Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

Topic: social media

Student Co-Design using Agile

📥  Agile, Apps, Co-Design, Enagagement, social media, Software Development

Following an invitation from Dr Steve Cazyer, Director of Studies, I was involved with a session for the MSc Innovation and Technology Management. This involved some 30 international students studying the programme unit 'Managing Product Development'.

For me, it was an opportunity to find out the features that I should incorporate into the next version of Study-Space which is an enterprise app that is currently being developed and trialed at the university (including Steve's unit) and which shows some promise as a collaborative learning environment or Social Learning Network (SLN). For the students, it was an opportunity to engage and learn about Agile Software development using an authentic real-world example.

Part of the session involved an activity where the students as 'clients' were required to produce a list of enhancements for the app, which they prioritise and pass to the developer (that's me).

The results for each group reveal some really interesting ideas, such as the facility to upload study material to the app, and discussion boards. I never really expected these! Anyway, pulling these ideas together, Steve facilitated a vote for the top priorities from the entire group, which indicates that the facility to add pictures is the most requested enhancement:

agile-prioritiesI will be taking these ideas forward with the Study-Space development team which comprises of a small group of students that are currently developing the specification and coding the next version. So far,  the 'ground-up' approach seems to be working exceptionally well. The ethos is very much around the idea of 'An App developed by Students for Students'.

Many thanks to Steve Cayzer and the vibrant bunch of students enrolled on ME50236 who were full of creative energy and a joy to work with!




Using Technology for Engagement and Feedback

📥  Apps, Community, Enagagement, Feedback, Mobile, social media, student, Technology

On 5th November I ran a session for student Academic Reps about the technology for engaging with students and finding a way to obtain comments that can be used to feedback to the Staff Student Liason Committees (SSLC). Although my presentation did focus on some technologies, the take-home message was that it isn't really about the tech: It is about being proactive and forming a community where people are comfortable to feedback their concerns.


However, although comminity it key, it is important to select an appropriate technology. Especially with regards to privacy. This is probably not an area where main-stream Social Media is appropriate. Putting myself in the shoes of a student, some questions come to mind:

  • Would I be comfortable with posting my personal thoughts and comments on media that is publicly viewable?
  • Can I trust the privacy statements of the vendors? (Is it really private?)
  • Even if I can satisfy myself that posts are private now, will the privacy policy change in the future? (And do I have any control over this?). See WhatsApp warned over Facebook data share deal

Personally, I wouldn't trust Facebook or Twitter, or any of the mainstream social media channels.

Another privacy issue is related to the reputation of the university, and the public exposure of students' comments. It really isn't appropriate to publish these on-line on a public site, or on mainstream social media. Especially because the comments could be incorrect, malicious or misconstrued.

I would say it is far better to host the technology on private systems that are internal to the university. This, combined with a provision to post anonymously, provides a 'walled garden' where all the issues around privacy are eliminated, and which provides a safe environment for users.

However, the availability and suitability of such an internal system may be a challenge.


Study-Space is an app that I first started to build in September 2015, and which is currently undergoing small-scale trials at the university. Primarily designed for social or collaborative learning, the system is internal to the university and private to each student cohort where it is used. It also allows students to post anonymously, and a few months ago I realised that it is also a good match for collecting student feedback data for SSLCs.

So, at the end of October, the app was tried with two SSLC channels - one for MPharm first year students,and the other for Pharmacology first year students. So far, one channel has received a single post, but the other had many. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the academic year.

Unfortunately, I can't show the results from the live SSLC channels because it is private! However, I did use Study-Space during the session with Academic Reps. The result was that 18 of the 24 Reps installed the ios/Android app, or used the web-app. The results from the interactive session are shown below.

The Next Step

An undergraduate coder has recently commenced work on 'the SSLC App'.  Although loosely based on the Study-Space app, the next step is to look at requirements and find out what is needed in terms of the type of data that should be collected, and the data visualisations required.



The Study-Space app was used interactively during the session



The app can also be used as an Audience Response System. In this example, the question asked was 'Could you use this app for your SSLC?'



The Voting Competition reveals that Study-Space and Panopto were the top-voted answers to the prompt 'Please post any ideas you have for exploiting technology for engagement and feedback. '



Facebook Student Hub

  , , ,

📥  Community, social media, student

This is a guest blog by my colleague Ellie Jones. It is a summary of a small focus group that explored options for the implementation of a social media hub for students in our department. The Visitor/Resident mapping worked well and we are now aiming to implement a digital skills audit with much larger student groups at the start of the academic year.

Social Media Focus Group

by Ellie Jones

Wednesday 1st June 2016

In Attendance: Ellie Jones (Department Administrative Assistant), Keith Brown (Learning Technologist), Meghan Doran-Rowe (Marketing Assistant), Lucy Bennett (First Year Pharmacy Student), Jack Symonds (Second Year Pharmacy Student)

Results from Grid Exercise:

To gauge usage of social media, we used the Visitor/Resident (VR) cross grid:

Visitor and Resident Grid

Visitor and Resident Map

The students were asked to map out the social media sites and apps they used on the grid, deciding whether they were a resident (a regular user who actively makes use of the site and interacts with the content) or a visitor (someone who visits the site infrequently and simply reads the content without any further interaction). They also had to consider whether their usage was personal or institutional (only used for work or educational purposes).  For further info on VR please see

Each student completed one grid for themselves as well as a grid which they filled out with their theoretical opinion of their year group (not shown).

Lucy VR Map

Lucy Bennet's VR Map


Jack Symonds VR Map

Jack Symonds's VR Map

The findings were as follows:

  • Moodle was very much a visitor/institutional site. Although the students described this as ‘Read-Only’, there was a desire for more opportunities to contribute
  • Where Moodle has been used in a way to promote residency, the students had enjoyed the experience and found it to be useful
  • The students acknowledged that for Moodle to be useful, academics must monitor and provide feedback to any forum/discussion; this was due to uncertainty amongst the students and reliance upon academics for accurate information
  • Picture-based updates were suggested as preferable to a lot of text by both students
  • Whilst picture-based social media apps such as Instagram and SnapChat were described as more for personal use, the students agreed that of the two Instagram was better suited to institutional usage
  • The students felt that Facebook was the most widely used; this was the case both in terms of frequency of usage and engagement
  • The students felt that Facebook could easily be adapted from personal to institutional use and had already set up groups for institutional use.

Results from Questioning:

Though many questions were answered through the Grid Exercise, students were also questioned for further information in a few areas.

The results were as follows:

On average, both students believed they checked social media sites about 12 times a day though admitted that at certain peak times of the year their usage increased to a number much greater than this

On the whole social media sites were used by the students for personal matters such as keeping in contact with friends; though one said they used it for ‘everything’

YouTube is a growing medium of obtaining information amongst both students as they can make use of educational videos during their revision periods

They both felt ‘disconnected’ to both the University and the Department in terms of social media and expressed a desire to become more connected; they would specifically like to obtain a greater understanding of the research done by lecturers and PhD students. There was a desire to find out ‘What lecturers actually do’.

Whilst they both expressed that they would not be interested in a Twitter feed for their year group or department, they said they would definitely make use of a Facebook page as long as reliable, verified information was there (NB: This interestingly notes with their comments on Moodle; if the students believe information to be trustworthy and accurate, residency becomes much more likely)

With regards their digital identity, neither of the students felt that their social media usage would impact upon their job prospects negatively as they agreed that they are now ‘much more aware of what [they] post’ due to increased public awareness of privacy settings etc.

They both however felt that social media usage could impact positively on their job prospects if they used it sensibly and innovatively, referring to how they would evidence this in a job interview.

Going forward

The results of this focus group indicate that Facebook is likely to represent the way forward for providing a student hub.

This is reinforced by evidence that indicates Facebook has achieved more penetration than other social networks:

Social Media Penetration

Social Media Penetration

The preliminary plan is to set up a Departmental Facebook page which the students have agreed to aid the launch of. These will be linked to the groups for each year that are currently being run by students independently.

The main idea is to provide an inclusive and reliable information source for:

  • Departmental updates
  • Events
  • Reminders
  • Departmental news stories
  • Highlights from both teaching and research
  • Room changes
  • Information on option choices



Study-Space App

📥  Apps, Community, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, Peer Support, social media, student

Study-Space is a small-scale experimental social-media type app, implemented as a forum, but with a few extra features.


Based on previous experience with Facebook groups and the input and encouragement from students, an app was implemented for iOS and Android.

An over-riding issue for students was convenience:

‘if you make it easy enough, then we will use it’

The internal nature of the app alleviates some issues privacy that have caused some concern amongst students in previous studies using mainstream public social media. [1]

In a nutshell, the work is an experiment to determine if a homegrown app could be a viable platform to support a closed community of students helping each other. The closed context provides a secure area for users to experiment in the course of their learning, and does not directly impact on an individual's public or mainstream online identity.

The trial

The pilot ran mid-February to mid-May 2016 with a cohort of around 140 pharmacy students.

Some of the key features of the app include:

  • Private – only available to a small cohort of 140 students
  • Focussed - one programme unit
  • Anonymity – most students have chosen to post anonymously
  • Quick and convenient – it is available as an iOS or android app, or a web-site
  • Simple – a forum of text posts combined with some special types of posts for academics:
  • Voting competitions
  • Questions/Surveys in MCQ format

What happened

Although the app is an optional supplement to the unit, is has been used by around 60% of the cohort. There has been a good level of activity, mostly based around various questions and answers posted by students such as shown below:

Study Space running in a web-browser

An example of a student answering a question from another student

We have yet to properly evaluate the app because the students are revising and taking exams right now. However, the feedback so far:

The Academic View

Dr Albert Bolhuis

As convenor for PA20024, the Study-Space app has provided a convenient way to engage with students outside of lectures, and enables staff to monitor how well students have understood the material that was taught. The app is easy to use and the workload is minimal. Importantly, students are not only asking, but also answering questions that have been posted, and the app thus facilitates a lively peer support community for the unit.

Dr Julie Letchford

As an academic delivering lectures, practicals and workshops on this unit, I’m always keen to obtain student feedback. The voting element built into this App provides a really useful way of easily achieving this immediately after the session.

The Students View

Student comments from the end of unit evaluation include:

Feedback via StudySpace has been very useful.

The app was a great idea for getting feedback to us.

I think the app has been a very good improvement to this unit and the lecturers are always there to answer questions as well as us

I think the idea of the Study Space app is good!

... and the app has been very useful as people can ask questions and get replies extremely quickly

The studyspace app which was trialed during this unit is really useful and I feel it would benefit being used in other units too

Study Space App is really helpful; I hope it can be rolled out in other units (it would have been of even more use in 242/Drug Met perhaps?)

Future Development

Based on the evidence so far and interest from academics, it now seems likely that further trials will take place across the university in the next semester. In particular, one area for exploration that hasn’t been tried yet is synchronous use during lectures.

Please let me know if you are interested



  1. The role of social media in undergraduate pharmacy education

Alyson Brown @alyjbrown and Brian Addison @BrianAddison75 –
Robert Gordon University

Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference 2015