Communities of practice and learning? Making connections through social media (Twitter)


Future Students


Students’ use of microblogging service Twitter suggests interesting potential for them to make valuable connections with professional practitioners in their field, and for peer and informal learning. This session discusses a study of MA Journalism students’ use of Twitter, which found a relatively high and sophisticated level of activity.


Jonathan Hewett (City University London)

Newspaper journalists are increasingly using social media as a form of reportage, so Jonathan decided to embed the micro-blogging tool into his Newspaper Journalism MA. He pointed out that, although studies had been done on the use of Twitter in education, very little research had been done on the students’ use of Twitter. He therefore set out to study his own students’ usage.

Previous versions of the programme have required students to blog and encouraged them to use social media, and Twitter was seen as a natural progression. This allowed the students to make contact with each other, the faculty and the wider newspaper industry. Of all of the students participating, 100% had prior experience of blogs and 15% had prior experience of Twitter, so the majority were comfortable with social media in general but not specifically Twitter.

In a basic analysis of the students’ usage, Jonathan highlighted four main uses:

  • Creating industry contacts
  • Sharing sources
  • Conversational usage
  • Connecting with alumni

Over the course of the study his 18 students tweeted 6754 times in total, so a full qualitative study will take some time to complete. Jonathan therefore decided to analyse the frequency of the commonly used Twitter shortcuts; namely tweets directed at users (using the @ symbol), tweets containing links, and tweets containing hash-tags (indicating a level of complexity in use). His results showed that:

  • 37-133% of a user’s tweets used @ (the 133% is explained by the fact that a tweet can contain a number of @s)
  • 29% of tweets overall sent links (though the majority were sent by four of the students)
  • Only 7% used # tags (this can probably be attributed to the fact that they were relatively new to tweeting)

He also surveyed the students and found that:

  • The majority (76%) of students found it most useful/interesting to follow professional journalists
  • 60% of students found it useful to follow student colleagues
  • 72% had tweeted to ask for help or advice
  • ~50% (poor note-taking by me!) had given help or advice in response
  • 48% found Twitter useful for extending contacts
  • 80% of students mentioned Twitter in their blogs, and 52% in their CV or at interview

Analysing students’ opinions on the use of Twitter, they considered that it was most useful for learning from other journalists, self-promotion and journalistic research, whereas they considered blogs to be more useful for finding out about journalism as a subject area.

Jonathan has generated some very interesting results from his students’ usage, and he hasn’t finished yet. I think some interesting data can be gleaned from the qualitative analysis of the tweets, but perhaps some of the metadata in the tweets can also be used, perhaps identifying if particular subjects/uses of Twitter are more prevalent on certain types of device or software. Perhaps also the analysis of geo-tagged tweets may also prove fruitful.

Twitter is proving to be a useful tool in education, but mainly for those disciplines where tweeting is standard practice in the graduate workplace. I think that more interesting usage, and therefore more fruitful analysis, will be possible only when Twitter becomes as ubiquitous as other social media such as Facebook.

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