ScaLe (Scaffolding Learning) with Twitter




ScaLe (Scaffolding Learning) with Twitter has been funded by the JISC, and is one of their Learning and Teaching Innovation projects.

Practice-based professions, such as medicine, nursing and allied health, require learners to access and manipulate a rapidly increasing knowledge base which includes: biological, psychological, sociological, organisational and, increasingly, technological aspects of the human condition.

As an inherently problem-solving profession, health professionals need to evaluate a clinical situation and then assess their experience and knowledge to reach a ‘diagnosis’ and plan an appropriate course of action. Health professional curricula are particularly prone to ‘knowledge inflation’ – the urge to pack more and more essential content into the programme.

Scale on Twitter

At the same time, learners often experience a dissonance between what they are taught in the classroom and what they experience in clinical practice. This ‘theory-practice gap’ can impact on learning and may also contribute to the perception that newly qualified health profession registrants are inadequately prepared for professional practice.

Health care is one of the most rapidly changing work environments with demographic, technological and socio-political pressure resulting in a constantly evolving system. Learners of the health professions need some basic knowledge and skills to function in the clinical environment but they also need to the ability to be self-motivated learners and problem-solvers to respond to the rapidly changing demands of heathcare consumers and providers.

Student on a computer

Health professional courses need to focus more on producing reflective practitioners equipped with the tools for self-directed learning, knowledge synthesis and critical reasoning. In attempting to embed self-directed learning health educators have tried to alter teaching methods to meet the educational needs of ‘new learners’, who think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.

For students on clinical placement, owing to poor access, aging hardware and the application of firewalls on NHS computers, discussion boards in VLEs have not yielded the vibrant communities of practice expected of it. However, new learners are being influenced by the new social media (such as Twitter) which aggregates thoughts and opinion on personal mobile devices as well as PCs.

No methodologically robust studies have reported on the application, or applicability, of Twitter in the learning and teaching environment. This lack of application may be attributed to the fact that it is an emerging, and therefore, unstable and risk-laden technology. This project attempts to explore the relationship between the new social media and whether there are new or emerging learning styles associated with the ‘new learner’.

Aims and Objectives


The overall aim of this JISC-funded project is to explore the usefulness of ‘microblogging’ (Twitter) as a means to scaffolding learning and engaging students in critical thinking.


Specifically, the project will:
• Develop an understanding of the types and levels of interactivity (peer-to-peer; learner-to-instructor);
• Evaluate learners’ experience in engaging with microblogging using computer resources or personal mobile devices in the workplace (NHS hospital); on campus or at home;
• Investigate the effect microblogging has on the pedagogic delivery model intended and the learning proceses experienced by the students;
• Help understand what constitutes sound educational practice with microblogging; and
• Derive a sense of the future direction of microblogging in teaching and learning.

Overall Approach


Four clinical scenarios will be developed and applied in the project. A series of ‘tweets’ will highlight the deterioration or improvement in a patient’s condition. Learners will feed back and vote on appropriate courses of action, based on the evolving symptoms. A review of user logs and responses (quantitative value) will elicit information on whether learning has been ‘achieved’ (i.e. if a diagnosis has been correctly identified). Further qualitative data-gathering – via on-line forums, focus groups or interviews will attempt to gauge the depth of feeling toward the new learning environment.

Project Outputs

Deliverables to the JISC Community

• Case study
• Guidelines for organising and delivering clinical scenarios with microblogging/ four simulated clinical scenarios
• Tool-kit for organising and delivering learning via microblogging
• Project updates (via the team’s Simulation Blog or Twitter feed)
• Project Web page with links to evolving findings or other sources related to microblogging.
• Interim and final reports

The project will:
• Stimulate teaching staff to think about new levels and types of interactivity when trying to scaffold learning;
• Help teaching staff think about alternative methods of formative assessment;
• Help the JISC community better understand any emerging learning styles associated with the ‘new learning’;
• Help realise any potential in microblogging (especially its impact on mobile learning);
• Help information and library staff better understand how information sources are exploited in microblogging (e.g. RSS feeds);
• Stimulate institutional decision-makers and teaching staff to think beyond the institutional VLE.
• Transfer of a “Twitter”-driven community of learning to share and reflect on real clinical experiences.

Project Co-Directors

Professor Colin Torrance, University of Glamorgan, Glamorgan Clinical Simulation Centre, 01443 483104,

Dr. Virendra Mistry, University of Glamorgan, Glamorgan Clinical Simulation Centre, 01443 483026,

Project Team

Dr. Ray Higginson, University of Glamorgan, Faculty of Health, Sport & Science, 01443 483858,

Ms Bridie Jones, University of Glamorgan, Faculty of Health, Sport & Science, 01443 483132,