Using Twitter in an exploratory seminar setting (University of Paderborn)

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Name of the institution: University of Paderborn (Germany), University of Augsburg (Germany)

Type of institution: University


The seminar was carried out within the master's program in computer science at the University of Paderborn and within the media and education study program at the University of Augsburg. The two institutions provided an interdisciplinary base for exploring the use of social media in university courses as they complement each other in expertise in research, development and evaluation of social media.


The course was designed to let students explore the power of Social Media in a real world scenario with the goal to enable participants to value the strengths and weaknesses of such tools in a co-operative working context. Competence-wise the students should be able to assess the appropriateness of certain tools for productive work after the course. The students should acquire this knowledge and skills first-handed, not from reading about it or listening to head-on lectures. Much emphasis was placed on the use of Social Media and its potentials for collaboration and communication in geographically distant teams.


The first to sessions of the seminar took place in a rather "normal" seminar setting (despite the fact that the participants were geographically separated). The supervisors introduced the methodology and timeframe of the seminar and introduced the topics that students could work on. The stellar role of social media in the course was outlined and for those who did not have accounts in the respective tools, those were created collaboratively. The second meeting dealt with the application of social media in educational settings. An internationally renowned expert in digital identity research gave a remote presentation on the topic. All further meetings were carried out using social media alone. The final presentations were broadcast via Internet to seminar rooms in the two universities.


Five grading criteria were included in the course. The first aspect was active participation in the seminar, which made up 30% of the grade. It was displayed during the course meetings and by the frequency and quality of the use of social media tools like Twitter, Delicious, Mixxt and so forth. Since the idea of the seminar was to engage students in learning something new by applying something new it was essential for students to actively engage with each other by means of these tools. Potential and shortcomings of work in distributed, interdisciplinary teams can only be experienced by application. The second criterion was the ongoing work on the paper describing the project, the work processes and the prototype. This made up 20% of the grade. Writing a paper on ones research and development efforts is a major part of working scientifically and leads to an increase in key competencies like information literacy and knowledge management. The third criterion was general engagement and creativity. It also presented 20% of the grade. Since the course is based on constructivist learning assumptions the work in progress was monitored by the instructors and problem solving skills that go beyond the mere following of a text book or the checking off of a to-do list as well as the engagement in team forming activities were an important aspect of the course. The fourth criterion was the presentation of the project and the prototype. This accounted for 15% of the final grade. Students had to show that they understood their problem and had to display how they solved it. These skills are essential in any area of work and provide students with information literacy skills. The fifth and last criterion was quality and creativity of the developed artifact, which also made up 15% of the grade. This part of the final mark was of course related to the skills and competencies students must acquire when studying computer or information sciences.

User-Generated Content experience

The students and supervisor actively generated content in the used social media tools and the social networking site. To track interaction and communication in the seminar we asked the participants to use the tag #fsln10 for all course-related issues on social media channels. In total they created 431 tweets, 384 Delicious bookmarks, 14 SlideShare documents, 61 documents on Mendeley and numerous edits in the wiki.


Let student's experience strengths and weaknesses of peer-production and user generated content in educational settings.


The seminar took place two times so far. The first implementation was in the summer semester 2010 with 11 students from the University of Paderborn and the University of Augsburg. The second iteration of the seminar took place in the winter semester 2010/11 with 8 students from the same universities. In the winter semester 2011/12 the seminar will take place for the third time. This time we expect about 30 students from the University of Paderborn and the Levinsky Teacher College in Israel. The topics of the seminar are different in each iteration, the pedagogic design, the methods applied as well as the main technologies and tools used stay the same.

How did you address quality-related issues?

The whole group met approx. every four weeks using a software called FlashMeeting. There, all groups had to present the progress they made since the last meeting and connect their own work to that of the other groups. Moreover, each group had meetings with their supervisor on request (approx. every two weeks) using Skype. Moreover, they could interact with the supervisors and the whole group on Twitter and within the Mixxt social networking site that we used. In the course of the seminar, students had to create a final paper that needed to connect to at least two other papers in the seminar. Thus all students were obliged to write their articles in the public (a wiki page in the social networking site), so other would see their progress and could connect to other topics. All participants were informed about recent changes and could comment on them. We did not use formal peer-review in this course as the students already had a rather high work load in the seminar. Another quality-related method we used in the seminar was the assignment of discussion leaders for the final seminar presentations: each student was assigned discussion leader for another group. The discussion leader was obliged to have very good knowledge about the content of the group's work in order to moderate the presentation, ask educated issues to the presenters.


  1. Reinhardt, Heinze: Analyzing interactions in Twitter. The case of an exploratory seminar:
  2. Heinze, Reinhardt: Future Social Learning Networks at Universities – an Exploratory Seminar Setting. In Educating Educators with Social Media, pages 153–170. Emerald Publishing Group, 2011.