Tweeting For Learning

Tweeting for learning: A critical analysis of research on microblogging in education published in 2008–2011

F Gao, T Luo, K Zhang – British Journal of Educational Technology 43.5 (2012): 783-801.

I came across this article when searching for microblogging papers. It is a useful article in that it summarises the research done between 2008 and 2011 on microblogging, or more succinctly, microblogging in education (MIE). It is worth a read due to the design of the study. What the authors did was to try and look specifically at evidence for the benefit of MIE whilst excluding opinion pieces and review articles. During my various searches, I have come across a lot of opinion pieces which although relevant, do not always provide the evidence for benefit. This paper is essentially a systematic review. Due to the variety of the included studies, it isn’t a meta analysis but it does provide a nice summary. One can delve further into the individual studies if one wants to and I hope the title above links to a free text version of the paper.

The article attempted to answer 4 research questions:

  1. What types of research were conducted on MIE?
  2. How was microblogging used for teaching and learning in these studies?
  3. What educational benefits did MIE have on teaching and learning as identified in these studies?
  4. What are the suggestions and implications for future MIE research?

The method involved is one of the clearer descriptions I have read in a paper for a while and I would recommend reading this part of the paper. Four rounds of searches identified a total of 21 papers which met the criteria for inclusion. They were then analysed. Reassuringly some of the papers I have already reviewed plus ones which are pending were included in the datasets so I did feel a bit smug. It rated the paper by Ebner et Al as having greater validity (sample size, duration etc). Another rated highly is by Kop et Al available here which I haven’t read yet. The submission date in October is getting closer and every time I scratch the surface, another paper pops up.

RESULTS

The article described the papers included. These varied in several ways. For example a couple explored microblogging in the context of a conference and the positive effect of real time feedback and questions to the lecturer/presenter. Most were set in higher education. The sample size varied greatly. My own view is that this is less important as these tend not to be quantitative studies. The duration varied as well. A conference or lecture may only last a few hours yet some of the interventions extended to 2 semesters. Ebner’s study lasted 6 weeks yet was very labour intensive & meticulous. It also drew some very balanced conclusions.

The areas further identified and explored by the authors are: Who is participating? When to learn? What to learn? How to learn? Participation and Engagement; Reflective thinking; Collaborative learning.

The ‘who’ and ‘when’ are fairly straightforward. Examples of who given include delegates at conferences and the when is essentially at anytime. The concept of education when & where you want it. MIE has been used for informal communication outside of the classroom sustaining engagement by posting updates and relevant links.

A lot of the positive benefits of MIE have already been described when looking at collaboration and these are all positive effects in the studies looked at. The remaining ‘how’ is a bit more interesting. ‘Fostering interactive activities’ and ‘encouraging informal learning’ are known strengths of MIE. The main educational effect from the review was the development of learning communities, promoting interaction between conversations between students as well as students and teachers. MIE is not meant to be a conversation tool but using the @ prefix achieved this. My own experience is that this is not the case but by flagging with a #, response and conversations are more likely. Apart from all these, there was no objective evidence on the educational impact of MIE. For example better scores in assessments. This is discussed in their future research suggestions. Only one of the studies was experimental, the rest being descriptive. This is what I am finding. Whilst these studies are important, it would be good to find an experimental study which perhaps compared marks with & without a Web 2.0 tool. This would be dependant on students being without their smartphones for a period or not using SNS, something which may prove more challenging.

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