Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Trial – Preparations and Week 1 Report

Over the four weeks of the trial, these blog posts will report on the progress of the pilot study, indicating processes undertaken, participant feedback, lessons learned and recommendations.

The trial, testing the potential of micro-blogging and social bookmarking tools Twitter and Diigo to enhance collaborative learning on the MA/MSc in Creative Technologies, has made a positive start with reasonable levels of participation.

During the preparation stages, a four-week scheme of Twitter and Diigo activities was designed outlining weekly aims, researcher activity, participant activity, task assessment and tool evaluation methods. The four-week trial will test the tools for their potential to assess prior knowledge, to encourage dialogue and debate between students, to provide intersession support/learning and to collect feedback and evaluations. See the scheme of activities on Slideshare

Preparations for the trial started with a literature search, highlighting case studies and examples of using micro-blogging and social bookmarking in educational settings. The literature has helped to refine the purpose of the enquiry and has provided a background and rationale for this study.

Invitation emails were distributed to 56 students from Masters cohorts, starting from 2007 through to students due to join the Masters programme in September 2011. With invitation take up rate reaching 20%, it was decided that the pilot would go ahead as a small-scale test.

A good return rate of completed initial questionnaires indicated a majority view that implementing tools on the Masters programme would have a beneficial effect on sharing information and networking. Barriers to participation were identified as lack of time and lack of experience in using the tools. A small number of participants commented that Google + would have been their preferred tool.
A small percentage of the participants have highlighted technical issues with Diigo not being compatible with dated browsers and with the Diigo site being periodically unavailable.

The following data sets will be collected for the pilot study:
• A short questionnaire to establish current opinion of IOCT information sharing methods and assess attitudes towards using Twitter and Diigo tools.
• Researchers log of observations of participation and engagement
• Statistical information through TwapperKeeper, The Archivist and Twitter Counter
• Feedback from participants via Twitter, email or blog post comments.
• Post pilot questionnaire to evaluate the pilot and provide feedback

Using principles of triangulation, data will be analysed in relation to researcher observations and feedback from participants.

Over the preparation period and the initial week of the trial several questions have developed as areas to un-pick and explore further. Collaboration is difficult – why? Attitudes to using Twitter and Diigo range from positive and upbeat to distinctively cynical. Why is this? Keeping track of asynchronous communications posted in the Twitter stream is time consuming and posts can easily be missed. How would this affect assessed Twitter activities? What issues would this raise for module leaders with large class numbers?

The trial may have benefited from being piloted as part of a Masters programme module, as this would have increased the relevance of the activities. Activities could have been set against module content and module assessment criteria.

Participation from academic collaborators would have been more likely if the pilot could have been arranged to take place during term time. Take up in participation generally, may have increased if the trial was not taking place over the main holiday period.

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