Twitter, engagement and grades

With new research indicating the value to students of using the micro-blogging site Twitter the case for blending learning and for encouraging learning through to collaboration appears to be further cemented into place. The paradigm shift from teaching to learning did not occur because of the technologies but because of their application by those interested in innovative educational concepts and flexible learning modes. What part has the OU has played in the shift towards the mainstreaming of these ideas?


Before the internet increased the possibilities for peer-to-peer communication the OU was considering the best ways to use technological developments to encourage students to use their senses and be active in their learning. Determined to overcome the problems of one-way ‘transmission’ of ideas, from the 1970s it sought to use books, television and cassettes to support interaction. Printed course materials had places in the books where students could write down their responses and ideas. Walter Perry felt that the television programmes ‘probably have a subtle effect in fostering a spirit of comradeship amongst distance learners’. He stressed that ‘Open Forum plays an important role in our informal communications system’. From 1978 audio-cassettes were introduced and employed to encourage students to engage. They were relatively inexpensive, under academic control and they could be more easily integrated with other material. 40,000 cassettes went out in 1978 and 500,000 by 1983. Sold at 75p each they were popular with students who liked the informality and flexibility of cassettes. Initially audio cassettes were used to store radio programmes but then they came to be used for many purposes.

An understanding of how social networking or microblogging can be used to support learning using a blend of media may require a recogition of roots further back in history than July 2006, when Twitter was launched.

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