Making meaning with Social Media

Collage of Book Covers for Social Media Platforms

Images by Jam Zhang: full credits at the bottom of this post

When you hear the phrase ‘social media’, probably the first association that springs into your mind is conversing through short-form messages and shared links or images. You probably also recognise a range of practices, conventions and behaviours, such as collaborative authorship, tagging content to help it be found, a concern with identifying people-of-interest to help mediate one’s own experience and the location of personal artefacts in remote, shared collections. All these have been adopted as normal, expected aspects of just about any application facilitated by internet access, underpinning activity on both public social media such as Twitter and more contained business-targeted services, such as Slack.

As the organisers of Future Happens 2: Social Media Connect : Disconnect, a recent event led by the LSE and UAL put it:

we define social media as being digital platforms that allow the creating and sharing of information, ideas, and other forms of expression related to identity in forms visible to others. These platforms provide the potential for connections, dialogue and discourse through online communities and networks.

The aim of Future Happens 2 was to identify a series of principles that would help higher education institutions and the teachers working in them ‘to make the most of social media in teaching, learning and assessment’. You can read the ideas generated at the event and keep an eye on the evolving outcomes on the Future Happens site.

In many disciplines the practices developing through social media have so affected the way that work is done, that social media and social media use have become part of the curriculum, being topics of study in themselves. In others the impact may be less transparent; here one of the challenges of using social media within teaching is ensuring that the uses will be meaningful for students. The meaningfulness of social media practices for learning was the topic of research with undergraduate students at the University of Alberta, published in a recent article by Erika Smith in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. What is striking about her findings is that the practices the students found most meaningful for their studies were closely aligned with tasks that would seem to be directly constructed within the curriculum, rather than with aspects of broader engagement with the discipline, tasks such as collaborative document creation, pooling of useful information and managing study schedules. Additionally, amongst these students at least, there seemed to be little variation in what they found meaningful, regardless of their area of study. Reading between the lines, the students seemed to focus meaning on course assignments. Perhaps the potential and benefit of reaching and engaging with a subject community beyond their peer group can feel too nebulous or tangential to justify the effort needed to cultivate and rehearse these practices.

If, then, we recognise benefit in encouraging students, as part of their learning, to actively explore these practices of sharing, presenting and collaborating beyond their cohort, are there practical tactics we can adopt to make them more directly meaningful for students?

Two approaches that have proved successful in practice are on the one hand focusing the use around specific, time-bound events and on the other focusing it around specific, relevant tasks.

Using Events

One of the difficulties of extracting meaning from interactions via social media is the combination of potentially overwhelming numbers of voices with the pauseless, eddying nature of the discussion. It can feel like trying to follow someone through a hall of mirrors and can be particularly problematic when the experience you have to guide your critical faculties on a topic is uncertain or lacks mastery (i.e. you’re still very much learning). Events, at specific moments in time, can concentrate discussion around a particular area of interest and in a particular place, making it much easier to follow and synthesise the relevant ideas. Academic tweeting, for example, thrives on the focus provided by conferences and tweetchats.

The Public Relations programmes at the University of Greenwich operate a cross-programme group, the PR Fraternity, which organises a series of talks and similar events with leaders from the PR industry. The students collectively promote, record and disseminate these events through various social media platforms. This provides a focus both for rehearsing and critically evaluating their professional practices around social media communications and contextualised exposure to curriculum topics through the content of the events themselves.

Coventry University’s PhoNar module (photography and narrative), was opened up for public online engagement. By turning the weekly activity of the module into an online event and leveraging contacts within relevant industries and disciplines to provide interesting angles on the curriculum, students were positioned at the centre of a wider conversation on social media, allowing them to correlate their specific study within the cohort with ongoing online discussion bringing in a much wider variety of experience than would be possible through the class alone.

Using Tasks

Students can often feel uncomfortable, aware of their relative inexperience within a subject, in exposing their thoughts in a public sphere. Structuring their engagement around the completion of specific curriculum tasks, can provide a focus and purpose to help contextualise their activity. Tasks might include collecting responses to a survey, asking for example cases around a particular topic, or requesting feedback on a previously developed artefact.

For the award-winning ConstitutionUK project, LSE Public Affairs students were tasked with moderating and supporting public discussion around a topic of current topical interest. This gave them a real and meaningful responsibility to the contributors, alongside exposure to range of perspectives and a structured point of engagement within the social media activity, all of which provided content for evaluation and exploration of curriculum topics as a cohort.

These are just a couple of approaches to ensure planned social media activity is embedded and meaningful. If you would like advice on developing activity that uses social media in meaningful ways in your modules, please contact us at

Image credits

Social Media Collection – LinkedIn“,  “Social Media Collection – Flickr“, “Social Media Collection – Facebook“, “Social Media Collection – YouTube“, “Social Media Collection – Twitter“, “Social Media Collection – Tumblr“, “Social Media Collection – Wikipedia“, all by Jam Zhang, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licence


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Posted in Digital scholarship, Learning Design, Mobile learning, Social media

No time to read it now? Pop it in your Pocket for later!

This week we are  introducing a useful  tool for organising and collating interesting articles you find on the web.

Pocket lets you save articles, videos or images you find online in one place. You can then access them from any of your devices at a more convenient time on or offline.

Pocket allows you to:

  • Save interesting articles, videos and images from around the web, then access them later through your pocket account on any of your devices.
  • Read saved articles offline. This can be useful when in areas with no internet connection or if you wish to read articles without the fear of getting distracted online.
  • Share articles using Pocket’s ‘Send to Friend’ feature, this can enable collaborative research on projects and assignments.
  • Find ‘recommended features’  based on articles you have been saving. . So if you’re studying a certain topic this can be a good way to find related articles.
  • Read free of distractions. Saved articles have unnecessary formatting and clutter such as ads, sidebars and comments stripped away, making the article far more readable. This can enable much easier focus on the content itself.
  • Assign custom tags to your saved content allowing you to easily organise and locate articles that deal with a certain topic.
  • Listen to saved articles on a iOS or Android device using the built in Text-to-Speech function. This can be useful for accessibility reasons or listening whilst exercising or on the go.
  • Follow other people on Pocket. This means you will receive articles they have recommended, allowing  you to get curated content from specialists or leaders in a certain field.

Read more ›

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Posted in App review, Mobile learning, Social media

Community, creativity, competencies and cuteness: MUGSE comes to Sussex.

The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex recently hosted a meeting of the Mahara User Group for Southern England (MUGSE). The sun shone as nearly 30 participants from eleven institutions in the region gathered to share their experiences with the e-portfolio platform and hear about new features in the upcoming release.

You can see some of the tweets from the event in this Storify put together by George Robinson (TEL).

The Mahara Community

Read more ›

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Posted in Mahara, Marking and assessment, Open Education

Tell a story with Sutori

Sutori (previously known as HSTRY) is often thought of as a timeline tool, but Sutori ‘stories’ can be much more. With options to embed videos, sound files, create quizzes and add discussion forums it can be used by teachers and learners to create attractive and interactive learning resources. Read more ›

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Posted in App review, Technology Enhanced Learning

Scaffolding student learning with lecture capture.

Professor Janet Boddy

For this post, Tab Betts (Technology Enhanced Learning) spoke to Professor Janet Boddy (Education) about her experience of using lecture capture in her teaching at the University of Sussex.

Listen here to what Janet had to say about how lecture capture helps her and her students.

How can recorded lectures support student learning?

Janet sees recorded lectures as part of the scaffolding for her students’ learning – especially students who might have difficulty making good notes during a ‘live’ lecture. The ability to listen again to key points in a lecture and develop notes is a significant benefit of lecture capture. Read more ›

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Posted in Study Direct, Technology Enhanced Learning

Technology Rich Formative Assessment

"The Question" flickr photo by The Digital Story <a href=""></a> shared under a <a href="">Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license</a>

“The Question” flickr photo by The Digital Story shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

From Poll Everywhere to Socrative to Google Forms, there is a huge range of tools available for formative assessment both in and out of face-to-face teaching hours. These methods of formative assessment can be extremely useful to gauge students’ understanding, test key concepts and provide students with valuable feedback which they can then actively feed forward into future assessments. With such a large number of different tools available, these formative assessment approaches also enable us to diversify our approaches to assessment, providing students with a greater variety of assessment methods.

Recently the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team were pleased to host a visit by Mark Glynn and Lisa Donaldson from the Teaching Enhancement Unit at Dublin City University. As part of the TEL Seminar Series, Lisa delivered a ‘Technology Rich Formative Assessment Experiences Masterclass’ to Sussex staff, introducing a wide range of different apps and approaches that can be used for formative assessment.


Lisa Donaldson leading the masterclass

Lisa Donaldson leading the masterclass

Interactive presentation tools

During the masterclass Lisa used a web based presentation tool called Zeetings to deliver the content of her presentation to participants. This tool allows audience members to view and interact with a presentation from their own mobile device, and as participants connect using a URL, Zeetings works on any web-enabled device. When using Zeetings, each time you advance onto a new slide this is mirrored on participants’ devices, you can then embed various quiz questions and polls into these slides to gain feedback from or test your students. Zeetings also has a useful Q&A space running alongside your presentation which works as a backchannel allowing students to easily ask questions during the session. These questions can then be answered live during your lecture or seminar, collected after your teaching session and answers posted on your VLE, or you could encourage your students to rely to each others’ posts.

Alternatively you could use Nearpod, a similar tool which lets you import your PowerPoint presentations. You can then develop your presentation by embedding questions including multiple choice, open ended questions and ‘Draw it’, a whiteboard on which students can send in their drawings and annotations.

Quizzing tools

There are many quizzing and polling tools available that you can use with your students, below are the tools presented by Lisa as well as additional apps that the TEL team enjoy using.

Formative – Free for teachers and students, this tool allows students to type or draw their responses to questions. Teaching staff can then provide instant feedback to these responses.

Google Forms – Google’s surveying tool, Google Forms allows you to present a series of multiple choice and open ended questions to students which they can then complete in their own time.

Kahoot – A game based classroom response system with a competitive element. This app allows you to create online quizzes that students interact with using their mobile device without needing to sign up for an account.

Mentimeter – Engage your students with in class voting. Students responses can be displayed in real time allowing you to discuss the results as they happen.

Plickers – A quizzing/polling tool that doesn’t require participants to use individual apps or computers. Quickly ask multiple-choice questions to groups of up to 63 and collect answers in real time.

PollEverywhere – Students can vote by text, Twitter, web browser, or via the mobile apps. Sussex has an institutional licence for this tool giving us access to a range of useful features, if you are interested in using Poll Everywhere please contact

Quizizz – A free multiplayer classroom activity which works on all internet enabled devices and allows student to work collaboratively.

Socrative – Create an online tests for students which include multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. This tool also has a gamified ‘Space Race’ option which lets students work in teams.

Interactive multimedia tools

As well as the many formative quizzing tools available, increasingly we are seeing ways in which we can integrate the use of different media into teaching sessions, specifically the use of interactive video. Below are two different tools which can help you communicate with and engage your students using video.

Vizia – This free tool allows you to take a video and embed questions and multiple choice quizzes at various points in the clip to create interactive engaging videos for your students.

Recap – Increase communication between yourself and your students using this video reflection and response tool. The creation of short video clips allows students to share their thoughts and ideas allowing them to reflect on their learning.

Learn more…

Visit Lisa’s Padlet wall to view all of the tools presented during her session as well as our A-Z of Apps which can be a useful resource to help you discover other tools to use with your students. If you would like more information about any of these formative assessment tools contact your school’s Learning Technologist by emailing


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Posted in App review, External events, Marking and assessment, Polling tools

Enhanced Analytics in Mahara

“Tape Measure” by Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

The reporting capabilities within the leading open source eportfolio solution Mahara will be fundamentally enhanced in a future release as a result of a project led by the University of Sussex and Dublin City University (DCU).  The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst Fund makes funding available to universities to stimulate innovation in practice across the HE sector and the development of innovative solutions.  Supported by the Catalyst Fund, the Advanced Analytics in Mahara project ( aims to provide more fine grained insights into how portfolios are used over time, and how learners engage with them with a view to supporting evidence-informed use across disciplines in the future. Read more ›

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Posted in Mahara

Empowering learners through inclusive, cross-disciplinary projects – Podcast Episode 9

How can we empower students to become creators of meaningful content? How can we promote interdisciplinarity, inclusive learning and digital skills development?

In this episode, we interview Dan Axson, who is the ICT Coordinator at St. John’s School and College in Brighton. St. John’s is a special educational needs (SEN) school and specialist college that provides education, care and medical therapy to young people aged 7 to 25. The discussion in this episode focuses on how Dan and his colleagues at St John’s have used inclusive teaching methods and technology to empower learners as creators. We talk about how technology can promote inclusive learning with apps such as Book Creator, how teachers can engage learners with inclusive, cross-disciplinary projects and how a technology-enhanced interactive theatre space is being used to create something extraordinary called The Jumblies Project (inspired by Edward Lear’s poem: The Jumblies).

Dan Axson
St. John’s School and College
Book Creator
The Jumblies Project
‘The Jumblies’ poem by Edward Lear
Donate to the Jumblies Project


Dan Axson:

Dan Axson

St. John’s School and College:

The OptiMusic-enhanced theatre at St. John’s School and College:

Handheld reflector used to break the coloured light beams, which in turn triggers sound effects or music:

Interactive floor which animates as you step on it:

Software used for controlling the OptiMusic technology:

Video of Dan Axson demonstrating the OptiMusic-enhanced theatre space at St. John’s.

Trailer for The Jumblies Project:


Posted in Accessibility, Podcast

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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