of and attitudes to social media and other technologies. My practices

mirrored those adopted in conversation analysis (Ashmore & Reed 2000; Pomeranz &

Fehr 1997) insofar as I moved back and forth between recordings and transcripts,

modifying my transcripts as I worked through the process of analysis and writing up. For

example, in my initial drafts I transcribed only the speech of my interviewees leaving my

questions, comments and interjections out of the written text. I came to the decision that I

needed to write myself back into the text, re-presenting myself in the academic discourse

I produced, in order to acknowledge the role I played in soliciting the comments made

and in shaping the course of the conversation. Moreover, later drafts include

paralinguistic features of the conversation (e.g. laughter, embarrassed grimaces, mimicry

of despair) in an attempt to restore something of the dynamics of the interviews and my

social presence as a researcher. My theoretical position on re-presenting textually my

presence as a researcher, therefore, concurs with the argument made by Atkinson and

Coffey (2002) that:

[t]o deny our being “there” misunderstands the inherent qualities of both methods
- in terms of documenting and making sense of social worlds of which we are part
... . The complex relationships among field settings, significant social actors, the
practical accomplishment of the research, and the researcher-self are increasingly
recognised as significant to all those who engage in research of a qualitative
nature (whether that be participant observation, interviewing or some
combination of the two). (812).

I also took the decision to „tidy up‟ comments made by my interviewees by removing all

„ums', 'ers', repetitions, false starts and other features of oral language production. I did

not want to construct too clear a distinction between the carefully considered and

correctly punctuated academic discourse produced for this research writing from the

spontaneous and sometimes ungrammatical speech of my interviewees. My participants

were all articulate young people and in choosing to transcribe their speech more formally

I wish to present them as such.


4. Analysis and findings

4.1 Introduction to my Twitter experiments

As part of my LearnHigher-funded project I was able to persuade three colleagues to trial

the use of Twitter in their teaching in Semester 1 of the 2009-10 academic year. The

colleagues involved were given an Apple iPod Touch and a £25 iTunes voucher to

purchase Twitter apps by way of payment and support but otherwise their participation

was entirely voluntary. In spite of the careful preparation and detailed explanation, two of

the pilot projects met with indifference and, in some cases, strong resistance from the

students involved at the early stages. Two responses - the first an extract of an email from

a student in the Faculty of Engineering and the second from a Media and Cultural Studies

students - articulate the more hostile feelings towards the use of Twitter for learning and


To briefly express my feelings, I think using a social networking site for an

educational forum is a bad idea. Apart from anything I do not want to become a
twit (a person who uses twitter, or has a twit profile). I do not want to be obliged to
join these websites, which is exactly what you are doing with this pilot project. It's
all very well for University Societies to use these facilities, they being socially
founded and of little consequence. However to use them as a basis of collaborative
learning is, in my opinion, unprofessional.
Student email sent to Tony McNeill, 13 October 2009

[username deleted]: resents that he has to get Twitter as he kind of agrees with
Cameron's "too many Tweets make a twat." Wow, 140 characters is actually a lot.
1:21 PM 6 October 2009 from web

Although these strong feelings weren‟t necessarily shared by all, what was significant

was that very few students had created a Twitter account and had followed the account

created for the module on which they had enrolled in spite of technical support and

frequent reminders. It was decided that the Twitter projects would be best speedily

discontinued in the face of such indifference and, in a few cases, outright hostility.

However, I was successful with one of the pilot projects, a final-year, special subject

module on Shakespeare and Popular Culture, which appeared to take off within the first

week of teaching with 17 of the 18 students who were enrolled on the module creating a

Twitter account - or using one they had already created - and following the Twitter

account created for the module.

4.2 Implementation of the Shakespeare Twitter pilot

Following earlier discussions with the module leader, we created a module-specific

Twitter account using the module code as the username and agreed a hashtag also based

on the module code that students would include in their tweets. The use of of hashtag

would allow students to follow discussions without necessarily following other students,

although this too was encouraged. It also allowed me to create a feed of hashtagged

tweets directly into the Blackboard VLE module site.

The module leader created a weekly schedule of Twitter-based activities (Appendix 6)

that mixed discussion board forum/essay-type discursive questions (e.g. „Is Isabella

justified in her decision not to sleep with Angelo?‟) with more playful or creative

activities (e.g. „Tweet as a minor character from any Shakespeare play other than

Hamlet‟). Other Twitter-based activities included mid-point module review comments

and discussion of assessment issues. Twitter was therefore seen as having a role to play

in student support and in gathering student feedback for module review as well as more

creative and reflective activities.


In order to support students‟ use of Twitter, we adopted a number of approaches:

 the module leader briefed students on the rationale for the use of Twitter
on the module in the introductory session in teaching week 1;

 I developed a series of short guides to Twitter (Appendices 2 and 3) for

students accessible via the module‟s Blackboard site and sent, as urls to
online PDFs, via tweets;

 the module leader and I modelled the use of Twitter in early tweets and
made sure to reply with encouraging comments to students‟ posts, to
summarise student input and respond promptly to queries in an approach
loosely based on Gilly Salmon‟s five-stage model of e-moderation (2000);

 I used an online service called TweepML ( to create a

group for all participants on the module allowing them to follow one
another by clicking just one button (as opposed to going through the more
laborious process of following each account individually);

 I integrated Twitter as best I could with the Blackboard site for the module
through use of shared colours and banners as I was aware that we were
adopting a hybrid approach in which Twitter was being used alongside the
institutional VLE that remained the primary delivery mechanism for
course-related documents and reception point for student coursework.

The module leader and I exchanged a number of tweets in late September to help her

develop her understanding of the protocols of tweeting and the use of her mobile

internet-enabled device (iPod Touch):

anthonymcneill: @el3456 test tweet to Newbie


1:58 PM Sep 25th, 2009 via Twitterrific

el3456: @anthonymcneill thanks for the test. I'm getting there.

1:59 PM Sep 25th, 2009 via TwitIQ in reply to anthonymcneill

anthonymcneill: @el3456 great you're tweeting

1:59 PM Sep 25th, 2009 via Twitterrific in reply to el3456

el3456: @anthonymcneill My first mobile tweet!

1:06 PM Sep 28th, 2009 via mobile web

anthonymcneill: @el3456 hey - congrats on

that 1st mobile tweet - what app did you use?
1:12 PM Sep 28th, 2009 via Tweetie in reply
to el3456

The exchanges I had with the module leader in preparation for the start of the semester

suggested that Twitter was not as simple a technology to use as I had first thought. In

response to this I developed, in the early weeks of the semester, additional guides

including one on how to follow other twitterers (Appendix 4) and a Twitter glossary

(Appendix 5).

4.3 Analysing student tweets

4.3.1 Access and socialisation

The Twitter activity in the first week corresponds, broadly speaking, to the first two

stages - „access and motivation‟ and „online socialisation‟ - of Salmon‟s 5-stage e-

moderating model (2000). Students were welcomed to the module:

el3456:'' #el3456 It was fun to meet you all today. I promise it's not always so
crazy; sometimes we'll just talk about plays.
2:14 PM Oct 2nd, 2009 via TwitIQ

Students were also offered technical support, Twitter good practice tips, reminders of that

week‟s Twitter-based activities and encouragement for participating online:

el3456: #el3456 Remember to use our hashtag #el3456 in any module-related

tweets so that we can bring them together in a feed.
2:14 PM Oct 2nd, 2009 via TwitIQ

anthonymcneill: Welcome new twitterers. I'm helping Hermione [module leader]

- shout if you need tech help. I find Twttr easy to use but hard to 'get'- how about
you? #el3456
3:07 PM Oct 5th, 2009 via TwitIQ

el3456: @Rosalind nice profile pic! - I think you're getting to grips with Twitter
pretty well! #el3456
3:46 PM Oct 7th, 2009 via web in reply to Rosalind

el3456: We're nearly there! Don't forget to use our hashtag #el3456 in module-
related tweets.
10:53 AM Oct 9th, 2009 via TwitIQ

el3456: Congratulations to all on signing up! @Helen - best Twttr name and
@Rosalind best avatar pic. #el3456
10:42 AM Oct 9th, 2009 via web

el3456: Want to see what your fellow students are tweeting about Shakespeare?
Click here to follow: #el3456
1:43 PM Oct 17th, 2009 via Tweetie

el3456: Don't forget to tweet as Kate for this week's task. #el3456
2:50 PM Oct 21st, 2009 via Twittelator

The module leader also took the opportunity in the first four weeks, but also throughout

the module, to model tweets, providing examples of good practices in Twitter

(acknowledging others, sharing resources, inclusion of the hashtag):

el3456: #el3456 A retelling of Othello set among South American footballers has
won the Guardian Children's Fiction prize.
8:42 AM Oct 12th, 2009 via TwitIQ

el3456: @Isabel Hi Isabel, all 3 tweets visible for me. Nice idea to continue
comments over 3 posts when 140 characters not enough!
12:01 PM Oct 21st, 2009 via web in reply to Isabel

el3456: Exciting development! I have a cd of Hamlet! The Musical to share later

this semester. #el3456
2:48 PM Oct 21st, 2009 via Twittelator

el3456: 2 new revisions of Romeo and Juliet: in a care home

and backwards: #el3456
1:45 PM Nov 18th, 2009 via TwitIQ

As students completed their Twitter tasks, the module leader also praised and

summarised contributions:

el3456: #el3456 It's a resounding 7 for Isabella's decision, 2 against, and 2 on the
fence. Now, what do you think of Kate's last speech in Shrew?
11:05 AM Oct 16th, 2009 via web

Although the „community of practice‟ model (Lave & Wenger 1991) was not our

preferred ideal of the online community we wanted to develop, it is clear that at the early

stages of the project that the module leader and I positioned ourselves as „expert‟ users

whose role was to encourage students to move from periphery to centre and to develop a

specific „repertoire‟ of Twitter practices.

4.3.2 Finding their way around this ‘Twitter malarkey’

Amongst the earlier categories of student tweets, most were concerned with Twitter itself

as the students familiarised themselves with the technology:

Emilia: #el3456 : I'm now using Twitter in celebration of all things

4:31pm Oct 2nd, 2009 via web

Isabel: is on Twitter now... Wonder what Shakespeare would have thought of

Twitter! :D
12:39 PM Oct 5th, 2009 via web

Helen: Helllloooo!! *dances*

6:54 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

Helen: Alright... a profile pic.

6:55 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

Helen: Huh. Fun times. Trying to find a profile picture where I don't look like a
raving lunatic.
7:02 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

I observed a number of student tweets playful or mock-dramatic rejections of their own


Portia: just trying to bloody find my way round this tweeting malarkey
10:26 PM Oct 1st, 2009 via web

Isabel: @el3456 Hello it's Isabel. I'm totally confused about Twitter, I hope this
works properly! :)
1:01 PM Oct 5th, 2009 via web

Alice: Getting to grips with Twitter and Measure for Measure, i'm not sure which
is more confusing!
9:20 PM Oct 6th, 2009 via web

Cordelia: trying to figure out how to work Twitter

10:08 AM Oct 9th, 2009 via web

Although some of the comments should be interpreted as exaggerated expressions of a

lack of technological expertise - and therefore, to some degree, as „anti-geek‟ identity

performances - they also articulate a genuine lack of understanding of the technology.

What is significant is that some students - all of whom are allegedly „digital natives‟ -

needed reassurance that they were using the technology correctly and that their tweets

were visible in much the same way as the module leader (a supposed „digital immigrant‟)

as in the following example:

Emilia: @el3456 great to meet you too Hermione [module leader], Emilia here.
I've tried out a message using the hash tag - hope it worked!
4:33 PM Oct 2nd, 2009 via web in reply to el3456

Isabel: #el3456 Hope this is working! Total newbie on Twitter :D

12:47 PM Oct 5th, 2009 via web

4.3.4 Students are differently digital


Some students seemed to „get‟ Twitter better than others and were clearly more at ease

with the medium, using it in ways similar to their uses of social networking sites like

Facebook. For example, a number of students were comfortable using language forms

they would use when posting to Facebook, instant messaging or texting. There were

many examples of textual features associated with SMS (Crystal 2009) and other forms

of computer-mediated discourse (Herring 2001, 2007) such as emoticons (e.g. :D, :)) and

graphic representations of action (e.g. haha, *dances*) in the tweets of some students.

There was evidence too of „friendship work‟, interactional exchanges whose aim is to

maintain and strengthen social ties initially formed offline, taking place on Twitter:

Helen: @Isabel Heya, my lovely! Looking forward to the lecture tommorow? :)

7:18 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

Helen: @el3456 Hello, it's Helen! Just set up my twitter account, looking
forward to the lecture tommorow! :)
7:01 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

I also observed some banter or light-hearted dyadic exchanges not unlike Facebook wall

posts or comments on status updates:

Emilia: #el3456: a genuine Shakespeare quote: '...your bum is the greatest thing
about you...'
5:08 PM Oct 7th, 2009 via web

el3456: RT genuine Shakespeare quote: '...your bum is the greatest thing

about you' @Emila - LOL! which play's that from? It's not Hamlet?
10:53 AM Oct 9th, 2009 via web

Emilia: @el3456 haha - no it's actually measure for measure - i'll

by a chocolate bar for whoever finds it first #el3456
3:00 PM Oct 9th, 2009 via web in reply to el3456A greater

A defining feature of many social media sites is that they enable users to share and

comment on resources (e.g. weblinks or uploaded image, video or audio content). Many

students also seemed comfortable sharing resources, including video, via Twitter too:

Bianca: #el3456 Funny Measure For Measure video

8:51 PM Oct 8th, 2009 via web

Celia: #el3456 Bill Bryson, Shakespeare

3:52 PM Nov 19th, 2009 via web

Isabel:'' #el3456 Douglas Brode 'Shakespeare in the movies'

12:51 PM Nov 19th, 2009 via web

Rosalind: #el3456 Ann Thompson 'fenibist theory and the editing of shakespeare
: the taming of the shrew revisited
12:02 PM Nov 19th, 2009 via mobile web

Rosalind: #el3456 dont know if anyone saw this Hiphop shakespeare company
Othello retold
3:17 PM Dec 2nd, 2009 via web

Rosalind: #el3456
3:17 PM Dec 2nd, 2009 via web

It is interesting to note that students used Twitter to share resources more successfully

than institutional technologies like email or discussion boards:

Tony: I particularly enjoyed it when the students were passing YouTube videos

Hermione [module leader]: Yes, exactly, and that was the kind of thing I wanted
them to do and when I tried it in the past on something like StudySpace [Kingston
University‟s branding of Blackboard], it doesn't happen. The first time I ran this
module I think I had one email saying 'have you seen this?', whereas we had
several links to this sort of thing.

Some elements of the reciprocation expectations and culture of peer acknowledgment

practiced in social media environments were evident in these interactions based around

resource sharing. For example, one student‟s creative voice tweeting as Juliet over three

tweets received praise from one of her fellow students:


Portia: #el3456 O Romeo, Romeo my heart is on fire,I must share with you this
burning desire.
8:38 PM Oct 23rd, 2009 via web

Portia: #el3456 Do not deny me your body or soul, As you and you only can
make me feel whole.
8:39 PM Oct 23rd, 2009 via web

Portia: #el3456 Give me your word that you love me too, And I promise that I
will always love you.
8:39 PM Oct 23rd, 2009 via web

Isabel: @Portia. Love your poem :D

11:35 AM Oct 29th, 2009 via web

The culture of peer acknowledgement and support was also in evidence when sharing

Helen: Awsome version of Hamlet by McLars feat. Brett

from the Donnas & Gabe CobraStarship #el3456
8:29 AM Oct 9th, 2009 via web

Emilia: @Helen Brilliant song!!

3:03 PM Oct 9th, 2009 via web in reply to Helen

Helen: HILAROUS skit - The Beatles doing the play from
Midsummer Nights Dream! Enjoy!! #el3456
6:09 PM Oct 17th, 2009 via web

Isabel: @Helen Totally love the skit :D Ah my dear Beatles

9:45 PM Oct 17th, 2009 via web

4.3.5 Twitter and student life

A high number of tweets were concerned with the small details of being a student, such

as clarifying assessment requirements, posting questions about library resources or

catching up on missed sessions:

Emila: #el3456 does anyone know if we can use texts from the module for our
creative project: e.g. Romeo & Juliet?
5:56 PM Oct 31st, 2009 via web

Isabel: @Emila Yep I believe we can. I'm basing mine on Romeo and
Juliet, but it's not a written project
6:27 PM Oct 31st, 2009 via web in reply to Emila

Emila: #el3456 hi can anyone outline the broad topic areas that were suggested
in friday's seminar
7:25 PM Nov 4th, 2009 via web

Emila: #el3456 is anyone having problems accessing journals? Athens has gone
and the Uni password doesn't seem to work on any journal subscriptions
6:28 PM Dec 1st, 2009 via web

el3456: @Emila Emilia, you can access journals by logging in to student

space, clicking on the library, and using the electronic resources page.
10:33 AM Dec 3rd, 2009 via TwitIQ in reply to Emila

One of the Twitter-based activities involved students tweeting an idea for their creative

project, one of the module‟s assessments. This proved to be an activity that many


Emila: #el3456 creative project idea = a set of lesson plans for teachers to
introduce year 7s to Shakespeare - need help with essay ideas though!
5:51 PM Oct 26th, 2009 via web

Rosalind: creative project idea - proposal of a tv drama morden version of

Shakespeare play.... also need help with essay ideas! #el3456
6:48 PM Oct 28th, 2009 via web

Isabel: project idea: a photo novel of Romeo and Juliet. Essay idea in mind, not
sure how to start though
11:36 AM Oct 29th, 2009 via web

Diana: #el3456 project idea- choosing 3 female characters, writing 3 monologues

in modern lang...and hopefully some photo arty thing to match!
5:09 PM Oct 29th, 2009 via web

Helen: #el3456 project idea: a cartoon strip updating one of Shakespeares plays /
characters in the modern world.
12:35 AM Oct 30th, 2009 via Echofon

One student found Twitter a useful way of keeping peers and tutor updated in her


Isabel: #el3456 still don't have a thesis really, except that I'm definitely going for
the simplification of Shakespeare in remakes and adaptations
11:57 PM Nov 26th, 2009 via web

Isabel: is now living with Juliet and her Nurse. Project will happen this weekend,
costumes are being organised and people notified :D #el3456
10:37 PM Dec 2nd, 2009 via web

Isabel: 's project was a lot more complicated than expected. Ah when you rely on
people.... Tut tut tut #el3456
6:48 PM Dec 5th, 2009 via web

Some tweets led to brief dyadic exchanges such as this in which students shared

coursework concerns:

Isabel: #el3456 Is anyone else suddenly stressing about the essay proposal? Or is
that just me :$
9:58 PM Nov 2nd, 2009 via web

Emila: @Isabel yes! have you had any ideas? i neeeddd heeeeellppp
6:04 PM Nov 4th, 2009 via web in reply to Isabel

Isabel: @Emila As I said I'm doing a photo novella, but for my

essay I'm still partially stuck, I got two topics I'd like to do but I'm
12:10 PM Nov 5th, 2009 via web in reply to Emila

One student, who was also a year representative, used Twitter to organise module-related

social events:

Emila: Link to Romeo & Juliet production in Barnet:
6:22 PM Oct 19th, 2009 via web

Emila: #el3456 - we can get free tickets from this website:
6:17 PM Oct 19th, 2009 via web

Emila: #el3456 - anyone fancy coming

with me to see this?
6:15 PM Oct 19th, 2009 via web

Many of my participants‟ tweets were in ways similar to the undergraduate practices on

Facebook identified by Neil Selwyn (2009): recounting and reflecting on the university

experience, exchanges of practical information, exchanges of academic information,


displays of supplication and banter. Our student twitterers positioned themselves in a

number of ways that correspond to Selwyn‟s observation of vernacular Facebook

practices: as a supportive fellow student, as a student in need of help, or as a friend. The

examples demonstrate that, to some degree, the behaviours in social sphere spaces like

Facebook can be replicated within the curricular sphere. However, as I argued earlier, not

all students were as comfortable as others in such literacy practices crossing from one

domain to another.

4.3.6 Twitter and ‘traditional’ academic literacies

One of the more „imposed‟ or „top-down‟ types of tweet produced were those relating to

the discursive and creative Twitter activities (see Appendix 6 for the full list). The

following responses to the question „Is Isabella justified in her decision not to sleep with

Angelo?‟ demonstrate how Twitter can function perfectly well as a means of soliciting

succinct but academically appropriate feedback from students:

Emila: #el3456 I think the ultimatum Isabella was faced with was cruel and
humiliating. Her decision was brave but yet condeming at the same time.
4:23 PM Oct 13th, 2009 via web

Guildenstern: #el3456 I think Isabella refused Angelo due to her fear of the
implications of divine moral law, but this fear leads people to virtue
2:19 PM Oct 14th, 2009 via web

Imogen: #el3456 Isabella's decision is logical, moral and justified. Her reason
being, 'natural guiltiness'; can one crime be corrected by another?
1:56 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Rosencrantz: #el3456 I think that the decision proved the right one in the end,
however seemedselfish to value her own place in heaven above her brothers
6:05 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Isabel: #el3456 I just can't believe she'd rather let her brother die than to give
away her virginity. I know she wants to enter a convent and be...
6:40 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Isabel: #el3456... all righteous and chaste, but it's a human life for a physical act.
She shouldn't even have to think about it.
6:41 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Cordelia: #el3456 - I think her decision is justified cause she's following the
beliefs she's always followed and it's her decision to do what's right
7:55 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Miranda: #el3456 I think Isabella was justified in her decision. She displays
great courage and strength by not giving into Angelo.
9:37 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Celia:' #el3456 Isabella was right as her brother could go to heaven, whereas if
she commited the proposed sin she would spend eternity in hell.
11:29 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Cleopatra: I could never sacrifice my brother for my beliefs, but I guess this
proves just how devout and certain Isabella is in hers.
11:31 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Helen: #el3456 by refusing to sleep with Angelo, Isabella is taking a stand

against what is expected of her as an obediant "good" woman-justified!
1:20 AM Oct 16th, 2009 via Echofon

One of the more specifically pedagogic or intellectual concerns from the Faculty Focus

report (2009) on the use of Twitter in US universities briefly described in the literature

review was the perceived deleterious influence of Twitter on students' academic literacy

practices: „[Twitter] [p]erpetuates poor written and oral communication skills‟ and, more

categorically, „I am sick of student writing that is unprofessional. I am also tired of

receiving student work that has incomplete sentences, fragments, subject-verb agreement

mistakes, point of view mistakes, tense mistakes. Students need to learn how to write on

at least a 13th grade level and on-line discussions, twitter, texting, etc. does not help

them. NO! I will not use this in my classes!‟ (Faculty Focus 2009: 6). One final comment

of note related to the perception that „Twitter encourages comment without thought,

reflection on content – antithesis of learning‟ (Faculty Focus 2009: 8).


However, far from viewing Twitter as inimical to the development of traditional

academic literacies, my case study demonstrates that microcontent in the form of tweets

can add something of value to the learning experience and that generalisations about its

unsuitability to literacy practices valued within higher education are unfounded.

Moreover, claims that Twitter‟s 140 character limit militates against the development of

more expansive reflection - „logical arguments cannot well be delivered in short bursts‟

(Faculty Focus 2009: 8) - find little support in our pilot project as many students were

able to articulate logical arguments within such constraints. When students needed more

characters to expand their thoughts they simply used more than one tweet as shown in the

two examples below:

Rosalind: I think Isabella‟s decision shows her strength as a female, during that
era we expect women to be submissive,but she is not.However- #el3456
3:25 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Rosalind: I would sacrifice my virginity for my brother‟s life,and so I cannot

help thinking her decision is selfish too. #el3456
3:27 PM Oct 15th, 2009 via web

Emila: #el3456 : Bourne out of a puritan, patriarchal society, Shakepeare's plays

reflect the paradoxical vision of marriage as both a
2:37 PM Nov 28th, 2009 via web

Emila: #el3456: male-dominated hierarchy and a equal, loving partnership.

2:39 PM Nov 28th, 2009 via web

4.3.7 Patterns of student tweeting

After a positive start in which 17 out of the 18 students on the module created a Twitter

account and posted tweets, Twitter activity declined steeply (see Fig. 2) from 81 tweets in

October, to 15 tweets in November and just 6 tweets in December.


Fig 2. Tweets by month

Moreover, only four students - Isabel, Emilia, Helen and Rosalind - continued tweeting

through November and December.

There is certainly evidence, in the student activity of the first four weeks, that Twitter can

play a role in building community by enabling students to quickly and simply post

reflections and insights, share information and interact socially. Some students were

clearly comfortable using social media in the context of more formal learning.

However, not all were and, with the exception of four students at most who posted 10

tweets or more throughout the semester, tweeting all but ceased by the beginning of

November. In spite of the evidence of resource sharing, peer acknowledgement of input

and some social use (e.g. organising events, banter) of Twitter, only a quarter of the

module cohort of 18 might be said to be fully engaged with the activities over the course

of the semester.

What was clear by early November was that students had not taken to Twitter to the

degree I had hoped. I therefore shifted the focus of the investigation away from the

original concept of a thematic analysis of tweets to an analysis of student uses of

technology and their resistance to Twitter using a survey and individual semi-structured

interviews as my data collection tools.

4.4 Analysing survey data

4.4.1 Collecting the survey data

Data collection took the form of both an online, using SurveyMonkey

(, and a hard-copy questionnaire (Appendix 7) distributed in

the final three weeks of the semester in early December 2009. Low completion rates of

the online survey led me to create a hard-copy version which students were asked to

complete at the end of final week teaching sessions. The survey was completed by 16

students and data from the hard copy questionnaire was manually inputted into

SurveyMonkey to enable more coherent collation and analysis of all responses. The

survey allowed me to get a more detailed picture of the profiles of the participating

students and it also enabled me to probe student attitudes to Twitter and to the use of

social media technologies to support learning.

4.4.2 Numbers of Twitter and Facebook users

The data supported my initial impressions of the module cohort and my assumptions

about their technology use: the majority were female (13 out of 16) and aged between 20

and 23. Although nearly all were Facebook users (15 out of 16) only a quarter had

Twitter accounts prior to starting the module (4 out of 16).

4.4.3 Attitudes to Twitter

In spite of the low levels of use, Twitter had a high level of recognition amongst

respondents (15 out of 16 had heard of the technology). Attitudes towards it, however,

were divided: there were three negative comments - „seemed complicated‟, „slightly self

indulgent‟ and „thought it seemed boring‟); ten expressing indifference - „just another

social networking site‟, „a celebrity marketing tool‟ and „not something that interested

me‟); and only two positive views - „already addicted to it‟ and „good way of keeping in

contact with some people‟).

I found the five references to Facebook in the fifteen comments made significant. My

respondents explained their lack of interest in Twitter by comparing it, mostly

unfavourably, with Facebook: „Didn't think about using it as I was already on Facebook,

„I didn't really think about it, as I already had Facebook‟, „Much prefer Facebook as

you're not restricted on the word count. And more applications‟, „... thought it seemed

boring compared to MySpace and Facebook‟ and „Same ideas as facebook‟. Facebook

emerges clearly as the core social media technology used and valued by my participants.

The brief comments made in the survey suggest that the use of other technologies such as

Twitter may be dismissed by potential users as its functionality is already offered, often

in improved form („more applications‟), by Facebook. This is the core technology against

which other technologies are measured and a key area I explore in my analysis of the

semi-structured interviews.

4.4.4 Perceived relevance of Twitter post-graduation

The majority of respondents agreed with the statement that Twitter and technologies like

it (i.e. involving social networking, microcontent, mobile devices) would be relevant to

them both socially and professionally post-graduation (14 out of 15). However, most felt

its primary use to be in the social sphere - „to stay in touch with people from before and

at uni‟, „It is relevant socially, but I can't really imagine me using it for anything other

than keeping in touch with friends‟ and „I feel it is more relevant socially, but there is

definitely use professionally‟. The comments suggest that respondents are beginning to

think about social media for educational and professional purposes but also suggest that

ideas are still in development.

4.4.5 Appreciation of Twitter activities

Half of the respondents enjoyed taking part in the Twitter activites - „[t]hey were

interesting and new‟, „[i]t was nice to share thoughts before the lecture, and people are

less shy behind a screen‟, „[e]ngaging, thought-provoking but difficult to respond to

succinctly‟, and „I enjoyed some because they were challenging and it was something

different‟. However, the 8 students who did not enjoy them cited a combination of

reasons: lack of home internet connection („I did not try that much because of no

internet‟); a lack of ease with Twitter („I don't know how to use well‟, „it was hard to be

enthusiastic about twitter when I hadn't signed up before starting the module‟); difficulty

articulating ideas within the character constraints („[t]he answers had to be so short I

didn't feel I could explain myself properly‟); and workload („I didn't have time to be

concentrating on the tasks when I already had so much work as a third year student,

although it is a nice idea it was an added stress‟ „[t]ime consuming, difficult to remember,

priortise tasks which are usually discussed in seminars anyway‟).


The students who enjoyed tweeting explained their reasons for not completing all the

semester‟s activities by claiming that, as the semester progressed and they had to make

decisions about competing priorities, the twitter tasks were dropped („it became a hassle

to remember to actually do them‟, „[a]s Twitter is so informal, I ended up forgetting that I

had actual "homework" to do on it‟, „I found Twitter fun to do - although when I got

busier with University work (and I seemed to be one of the only people working on

Twitter) I tweeted less‟ and „often forgot about them without reminder. Don't often use it

so wasn't at forefront of my mind‟).

10 students, including some who did not enjoy the tasks, felt that the Twitter activities

presented them with a new kind of intellectual challenge. This mainly related to the

obligation to compress often difficult ideas („you had to be brief and succinct in

answers‟, „[h]ard to be brief and succinct - no waffling‟, „I had to condense arguments

efficiently‟, „it was a challenge to be so concise‟, „[i]t got me to write in a concise


Disappointingly, just over half the students were as sceptical or more sceptical of the

relevance of Twitter to their study at the end of the module. The responses cited a number

of reasons for the continued scepticism: the lack of a critical mass of students

participating in the activities („[i]t is good as long as people do it‟, „I would be willing to

do this again and it would be better if everyone in the class did this‟, and „I think it can

be beneficial, but needs to be encouraged‟); reservations about word length („[t]here are

still some aspects to using Twitter that don't quite work, such as long answers‟); learning

preferences („I personally didn't take much from it, I prefer to talk to people about these

issues‟) and a preference for alternative social media tools („I can understand why it's

worth using but Twitter itself wasn't best type of social network to use (facebook could

have been better) - more space to write‟).

4.4.6 Twitter and the development of a learning community

10 students out of the 16 who completed the survey felt that the use of Twitter on the

module helped build community. The reasons given included: the ease with which it was

possible to share ideas („it got individuals talking more, and you could ask others

questions and share ideas whereas you may not have before‟, „[i]t was good to read what

other's opinions/responses were‟, „it was interesting to read other people's responses‟);

getting to know more about their peers („[w]e got to know each other a bit better,

especially if people already had an account and you see bits of their life‟); and sharing

course-related anxieties („[w]e used Twitter to communicate worries, questions and ideas

and so it was very helpful‟, „nice to know where everyone was at with essays‟).

A few responses concurred that Twitter could help build community but did so less

whole-heartedly („[n]ot that much but it could be‟, „[y]es initially when everyone actually

did the tasks‟ and „[m]aybe I hope so‟). Only one comment did not agree, indicating that

Twitter needed to be used for more than just the tutor-designated activities in order for

community to flourish : „[n]ot for me, personally - I didn't really find that people were

using their Twitter accounts for anything other than the set tasks‟.

4.4.7 Tweeting in public

The survey included an open response question soliciting comments on how students felt

about your tweets being public. Of the 13 responses, only two objected to course-related

tweets being public („I don't really want them to be public‟ and „[s]lightly embarrassing

to have thoughts accessible to everyone‟). Most were indifferent to tweets which they felt

did not disclose personal information being publicly accessible („‟not bad really‟, „[n]ot

bothered‟, [i]t didn't concern me too much because it wasn't as though it was personal

information‟, „I don't mind particularly‟, „I would not have put something on that was

private‟ and „[w]ith uni related tweets I don't mind. Personal ones I wouldn't like‟).

One comment indicated that university-related tweeting on a Twitter account

followed by friends could be potentially embarrassing - „[i]t's a bit embarrassing when

people ask why you're following Shakespeare and don't know it's for uni‟.

4.4.8 Combining social media with the VLE

With the exception of 4 students who felt tutors should only use institutional technologies

like the VLE to support learning, there was broad support for a combination of both the

VLE and social media to enhance course delivery. The four students who preferred the

use of institutionally-supported technologies cited the value of the VLE to their learning

experience („StudySpace [Kingston University‟s branding of Blackboard] is a good

basis/foundation for communication - we couldn't manage without it‟) and the need to

maintain a separation of curricular and personal spheres („social networking sites are for


The 12 students who claimed a preference for a hybrid approach cited: convenience („[i]t

is handy to be able to access information and news via something you already use on a

regular basis such as facebook‟); the importance of social media in various domains of

life („Facebook and Twitter are a huge part of our lives now. They're already used in

some workplaces so why not at uni?‟); a pragmatic approach that viewed both types of

technology as meeting the needs of all types of students („[t]hey're both beneficial‟, „a

combination is for the best‟ and „[u]sing both suits all types of people and activities‟);

and a preference for a more informal communication medium for certain types of

interaction („[i]t feels easier and less formal to use Twitter, particularly when you've only

got a quick question, but if you have longer, more complex questions, Studyspace is also

useful‟ and „I much prefer informal tasks in an informal space and so social networking

works for me‟).

4.4.9 Reflections on survey responses

What emerges from the survey data is a complex picture of many students aware of the

social and educational benefits of social networking sites but not engaging with the

activities because Twitter is not embedded in their regular technology-mediated practices.

Twitter is perceived to be a technology of limited functionality when compared with


4.6 Analysing student interview data

4.6.1 Introduction

I wanted to understand in more detail the ways in which students were introduced to

different technologies and how they used them in their daily lives. I was therefore

looking for narratives and „thick‟ descriptions of daily practices. I decided that interviews

- a conventional ethnographic data collection method - would be a useful way of

soliciting these stories and accounts of technology use. I conducted individual semi-

structured interviews with six students in December 2009 and early January 2010 and an

interview with the module leader. Although my choice of interviewees was determined

by those who volunteered to be contacted and is therefore another example of

convenience or non-probability sampling, they are broadly representative of the module

cohort in gender (5 women and 1 man) and age (interviewees were aged 21-22).

Moreover, interviewees were a mixture of regular twitterers and those whose

participation was more limited.

The interviews were semi-structured insofar as here were four main areas for discussion:

 students‟ attitudes to Twitter pre-module

 students‟ use of Twitter on the module

 students‟ use of Facebook

 students‟ use of institutionally-hosted technologies (e.g. VLE)

4.6.2 Attitudes to Twitter pre-module

In my analysis of earlier survey data, I argued that student perceptions of Twitter were

mixed: only two active users who had a network of contacts with whom they

communicated via Twitter, two casual users who perceived it as more of a celebrity

broadcast medium and twelve who were either indifferent to it or who viewed it more

negatively. Interview data tended to reinforce this interpretation but provided more of an

insight into why these assumptions were held.

For example, here are three accounts of the use of Twitter prior to starting Shakespeare

and Popular Culture:

I've actually got a Twitter account - I set up a different one for the module - but I
never used it, all I did was follow celebrities. When Katie [Price] and Peter
[Andre] were splitting up it was quite handy 'cos I could see what was going on.
[laughs] I've had it for about … probably May ... May time I think I set it up, and
I then I probably used it for about two weeks but I never was updating everything
I did. [...] One of my best friends, Katie, she'd actually set it up, her one first, and
she'd done the same as me, Katie and Peter were about her only friends
[laughs][...] For „celebrity stalking‟ maybe but not really so much, not a lot of my
friends had used it for kind of what they were doing so to speak. (Rosalind)

I had an account, but I didn't ever really use it. I followed quite a few people, sort
of celebrities and stuff, but I didn't check it every day. [...] I wasn't a user but I did
have an account so I was very aware of it. (Bianca)

Well, I first got a Twitter [account] because I noticed that some of the members of
my favourite bands had them. Mostly it was members of McFly who‟d all got one
and I was like „ooh, I wonder what they‟re doing‟. So, I got on Twitter so I could
follow them and then I just kind of ended up getting addicted to it. [...] Initially it
was for following celebrities and stuff but the more I got into it the more I found
more of my friends had it and I started to use it as a way of keeping in touch with
them. (Helen)

Rosalind, Helen and Bianca‟s description of their use of the service exemplifies a trend

identified in the survey data to conceptualise Twitter as a celebrity broadcast medium

with users subscribing to particular celebrity accounts in much the same way as they

might purchase a magazine in which they were featured. Bianca, for example, started to

use Twitter in order to follow preferred celebrities such as McFly, Rob Brydon, Stephen

Fry. As Helen‟s comments make clear, it is precisely this perceived celebrity connection -

an „asymmetrical‟ connection that generally implies a read-only relationship - that

provided the initial impetus for creating an account. This use of Twitter corresponds to

analysis produced by Mimi Ito and her co-researchers who have argued that young

people‟s technology use is now perhaps best seen as part of a wider media „ecology‟ in

which „more traditional media, such as books, television, and radio, are “converging”

with digital media, specifically interactive media and media for social communication‟

(Ito et al. 2008, p.8)

Also notable is how the association of Twitter with celebrity culture was shared, albeit

more critically, by the module leader who, in my interview with her claimed that:

I hate microblogging and think that it's very solipsistic. The thing Twitter was
invented to do, you know, to tell people what you're having for breakfast, I hate
that sort of thing. I think it reduces communication to the very shallow. It's part of
our celebrity culture, this kind of illusion of intimacy that actually reduces our
capability for real communication. (Hermione)

With the exception of Helen and Rosencrantz, Twitter was not used to post updates or

interact with a network of friends, family or other contacts because few students with

Twitter accounts had any meaningful set of followers with whom they could interact.

Bianca explained her lack of tweeting in these terms: „I felt a bit self-conscious, it felt a

bit weird ... it felt as if no-one really cared‟ as the absence of a network of family, friends

or other contacts („none of my friends were on it‟) made it only suitable for read-only

use. Her superficially contradictory comment that she wasn't a „user‟ although she did

„have an account‟ encapsulates this sense of a more uni-directional use of the technology.

Students interviewed claimed to have been introduced to Twitter through a combination

of both friends and family with traditional broadcast media playing the more significant

role. For example, Rosalind claimed that „[i]t was nobody I knew [encouraging her to

join Twitter], I must have just heard about it on the radio ... I think it was probably Radio

1, they did quite a big Twitter thing‟. Emilia made similar claims:

I joined about six months before the module started just because I heard a lot of
hype about it. A couple of friends had joined and I heard about it on Radio 1 and
things so I wanted to see what it was about. I was following some of the main
people like Chris Moyles and Stephen Fry, people like that, people I knew
tweeted a lot.

This is another example of „celebrity stalking‟ and of a student Twitter user not knowing

what to do with Twitter beyond following some of the key celebrities they associate with

it. Twitter doesn‟t appear to be conceptualised as a participatory medium; students found

it easy to join and to follow some celebrities but didn‟t understand why they might post

tweets or about what they would tweet. Moreover, dormant Twitter accounts were more

common than the frequently used ones:

Well, I think I started off … myself and my dad joined at the same time out of
interest and we just tested it by saying hello. And then, really, we didn‟t know
what to do with it after that. And it kind of stayed dormant for six months really. I

didn‟t really use it. […] I didn‟t tend to write much „cos I didn‟t know really what
to write. (Emilia)

4.6.3 Students’ use of Twitter on the module

I argued earlier that there was a reasonably high level of student Twitter activity in the

first four weeks bit before dropping off considerably as the semester progressed. I was

interested to learn more as to why motivation to tweet declined so steeply from mid-

semester onwards.

One student remarked that his personal learning style played a role:

My work rate is quite erratic; when certain things interest me, my brain clicks in
and I get it done. I‟m dyslexic and I forget things really easily (Rosencrantz)

Another described what she perceived to be the lack of relevance of the Twitter activities

to her priorities:

What I found with the tweeting thing, I found it a bit of a hassle to keep the
tweets going because it didn‟t seem very relevant to what I was doing. (Helen)

Helen, one of the few students to have a Twitter account prior to the start of the module,

created a separate Twitter account for the module activities but used her first, and what

she considered her main account, to interact with a wider network of over 300 contacts

whose validation and feedback she found to be more useful:

Like, for my other account, I was tweeting a lot about what I was doing. Part of
my semester-long study, the creative project, I'm doing a cartoon about Hamlet,
so what I was often doing was tweeting ideas out on that one where I knew I had
a lot more people who would respond and say 'does this idea sound like it works
and what do you think?‟ (Helen)

The main explanation given for non-completion of Twitter activities from mid-semester

onwards was that the students simply forgot to log in to Twitter:

Because I don‟t go on Twitter a lot, I didn‟t become second nature to me just to

go on it; it was something I had to think about. (Bianca)

I thought this was a useful explanation for why tweeting dropped off in November and

December: Twitter was not an embedded part of undergraduate technology-mediated

practices. Students had to remember to log on; it wasn‟t part of a daily routine and

therefore required conscious thought and effort. Bianca continued by explaining that:

Starting the module, I was quite interested to see how it would work. I started, I
did use it, and then it sort of dropped off my radar just „cos I wasn‟t using it every
day or whatever. [...] I love the idea of Twitter but I guess it's [i.e. not using it]
almost entirely because my close friends and family don't use it. My close friends
that I don't see very often, we've got a thread on Facebook, that's how we
communicate. So we don't need that [Twitter] I guess.

As students‟ workload increased as the semester progressed, many claimed they found it

difficult to find the time, or remember to find the time, to log on to Twitter and complete

the activities. As Emilia put it, „then life took over a bit‟ and, because Twitter was not a

frequently-used vernacular technology, as Bianca puts it, „it sort of dropped off [the]


A vicious circle developed as the critical mass of students twitterers did not materialise.

The failure of many to complete Twitter activities had a demotivating factor on others

leading to the virtual collapse of the pilot by December 2009:

Rosencrantz: I think there was a lack of enthusiasm for Twitter amongst the
course for the last 5 or 6 tasks. It started quite well and then steadily dropped
Tony: Was that a demotivating factor for you?
Rosencrantz: I didn‟t do some of the tasks because I‟d completely forgotten
about them. And then, people on my course who I had talked to about the Twitter
thing weren‟t really doing it either and I just sort of forgot about it.

Finally, and most interestingly for me, most of my interviewees claimed that the

experiment in using social media would have been more of a success if we had used

Facebook rather than Twitter:


I think it [Facebook] would have worked a whole lot better; I think you would
have had tweeting every day … well, not tweeting, facebooking every day, … um
… commenting every day. [...] I think if you‟d used Facebook there‟d have been a
huge response and people would have messaged each other and there would have
been a lot more going on. (Rosalind)

Tony: How would you feel about Facebook being used for educational purposes?
Bianca: I rarely use groups and events and things like that personally. But I guess
if it was this same thing [i.e. the Twitter activities] but on Facebook would I have
used it more? Possibly. But mostly because it's in my eyeline more than Twitter
was. I've had Facebook for four years, it's been in my daily routine for four years.

Tony: Do you have the sense that people of your age group are primarily
Facebook users?
Rosencrantz: I think so, yeah. More people I know would use Facebook rather
than Twitter. I think a lot of people I know don‟t see the point of Twitter if they
already have a Facebook account.
Tony: Would the project have been better as a Facebook group?
Rosencrantz: It might have lasted longer as people were reluctant to use Twitter
when they had Facebook I feel. I think a Facebook group - just because of a
prejudice against Twitter by Facebook users - would have worked faster.

The module leader‟s assessment of the decline in student tweeting is consistent with
student accounts:

Tony: Do you have a hunch as to why students failed to engage [with Twitter]?

Hermione: It's difficult to say but from my perspective - and I suspect it's the
same for them - it was yet another piece of technology to access. So, actually as a
student and a lecturer you have quite a lot of things to monitor. You know, we
have quite a lot of trouble getting these students to check their university emails.
Twitter was yet another thing and you had to make a choice to go and monitor it
and send something. They're strategic students and there's no assessment link to
this so … [raises both arms in gesture of resignation]. I think with students
having it [technology] right in their face is the most important thing. And even
frankly for me as a lecturer because I dropped the ball on Twitter after reading
week because I just got busy, I was doing a lot of teaching, there were too many
other things to think about and it was that having to make sure every week I went
to Twitter ... (Hermione).

Hermione‟s comments describe the ways in which technology users take a strategic

stance on the tools they choose - or not - to adopt in the context of work, social and

study domains and their competing priorities. Twitter was not, as I had hoped at the start

of the project, a lightweight tool that would integrate well with busy lives and mobile

personal technologies, but „yet another piece of technology to access‟. The failure of the

pilot was less about the suitability of social media in general and more about the

unsuitability of one particular social media tool. Hermione‟s comment that „having it

right in their face is the most important thing‟ underlines the need to be highly selective

in the technologies we ask our students to use; we cannot necessarily expect students to

engage in learning activities on a regular basis if it is not a technology embedded into

their daily lives.

Our students use of social networking sites was informed less, it seems, by the relative

ease-of-use or specific affordances of the technology and more by issues of identity and

affiliation. Facebook was where their life could be found; it wasn‟t be to found on


4.6.4 Students’ use of Facebook

In the survey data, Facebook emerged as the dominant digital environment in which

students were most happy to invest their time. All survey respondents bar one had

Facebook accounts and used it on a daily basis. Rosalind described to me what she likens

to a „routine‟:

… it‟s like a routine: you check your emails and you check your Facebook. You
get distracted for about an hour and then you start doing your work. But you
always leave Facebook on in the corner just in case someone might want to get in
contact with you.

Although most participants claimed to be on it at least once a day, a relatively small

number of Facebook features were used on a regular basis:

I‟m on it about twice a day … it‟s more for communication. So, rather than
emailing somebody, or phoning somebody, or texting somebody, it‟s a free way of
communicating with a friend. So, I‟ll go on to check Facebook chat, I‟ll see if
there‟s somebody there that I can ask about are you going out tonight or this, that
and the other. (Emilia)

Generally participants‟ Facebook use corresponds to other researchers‟ accounts of

undergraduate Facebook practices (Madge et al. 2009; Selwyn 2009) such as the

management of social life:

I‟ve got my 21st birthday coming up so I‟ve organised my birthday on there.


I work for the SU bars and I do karaoke nights and pub quiz and I‟ve created
groups so that people can join, keep up with when it‟s coming up next. […] I use
groups a lot „cos I‟m leader of a gospel choir. It‟s so much easier to invite 40
people to a party than to text 40 people. (Isabel)

The year reps, we've created a separate section where we update them about
things that are going on in terms of the year rep meetings, any messages from the
lecturers. […] So, we organise the meetings, we organised a party before
Christmas through that. (Emilia)

As two of the examples of Facebook use illustrate, my interviewees appear comfortable

with using Facebook for certain, more socially oriented university-related purposes.

Another Facebook literacy practice described was commenting on the travails of writing

academic assignments:

I think it‟s a place people go to when they‟re halfway through writing an essay
and they go „oh, I just can‟t take this anymore!‟ [mimics mock-despairing voice]

At the moment, especially with everyone doing their assignments, I think there‟s
a pattern where we all update whenever we‟ve passed a certain limits of words.

For example, yesterday I went from „Oh I‟ve got 800 words on my dissertation‟ to
„1,500‟ and then people comment and say the same. (Isabel)

4.6.5 Becoming a Facebook user

The processes by which students are inducted into the use of social media technologies

like Facebook and Twitter was one area I wanted to explore in greater detail in my

interviews. Without exception participants in the study were introduced to particular

social networking sites via peers as exemplified in these accounts of joining Facebook:

I got an invitation from one of my classmates ... I can‟t remember ... I got an
invitation from someone, just checked it out and quite a few people were on it and
then it steadily got a lot bigger and I was just interested in finding out about it. It
was also useful for events and stuff. It was quite good for organising events
between friends and a wider range of people in the whole 6th form. (Rosencrantz)

I was one of the last out of my friends to join Facebook. Everyone was on it and it
was when I was leaving sixth form, everyone had put their sixth form pictures up
and I was like, „give me the pictures‟ and they were like, „get on Facebook‟. And I
was like, „ok‟ [sighs]. I‟ve only been on it about three years. I was one of the last
to join and I was pushed to get on it „cos I was the odd man out. You‟ve got to go
with the crowd. (Rosalind)

I've had it [Facebook] about four years now … God that's really scary. Because it
was before I started uni, so it must be about three and a half, four years ago. […]
Maybe the beginning of my gap year. The first time I can remember Facebook is
my friend, who was at university at the time, 'cos she was 'oh it's for university
people', because when it first came out it was just purely for university students.
Because she had it, other people got it and now we've all got it and that's how we
communicate. (Bianca)

I‟m on Facebook, have been since I came here. Didn‟t know it before; in France it
wasn‟t really that big three years ago - it‟s coming now. [...] My flatmates pushed
me, they said you have to be on Facebook, that‟s how we met, like, some people
who lived in halls, you should have done that too‟. And I was like „oh, oh well I
might as well‟. (Isabel)

Just that everyone else was joining and saying how wonderful it was, you've got
to try this out. I had a MySpace account originally and a Hi5 account so I was
kind of a bit of a social pioneer. I joined those when I was a teenager. So I had
those accounts already and then suddenly everyone was talking about Facebook. I

went to see what was great and I kind of abandoned the other two when I went on
to Facebook. [...] I had Bebo as well actually. I had these three social networks
which I didn't do anything on, I just had pictures on there and occasionally spoke
to people. But then, when I saw that students, you know, sort of people in their
twenties and older were using Facebook, that's when it suddenly replaced the
teenage mediums I was using. [...] I think what happens is a few people enjoy it
and then they recommend it and everybody starts having a positive attitude
towards it. I think if a few people said it was rubbish, then it would have the same
effect and then people wouldn't want to use it. So, I think that sort of positivity
made me join it. (Emilia)

I was on LiveJournal and then I changed schools and it was like everyone at my
old school had LiveJournals so we were all talking to each other through that, and
I changed schools and no-one had heard of LiveJournal. Everyone was like „oh
no, it‟s MySpace‟ so I got on MySpace to stay in touch with them. And then my
sister, who‟s a couple of years older than me, was like „actually MySpace is on
the way out, it‟s Facebook you want‟. So, she kind of bullied me into getting a
Facebook. (Helen)

Facebook use is socially situated: it has a clear social context - the world of sixth-form

college or university. Becoming a Facebook user represents something of a rite of

passage involving the putting away childish things - what Emilia described as „teenage

mediums‟ - and becoming a young adult with a more independent and expansive social

life. My data also confirms boyd‟s description of Facebook as a digital environment

particularly attractive to young people aspiring to go to university (2007) and Mimi Ito

and her co-researchers‟ findings that social networking sites provide useful „coming of

age‟ spaces for young adults to „hang out‟ (Ito et al. 2008).

Helen‟s account is particularly interesting in providing an example of how one digital

environment - LiveJournal, a large hosting website with social networking and blogging

functionalities - was the dominant medium in the first secondary school she attended

with a relatively small year group of 30 where it became popular through word-of-mouth

and classmates inviting other classmates to join. However, LiveJournal was unheard of in

the second school she moved to later with a larger year group of close to 300 where

MySpace was the dominant service. Membership of and participation in particular digital

spaces appears to be predominantly peer-driven, age-specific and, as Helen‟s description

exemplifies, highly context-specific.

What also emerges from these stories of joining Facebook is that, rather than using an

extended technology toolset concurrently, my participants used technologies sequentially,

dropping some (e.g. Bebo, MySpace, MSN, LiveJournal) in preference to others (e.g.

Facebook) as they became the norm within their particular social group. This is a point

Rosalind makes in my interview with her:

Rosalind: Even with Facebook, it‟s kind of from 15 to 16 years up. Before
Facebook, it was Bebo and MySpace - MySpace is still quite popular but with
music people. But definitely Bebo for the younger teens it seems to be where it‟s
at and then you grow.

Me: Did you go through that route?

Rosalind: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean back in the day it was MSN for us and then it
was Bebo, MySpace and then Facebook appeared.

Although this process of peer brokerage would appear to support digital nativist

arguments about the specificity of youth technology culture, it is interesting to note that

two out of my six interviewees cited their parents as having an influence on their use of

and attitudes to technology as in Emilia‟s explanation of her purchase of an Apple


Tony: What attracted you to the iPhone?

Emilia: To be honest, my dad's a big [Apple] Mac freak …

Tony: I'd like him, I think we'd get on … [laughs]

Emilia: [laughs] … so he kind of persuaded me into it … he sort of brainwashed

me into thinking it was the best „phone to have. And my boyfriend, he's got an
iPhone so he sort of brainwashed me ... but actually it's useful, I find it good value
for money 'cos it's got a bit of everything on it. I don't need a laptop now, I can

use this and then I can have a desktop and it would still be just as good.

In Emilia‟s account, both father („digital immigrant‟) and boyfriend („digital native‟)

come together in their shared enthusiasm for the iPhone and influence her choice of

technology. Isabel relates another story of a parent predisposing her daughter towards


Tony: You‟ve actually got quite a rich history of digital engagement as a writer.
Isabel: It‟s all my mum‟s fault. [laughs]
Tony: [laughs] Why‟s that?
Isabel: She works at home - she‟s a translator - and when computers first came
out she got one. The screens were all yellow and black and I‟d play on it. Then
she got the internet - really bad, horrible connection when the modem had to load.
By some magazine I got a penpal in Canada and I used to write to her a lot. At
some point mum got her computer and I got mine and I started to use it a lot.
Tony: Would you say then that your early introduction to technology was
brokered through your mother‟s engagement as a technology user?
Isabel: She‟s just as bad as I am - not on Facebook - but she belongs to several
email groups for her work and for personal stuff. She‟s on, I think, a French
blogging community.

4.6.6 Students’ use of institutionally-supported technologies

Like most of the modules offered at Kingston University, Shakespeare and Popular

Culture is based around weekly face-to-face sessions. However, university email and the

Blackboard VLE are used to extend and continue communication and resource sharing

beyond the limitations of the teaching spaces used and the scheduled contact hours.

Although there have been claims that VLEs are no longer appropriate to today‟s „digitally

native‟ students - „VLEs are likely to be replaced by Web 2.0, which is more suited to the

individualistic temperament, skills, and requirements of teachers and learners‟ (Brown

2010: 8) - my interviewees claimed that logging into university email and the VLE were

regular, although not daily practices. Isabel, for example, logs into her Kingston

University email account „probably once, sometimes twice a week‟ and claims that it‟s

useful for library updates „which constantly remind me I have a fine‟. She praises

Blackboard - „that‟s already amazing, the fact that the teachers can post everything

online‟ and logs on at strategic points in the semester to access module guides, reading

lists and, where available, lecture notes („if I miss lectures - I don‟t usually miss lectures

- or if, for example, I didn‟t take enough notes, I will go [i.e. log on]‟). It‟s a similar story

from Bianca: „I go on it three or four times a week just to check updates on modules and

stuff, mostly for information, not necessarily for message boards‟. Rosencrantz, although

less keen, uses Blackboard „to get information from my courses‟ and has a shortcut to it

on the quick tabs on his computer‟s browser. Also mentioned by one student was the

university‟s student intranet site:

I go on StudentSpace [Kingston University student intranet site and portal to

other institutional services] a lot to check library information: library times, fines,
things like that ... books. I also check my uni email which if I could, if I knew
how to, I‟d put my emails through my Mac account as I find it frustrating „cos
you have to sign in every time. And I use it for Blackboard to look at module
information. (Emilia)

5. Conclusions

5.1 Is Twitter a vernacular technology?

Twitter use was not widespread amongst the study‟s participants with only around 25%

of the module cohort having an account prior to starting the Shakespeare and Popular

Culture. This figure broadly consistent with data on Twitter use among young people

(McGiboney 2009; Sysomos Inc. 2009) gathered around the same time as the pilot.

Moreover, few on Twitter used it as a social networking tool (i.e. as a participatory

medium). Rather, it was viewed as a broadcast medium that was part of a more

conventional media „ecology‟ (e.g. celebrity culture). It is not a question of Twitter being

poorly understood by 18-22 year-olds; rather, their understandings of it differ from those

held by many educationalists including myself. Instead of viewing Twitter as a social

networking tool used as a means of interacting with a network of friends and other

contacts, my participants viewed it primarily as a tool that allowed them read-only

subscription to the news feeds of more famous others.

Questions of identity and affiliation informed my participants‟ use of technologies: the

desire to be part of a particular social circle or join with like-minded others into the same

things were key to adoption and use of one digital tool - Facebook - over another -

Twitter. I have attempted to argue in this study that all technologies are, to a degree,

social, that is to say, embedded in particular contexts, enabling particular activities and

connecting people in different ways. For my Twitter project participants, the adoption of

some technologies over others had less to do with their respective ease of use or specific

affordances, but, rather, with the personally meaningful practices they enabled and the

networks they supported. Technology adoption, then, is about culture and not simply

about convenience.

5.2 Can Twitter support the development of learning communities in


There is some evidence from the case study in terms of both Twitter activity and survey

responses that Twitter can, indeed, support the development of online communities in

more formal learning contexts. However, there is also evidence from the case study that

not all students are willing to use Twitter or are comfortable replicating within the

curricular sphere literacy practices they associate with the personal sphere. There was

also overwhelming evidence from the survey and the semi-structured interviews that

Facebook was the preferred social media option.

5.3 Do students prefer the use of social media over technologies like the

In spite of claims that social media is better suited to support learning than the VLE

(Brown 2010), student use of the VLE is a valued and accepted practice. Only one

student felt the social media should be used in preference to the VLE, with a majority of

respondents opting for a hybrid approach in which institutionally-hosted technologies

like Blackboard were combined with social media tools that are used in their daily lives

(i.e. currently Facebook to the exception of all others).


5.4 How accurate are the discourses of digital nativism in defining

learning preferences?

My analysis of an admittedly non-generalisable small-scale case study is broadly

consistent with other research that has problematised digital nativist claims of a radical

change in students‟ technology skills and expectations (Bennett et al. 2008; Burhanna et

al. 2009; Hargittai 2010). This study is also about how we - as academics and researchers

- misconstrue students‟ willingness to engage with new digital tools and environments.

We construct an „otherised‟ or „exoticised‟ student whose presumed „tech savviness‟

make him/her always ready to explore new technologies (Herring 2008). The reality,

however, as this case study as well as a number of other research studies have shown

(Ipsos MORI 2007; JISC 2007; Jones & Lea 2008; Kennedy et al. 2009; Margaryan &

Littlejohn 2008; Salaway et al. 2008; Traxler 2008) is more complex. Rather than

possessing a common high level of web-based skills and a willingness to apply them to a

range of settings, I have argued that my participants are technology users of differentiated

skill levels and concur with Eszter Hargittai that „systematic differences are present in

how people incorporate digital media into their lives‟ (2010: 109). To reprise her

formulation (Hargittai 2010), there were as many „digital naives‟ as „digital natives‟

amongst the participating students. What I found interesting was that, although student

participants had a history of use of a range of digital tools, they tended not to use

multiple technologies concurrently. Rather, they moved from one restricted technology

toolset to another according to age and social context. For example, MySpace and MSN

when at school, but Facebook tending to replace both technologies when students were in

6th form, starting their gap year or entering higher education.


5.5 Are fears of social media technologies leading to a decline in

‘traditional’ academic skills and literacies justified?

In my introduction I argued that, in the narratives around learning technologies, social

media tools had been constructed as offering both „promise and threat‟ (Hand 2008).

There is certainly a perception that Twitter represents a threat to accepted academic

literacies. However, my analysis of student Twitter activities provide no confirmation of

such fears. There is a similarity in some of the comments made by academics in the USA

about Twitter (Faculty Focus 2009) with earlier anxieties about the negative influence of

'txtspk', the varieties of languages used in SMS messages, that researchers have proven to

be similarly unfounded (Carrington 2005; Crystal 2008). I found no evidence that tweets

cannot be used for educationally meaningful exchanges. Indeed, many of the student

respondents felt that tweeting – and its requirement to be succinct – constituted a

valuable intellectual challenge. Although a more detailed and sustained exposition and

analysis of abstract ideas may be the desired „final product‟ or end goal, not all linguistic

interactions during undergraduate study need to be lengthy: Twitter can be used well to

gather short initial thoughts, share resources, post questions and queries.

5.6 Concluding remarks

Twitter occupies an awkward space: neither part of the institutionally-supported digital

environments and toolset accepted by students and used within their „curricular sphere of

practice‟ (Jones & Lea 2008) nor currently part of the digital services used in their

„personal sphere of practice‟. As such, Twitter initiatives risk being marginalised, falling

outside the repertoire - both dominant and vernacular - of the technology-enabled literacy

practices of the very students we wish to engage.


Fig 3: Twitter at the margins of curricular and personal spheres of practice


6. Recommendations

6.1 Two technologies, equal in dignity?

Facebook remains, at the time of writing, the dominant digital environment used for a

range of vernacular literacy practices. It occupies a quasi monopoly position in the

market for young people‟s attention largely due to the so-called „network effect‟ or

value that users ascribe to the site due to its popularity with other users.

My recommendation to higher education practitioners interested in exploring the

potential of social media for social (e.g. pre-induction support) or more formal learning

purposes (e.g. quick summaries, resource sharing, progress updates, posting questions

on a module) is to consider using a Facebook group instead of Twitter.

6.2 What are Facebook’s key features?

Key Facebook functionality includes:

 profile pages for users to list personal details, interests and activities;

 „granular‟ access controls enabling users to fine tune their own privacy


 communications tools such as email, instant messaging, a „wall;

 document upload facilities for sharing videos and images;

 the ability to incorporate a range of other applications (e.g. wikis,


6.3 What is a Facebook group?

A group is a space within Facebook enabling users to come together about a common

cause or area of interest. Facebook groups enable users to exchange information and

share content with one another without the intimacy implied by becoming „friends‟. All

the Facebook functionality listed above is possible within group pages.

The only content students will be able to access is that which has been added to the

Facebook group itself (e.g. wall posts, images, videos, links posted within that

particular shared space by group members). All content from personal Facebook

accounts is unavailable to the group members. The only way students would be able to

view content from personal pages is if the privacy settings have been enabled to allow

more open access. Web tools are available to verify and correct Facebook privacy


6.4 Should staff members accept friendship requests from students?

My recommendation is that it is inadvisable to accept friendship requests from students.

Research would indicate that students prefer to keep personal and curricular spheres

separate (Jones & Lea 2008; Selwyn 2009) every bit as much as staff. Facebook groups

create a more neutral space, a walled garden within Facebook‟s larger walled garden,

enabling interaction without compromising users‟ privacy.


6.5 Who owns the IPR of content posted to Facebook?

Use of any externally-hosted social networking sites to deliver course-related materials

has intellectual property implications for individual teaching staff as well as the

University. This is certainly the case with Facebook. Currently, the author owns all of

the content and information posted on Facebook and can control how that content is

shared through privacy and application settings. However, authors also grant Facebook

a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to use

any content posted on Facebook. My recommendation would be to use Facebook‟s

communication tools in the main and to be sparing in the amount of content (e.g.

videos, images) posted directly to the site.

6.6 Should I use Facebook as a substitute for the institutional VLE?

I think that Facebook works well as a semi-formal space and is therefore better suited

to such activities as pre-induction and induction week support, student societies and

other informal groupings. I do not consider Facebook to be an appropriate substitute for

the VLE but an additional resource which is especially useful in particular contexts

where a less formal communication medium is appropriate.



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Appendix 1: Research Information Sheet

Appendix 2: Twitter: An Introduction

Appendix 3: Creating your Twitter account

Appendix 4: Following people on Twitter

Appendix 5: A glossary of key Twitter terms

Appendix 6: Twitter activities for Shakespeare and Popular Culture

Appendix 7: Twitter student questionnaire

Appendix 8: Twitter interview questions

Appendix 9: University Research Ethics Application Form

Appendix 1

Promoting student
engagement with
Background to the study
This LearnHigher (

· resource sharing;
· dialogue (student-to-student, student-to-lecturer);

hard copy;
3. a one-hour individual interview that will be recorded and transcribed.

the purposes of the study.

contact him by phone (020 8547 7769) or e-mail (

Thank you very much for your assistance.

This resource was produced with the support of LearnHigher and is released under the terms of Licence.
Appendix 2

Twitter: An Introduction

What is Twitter?

elements of Facebook status updates, instant messaging, text messaging and email.

reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent at the top).

holder decides to make them private, in which case, they are only accessible to approved

tweets by the account holder as well as the users they are following.

message. On some mobile phone networks (e.g. currently Vodaphone, O2, 3 and Orange in
the UK), users can view tweets from users they are following as text messages. There are

(e.g. iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia) that make sending, organising and reading tweets easier for
the mobile user.

This resource was produced with the support of LearnHigher and is released under the terms of Licence.
Appendix 3

Creating your Twitter account

, click on the green Sign
up now

• We’d recommend you skip Step1: Find sources that interest you, Step 2: Find your
friends and Step 3: Search for anyone by clicking on the blue Next step

Once you’ve created your account you can start making it your own:

• Clicking on (top right) allows you to:

o protect your tweets (we don’t recommend this)
o enable geotagging

• Clicking on
o adding a picture of yourself or an image that you’d like to represent you

• Clicking on Mobile lets you register your mobile phone. This is useful as It will allow you
to send tweets as text messages and, depending on your network, view tweets as text
messages too.

• Clicking on
messages via the email address you have used to create your account.

This resource was produced with the support of LearnHigher and is released under the terms of Licence.
Appendix 4

Following people on Twitter

follow you.

Find People in the menu bar on the top right and

then type in the name of the person you are looking for in the search box that appears.

more reliable way of following the right people.

page then click the Follow

This resource was produced with the support of LearnHigher and is released under the terms of Licence.
Appendix 5

A glossary of key Twitter terms

avatar: the picture (usually in .jpg, .gif or .png format) you select to represent you as part

desktop client:
tweets more easily

direct messages: similar to

but which, unlike
think of direct messages as being like SMS messages or email

favorites: it’s possible to ‘bookmark’ or ‘favorite’ a tweet by clicking on the star icon that

Facebook friends

follow you

hashtags: a character string – e.g. #shakespeare - inserted into tweets; hashtags enable
tweets and allow otherwise unconnected to
come together

tweets that include @username

recipients; tweets
you’re replying to

mobile apps:
phones (e.g. iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia) for that make sending, organising and reading
tweets easier

retweets: tweets posted to the that copy the content of another person’s
tweet in order to share it more widely; a retweet usually acknowledges the original
author (@username) and is the main way

the online newsfeed or stream that displays your tweets, and the tweets of the
people you’re following, in reverse chronological order

tweet: short post or update of no longer than 140 characters which can include hyperlinks

name (if available) or a nickname (we recommend you keep it short though)

This resource was produced with the support of LearnHigher and is released under the terms of Licence.
Appendix 6

Week 1 (2 October):
Introduction. Playing on Shakespeare’s Stage
Twitter task: Set up your twitter account and follow the module feed.

Week 2 (9 October):
Staging Sexual Morality

sleep with Angelo?’ and justify your answer.

Week 3 (16 October):

Wild Women
Twitter task: Tweet as if you are the character of Katherine responding to all of the critical

sincere or not. Did you really mean it?

Week 4 (23 October):

Talking about Love
Twitter tasks: (2 this week)
1. Tweet an idea for your creative project.
2. Tweet a love poem in the voice of Romeo or Juliet.

Week 5 (30 October):

Political Fantasy
Mid-point module review
Twitter tasks: (2 this week)
1. Tweet one good thing about the module.
2. Tweet one thing about the module you would like to be changed.


There will be no formal seminar this week.
Your proposals for your essay and project are due to me by e-mail at the end of the
Twitter task: Tweet about how you are progressing with your proposals.
Week 7 (13 November):
Playing and Moral Identity
Twitter task: Tweet one helpful secondary source you have found for your essay that isn’t
on the module reading list.

Part II: Shakespeare Now

Week 8 (20 November):

On the Edge
Twitter tasks: (2 this week)
Tweet as a minor character from any Shakespeare play other than Hamlet.
Tweet a link to an adaptation of Shakespeare (videos, fan fiction, poetry, visuals, etc)

Week 9 (27 November):

The Play’s the Thing
Twitter task: (2 this week)
1. Tweet your working thesis for your extended essay.
2. Tweet about how Shakespeare functions in Terry Pratchett’s novel.

Week 10 (4 December):
Teenage Shakespeare
Twitter task: Tweet an answer to the question, ‘How conservative are teenage Shake-
speare adaptations, in particular in relation to gender? Does it matter if they are?’
Drafts of your essay and project are due to me by the end of the session this week.

Week 11 (11 December):

Post?-Modern Shakespeare
Twitter task: Tweet on the contrasting attitudes toward the power of language in Shake-
speare in Love and Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code.

Week 12 (14-16 December):

Individual Tutorials will be held in the first half of the week. There will be no formal
Twitter task: Tweet on a question or problem you are having with your essay or project.
Appendix 7

Section A. a bit about you and technology

1. Are you: male female

2. How old are you? 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 other

3. Had you heard of Twitter before starting this module? yes no

4. What were your general impressions of Twitter before starting the module?

5. Did you have a Twitter account before starting the module? yes no

6. Are you a Facebook user? yes no

7. Do you feel Twitter - and technologies like it (i.e. involving social networking, 'microcontent', mobile
devices) - will be relevant to you both socially and professionally post-graduation?

yes no

Please explain your answer.

B. You, Twitter and this module

8. During the module did you access Twitter via a mobile device?! yes ! no

If you answered yes please specify the device you used (e.g. BlackBerry)

9. Did you enjoy the Twitter activities?! ! ! ! ! yes ! no

Please explain your answer.

10. Did you feel the Twitter activities presented you with a new kind of intellectual challenge?

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! yes ! no

Please explain your answer.

11. Did you feel the use of Twitter on this module helped build community?

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! yes ! no

Please explain your answer.

12. Twitter, unlike Facebook, tends to be publicly accessible. How do you feel about your tweets being

13. In your opinion, should tutors:

! a) stick to using institutional technologies like StudySpace to support learning?!
! b) use external tools that have a better fit with students' uses of technology !
! (e.g. mobile phones, social networking sites like Facebook)? 
! c) a combination of both types of technology?! ! ! ! ! !

Please explain your answer.

14. After the first session of the module, Erica said you were "sceptical but willing to give it a go". How do
you feel about Twitter's relevance to formal HE study now:

! a) as sceptical as before?!
! b) less sceptical?! !
! c) more sceptical?! !

Please explain your answer.

15. This survey is anonymous. However, if you would you like your survey responses to be entered into a
prize draw for a new iPod Shuffle please write your student number (e.g. k065432) in the space below.
We will only match the student number to a name in the case of the winner.
Appendix 8

Semi-structured interview questions (notes for self)

1. Attitude to Twitter pre-module

were you on Twitter before?

if no, why not?

if yes, can you tell us what you used it for (e.g. reading or posting; friends or celebs)?

what did you think about Twitter generally?

2. Your use of Twitter on the module

types of tweet you posted

frequency/infrequency of tweeting

3. Attitudes to and use of SNSs like Facebook

are you on Facebook?

what do you use it for?

how frequently do you log on to read or post?

would the project have worked better on Facebook?

how do you feel about tutors using Facebook for university purposes?

4. Use of technologies in general

do you have a mobile? what do you use it for?

StudySpace? do you use it? how often? what for? general impressions.

do you have a personal email account? what for? how often?

Appendix 9

University Research Ethics Application Form

for Undergraduate & Postgraduate-Taught Students
This form has been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee (‘U-REC’)

Who decides if ethics approval is required and, if required, who decides which ethics review
procedure (e.g. University, NHS, alternative) applies? Your Supervisor decides this.

If the UERProcedure applies, who decides if your proposed project should be classed as ‘low
risk’ or potentially ‘high risk’? Your Supervisor decides this.

Complete this form if you are an undergraduate or a postgraduate-taught student who

plans to undertake a research project which will not involve the NHS but which will involve
people participating in research either directly (e.g. interviews, questionnaires) and/or
indirectly (e.g. people permitting access to data and/or tissue).

Documents to enclose with this form, where appropriate:

This form should be accompanied, where appropriate, by an
Information Sheet/Covering Letter/Written Script which informs the prospective participants
about the proposed research, and/or by a Consent Form.

Further guidance on how to apply is at:

Guidance on the three ethics review procedures that together comprise the University’s
Ethics Review System (i.e. on the University’s procedure, the NHS procedure, the Alternative
procedure) is at:

Once you have completed this research ethics application form in full, and other
documents where appropriate, check that your name, the title of your research project
and the date is contained in the footer of each page.

If your Supervisor has classed the project as ‘low risk’:

Email this form, together with other documents where applicable, to your Supervisor; and
Sign and date Annex 1 of this form and provide a paper copy to your Supervisor.
Important Note for Supervisors:
Following the ethics review the Supervisor must provide the academic department’s Ethics
Administrator with a copy of the ‘low risk’ research ethics application that s/he reviewed and
with a copy of the ethics decision that s/he took in relation to it. The Ethics Administrator
reserves the right to consult the Chair of the academic department’s Ethics Review Panel of
s/he has concerns that projects classed as low risk should in fact have been classed as
potentially high risk.

If your Supervisor has classed the project as potentially ‘high risk’:

Email this form, together with other documents where applicable, to your department’s
Ethics Administrator; and
Ask your Supervisor to sign and date Annex 2 of this form and provide a paper copy of it
to your department’s Ethics Administrator.
Ethics Administrators are listed at: