OU Student use of Twitter

An AL, and OU doctoral student, discusses Twitter; why OU students might find it useful; and some thoughts on the recent #OUResults hashtag.


What is Twitter?

Twitter is a Social Networking Service where users post or ‘tweet’ messages which are seen by their followers. However, as tweets are public (unless your profile is private) the use of hashtags and the search facility allows other users to search for any topic they’re interested in. Hashtags are a type of code which users attach to messages to allow other users to easily search and follow a topic or discussion e.g. #BlackLivesMatter, #Covid. This means your tweet can ‘reach’ many more people.

Tweets can also be referred to as ‘microblogging’, a combination of blogging and short instant messages where you can link text, images, audio and hyperlinks. Advantages of microblogging include less time to create content, easy to use on mobile devices, frequent posts and quick and easy to reach your followers. Twitter currently has 217m daily active users and over 500m tweets are sent every day. Meanwhile 2 billion searches are carried out on the platform so the reach is enormous. It’s all about engagement and making connections.

Is Twitter beneficial for OU students?

Hall & Dodd’s (2017) research showed that Twitter was particularly effective in ‘encouraging contact between students and faculty, promoting active learning, and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning’. This is extremely useful for distance learners at the OU giving us a chance to make connections with people on our modules or just others going through a similar OU journey to us. However, we can’t overlook the possible disadvantages as well. The table below gives a summary of the key pros and cons of using Twitter as an OU student.

Benefits

Disadvantages

Uses technology you know

May feel excluded if you don’t use Twitter

Quick and easy to access

Prioritise Twitter and don’t connect with forums and email 

Informal platform

More communication channels to deal with

Instant replies and feedback 

Wondering where to post questions

Links OU study to your everyday media use

Information overload

Engage in discussions, ask questions

Widens gap between old/young, rich/poor, those comfortable with using the internet

Access to a wide range of information 

Variation in academic level of tweet – can put off high achievers or those struggling

Peer support, contact fellow students

Character limitations – learn concise writing

Share resources

Choose what information you share

OU accounts on Twitter

The Open University is very active on Twitter through various accounts. The main @OpenUniversity account has over 170,000 followers and regularly tweets about registration deadlines, BBC collaborations while celebrating OU student successes. The @OUStudents account, run by the OU Students Association, has 31,400 followers and tweets about student support and upcoming events. Many central academics and ALs are also on Twitter and tweet about things of interest to them and/or their students. Your tutor may mention if they use Twitter in their introduction email or at tutorials. This can be a good way for students to keep up to date with research in their field. At the same time, loads of OU students regularly use Twitter to keep in touch with other OU students and make connections. If you want to see who is tweeting about OU related topics, try a Twitter search of #OpenUniversity or #OUstudents. You can then scroll down to see what people are tweeting about and you can follow whoever’s tweets you find interesting. Over time, Twitter may also recommend other Twitter users you can follow which can help to build your connection with other OU students. You could even search for your module code, such as #S111, to see if anyone is tweeting about it.

The OU Library have prepared some Twitter guides to help you get started if you’re new to Twitter including Making the most of Twitter and How to write an effective tweet.

#OUResults hashtag trends on Twitter

You may have heard that the recent flurry of Twitter activity around OU Results day led to the hashtag #OUResults trending on Twitter. This happens when lots of people are tweeting in a short space of time using the same hashtag. I used NodeXL Pro to analyse tweets with the #OUresults hashtag in the 7 days up to 22nd July 2022. The timeline below shows that most activity occurred on 18th and 19th July with about 800 tweets on 18th July alone.

NodeXL also provides text and sentiment analysis. Within these tweets, there were over 200 instances of words like congratulations, amazing and proud. There were 121 instances of the word pair ‘well done’ and 81 instances of ‘huge congratulations’. The sentiment analysis showed that the messages were 5 times more positive than negative.

A picture containing sky, colorful, day, several  Description automatically generated

This image used NodeXL Pro to visualise the Twitter network created by those tweeting with the #OUResults hashtag. Each coloured shape is a Twitter user. Their location in the network suggests how close they are to others based on how they interacted with other #OUresults tweets. The larger blue circle in the centre is the @OpenUniversity account which, unsurprisingly, is in the centre of the network. However, what is more interesting is how tightly connected all the other users are in the network. The main group in the centre is very closely connected which, according to Pew Research, suggests an online community. The wider second circle is more of a broadcast group which is made up of users who have reacted to an #OUResults tweeted but have no further connections with others in the network. This might be family or friends outside of the OU who reacted to a student tweeting about their #OUResults. 

Views of OU students using Twitter

My doctoral research is looking into how OU students communicate on Twitter in more detail, particularly around this concept of ‘community’ and it’s been wonderful to see how these visualisations demonstrate the connections that OU students build on Twitter. As part of my research, I carried out ten interviews with OU students using Twitter where students described Twitter as the ‘place where all the good stuff is’ and even ‘an online leisure centre’. Twitter is seen as a fun distraction after a busy study day but also a great place to make connections with fellow students with quotes like ‘I’m surrounded by people like me’; ‘Twitter is definitely a place for connection and support’. Another benefit is following and connecting with leading academics in the topic you’re studying. One student explained ‘I think Twitter has democratised academia, it’s made it more human. It’s made people more approachable.’

I hope you’ll consider using Twitter alongside your OU studies. If you’ve got an account, check out some of the accounts or searches I’ve mentioned and see what comes up. Happy Tweeting 😊


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Olivia Kelly

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