About Emma Wilson

Emma is the Graduate Intern for LTI. She is working on projects that involve student engagement, and looking into the ways that students are using technology in the teaching and learning environment. Her academic interests include mental health policy, social media and student wellbeing. You can find her on Twitter (@MindfulEm).

Will social media replace face-to-face interaction in higher education?

This blog post is one of a series for the student engagement project LSE2020. It is written by Emma Wilson, Graduate Intern for LTI. You can find her on Twitter (@MindfulEm).

The online world is changing the way we receive, perceive and process information. We are living in a digital age of 24/7 connectivity and this undoubtedly has an impact on today’s teaching and learning experience in higher education. As discussed in our previous blog, students have spoken of the impact social media might have on our emotional wellbeing but what place do they think it should have in the classroom?

Whilst electronic forms of communication are an ever-increasing feature in the workplace, one must not forget or undervalue the importance of interpersonal skills. But what are the expectations of students in the way that classes are delivered? Do they see a decreasing importance in the traditional ways of learning such as office hours, study groups and seminars? Would they prefer to see a shift towards distance learning, Skype meetings and debates over social media?

With this in mind, it is important to consider the following:

Is social media eroding the need for face-to-face communication at university?

In addressing this question, our enquiry can be divided into two:

  1. How are students using social media, and are they expressing themselves online?
  2. When asked more specifically about seeking information relating to their course, which resources do they most value?

A key principle of LSE 2020 is its emphasis on an individual’s voice and their story. Analysis of student comments has enabled us to draw some interesting interpretations based on the data.

Based on the findings of 352 students who responded to our online survey, 41% of students told us they rarely express their opinion on social media. Students are active users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram, and one in three students have a Twitter account. Is it therefore possible that students are passive users of social media, whereby they use social media to take in information, rather than create original content that is then shared within their local and wider networks? Or perhaps they actually are active users of social media but it has become a way of life and they don’t realise this would be defined as expressing oneself..?

Scroll through the comments below to read what students have told us…



Having considered the idea that students are cautious about sharing their opinions on a public social networking platform, there are three further questions to consider:

  1. If a private, LSE-managed forum similar to Facebook or Twitter could be developed, would students feel more confident in sharing their opinion in a safer environment? Or;
  2. Would students prefer to avoid social media altogether and use ‘real-life’ platforms such as interactive debate in the classroom?
  3. If students are keen to see social media greater incorporated into their learning, do they have any suggestions on how this could be best achieved?
*NB. LSE Source includes: Library resources, Moodle, lecture recordings, and other facilities managed by LSE on and off campus.

Despite constituting 38% of responses, 62% of students cited LSE-related sources when asked about where they access information relating to their course. Whilst, realistically, 100% of students will use the internet at some point for matters relating to their course, this data is interesting because it represents those answers that students first considered. Our data has also found that students attach some caution to searching for information online due to issues of reliability. It has also been found that students are comfortable searching the internet for quick reference (such as an unknown term during a lecture, for example), but that they would prefer to speak with their teachers or peers if they have a more complex query.

Finally, students have given some suggestions about how social media could enhance but not replace traditional methods of teaching. A selection of ideas can be found below:

“Encourage lecturers to set up module-specific Facebook pages/groups and have weekly/fortnightly Q&A sessions”

“Creating communication groups for each class either through Moodle or a separate messenger – not just a forum for the entire module group. Therefore, we can continue class discussions with the teacher & classmates after classes.”

“Blog discussions (for students) on specific parts of modules on Moodle- replica or extension of in-class discussions”

“Live questions from audience shown up on screen during bigger lectures so everyone can read them and submit them to the professor live.”

“Live stream lectures”

“More interactive polls/questions in lectures and classes”

“Maybe a social media where, a Facebook for LSE where you can turn files that would be like helpful to group, to share information. We use that now as a Facebook group for the whole generation of my classmates and every time that we want to share a book we have to put the link and make the link bespoke so in terms of sharing information or files, it could be like easier.”

“Skype meetings as part of an academic’s office hours, whether delivered individually or as a group. It would be great if the most frequently discussed topics of conversation could be added as a page on Moodle, kind of like an FAQ list.”

To conclude, social media is undoubtedly changing the manner in which students communicate and collect information in their personal, professional and academic lives. It is a way to connect but they have made it clear that social media should not replace face-to-face contact altogether. From live stream lectures to Q&A sessions on Facebook, students are citing opportunities to enhance what is already taking place in the classroom. Rather than fear the world of social media, there is potential to supplement and extend the teaching which is already deeply valued by students.

October 3rd, 2017|LSE 2020, Social Media|Comments Off on Will social media replace face-to-face interaction in higher education?|

The student voice on technology, wellbeing and society.

This blog post is one of a series on phase two of LSE 2020, a student-focused project that has engaged with 440 students in 2017. It is written by Emma Wilson, Graduate Intern for LTI. You can find her on Twitter (@MindfulEm).

In this post, we discuss an issue that was frequently brought up by students: the impact of technology on society and our emotional wellbeing in an era of ever-increasing interconnectivity. The issues raised provide context into how today’s students navigate the digital age. This will, undoubtedly, have an impact on student expectations about the teaching and learning experience. It also highlights some of the challenges that need to be addressed if we are to support the mental health and wellbeing of our students.

Digital capability includes self-care, and that self-care requires a critical awareness of how digital technologies act on us and sometimes against us. (Beetham, 2016)

Students raised concerns about the impact of technology on our mental wellbeing and our ability to form and maintain relationships. They spoke about digital identity, and how our online activity influences a person’s place in society.

Concern for student mental health has been of increasing importance in recent years. A 2016 YouGov survey of Britain’s students found that 27% reported having a mental health problem, with 63% feeling they had levels of stress significant enough to interfere with daily life. There is the fear that technology (especially social networking and the need for instant gratification) may impact an adolescent’s neurobiology and exacerbate symptoms of stress, anxiety and social isolation. [1][2]

In both the face-to-face interviews and the online survey carried out for LSE 2020, students frequently raised concerns about the impact that technology can have in other areas of life. These concerns have been represented in an infographic and divided into four areas:

  1. Addiction to our devices and social media
  2. Distraction and instant gratification
  3. The distortion of reality and sense of self, and its impact on our self-esteem
  4. The social impact and the changing nature of our relationships

Firstly, students have raised concerns about the impact of technology on our attention spans. With the temptation of constant distraction – from Facebook to checking our phones – this poses the risk that traditional ways of teaching and learning might prove more challenging for today’s student. Given these concerns, it may be more appropriate to use diverse methods to cater for learning preferences. For example, changing the format of a two-hour lecture by interspersing it with interactive elements such as group exercises, short videos or encouraging audience participation.

It is also important to consider the mental health impact from social media and online communication. Whilst students spoke of a world that is becoming more integrated, they were also aware about the distorted reality of a person’s online persona. Despite this self-awareness, it was felt that students were struggling to manage the amount of time spent online.

This highlights the importance of continuing to fund and run wellbeing weeks and self-management course for students, such as those previously conducted by Student Wellbeing Services or the Student Union. The mental wellbeing of students will undoubtedly impact performance and overall satisfaction of the LSE experience.

Finally, students raised concerns about the impact that virtual communication might have upon our face-to-face communication skills.

‘…some people are substituting online interaction for real life meetings’

‘Generally social media has had a detrimental effect on our social lives by increasing social anxiety and limiting real human contact’

Such concerns emphasise the importance of including face-to-face interaction and interactivity during lectures, seminars and group projects. It may also partly explain why students frequently commented on the value they ascribe to discussion and debate within their course. Whilst the online world has become an integral part of the student journey, students are concerned about its social implications and do not want to see the total replacement of human interaction at university.

Moving forward, there is a growing importance for equipping students with the tools needed to manage their wellbeing in the 21st century. This could be facilitated through a whole-university approach between teachers, staff, Student Unions and student wellbeing services.

The mental wellbeing of students will undoubtedly impact performance and overall satisfaction of the LSE experience. We need to work together to ensure that tomorrow’s student is well-equipped for the rigour of higher education.



[1] ANDERSON, J. & RAINIE, L. 2012. Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives. Pew Internet and American Life Project.

[2] GIEDD, J. N. 2012. The Digital Revolution and Adolescent Brain Evolution. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51, 101-105.

From interviews to Instagram, how did we engage students in the evaluation of Clement House?

This article is one of three blog posts on the newly refurbished learning spaces in Clement House. It is written by Emma Wilson, Graduate Intern for LTI. You can find her on Twitter (@MindfulEm). For more information about the Clement House evaluation, please take a look at our final report.

Working with students as partners in the development of their university experience should form an integral part of any institution’s set of policies. However, securing a sufficient level of student engagement, which is also meaningful, poses a challenge across the sector.

Within the evaluation process for Clement House, we have been keen to utilise a wide array of communication channels – including some innovative new approaches which have involved social media. By complimenting the old and new, our mixed method approach to data collection has secured the involvement of 196 students. In addition, we carried out 67 non-participant observation; as such, the Clement House evaluation benefited from 263 pieces of data for analysis.

How did we publicise the work and recruit volunteers?

Put simply: targeted and personalised communications. Which departments are the most active users of Clement House? Where are students most likely to pay attention to posters on the wall? What incentives would attract students to participate? If students want to get involved, how would they like to do so? With the never-ending stream of emails, how do we know which will be paid most attention by students, and what are the alternative channels of communication?

By taking the time to consider the above, it is far more probable that students will show a willingness to engage themselves in a project evaluation.

The use of visual communications has been a core component of this project evaluation. Posters were visible in strategic locations throughout the project, whereby a QR code and bespoke hashtag was used (where applicable). These posters were displayed across all floors of the Student Union’s building, and electronic versions were broadcast in the library and Clement House (including the International Relations Department which is based there).

Poster One: Seeking student engagement in an online survey
Poster Two: Seeking student engagement in a social media competition


Findings based on method of engagement

We created an online and paper version of a survey. The questions were identical although the online survey provided space to make any additional comments. We received 55 responses to the survey in paper format, and 45 via the online survey. The social media campaign ran outside of term time, for a shorter period of time (2.5 weeks), and received 12 responses. This data was supplemented by 74 structured interviews of 1-3 minutes that were carried out during the non-participant observations (of which 67 were carried out across 4 weeks).

Key findings from the evaluation can be found in our report and in our other blog posts (see links). We have also drawn together a selection of Tweets and Instagram responses and displayed them as a collection on StorifyA sample of Tweets and Instagram posts can also be viewed in the slideshow below.

Sample of Tweets and Instagram posts 

What lessons have we learned?

A mixed approach to data collection enabled us to find a balance between a purely qualitative or quantitative approach. Whilst interviews provide an opportunity to understand how and why a student feels a certain way, the use of close-ended survey questions ensures a certain amount of objectivity in particular instances. For example, in the survey it was useful to provide students with four options when asked about the purpose of their visit to the learning space. This allowed comparability across floors. However, it was the richness of data collected from the subsequent open-ended questions (whether in the interview or survey) that enabled us to fully understand the reason why a student feels a certain way.

With a mixed method approach, it is important to ensure consistency of methodology across data collection methods. Do you have the same questions for the paper and online versions of the survey? If not, why not? How can any differences be taken into account?

Looking ahead, I would be keen to encourage the future use of a mixed methods approach to data collection. If carrying out a social media campaign, it is important to consider the time of year in which the campaign in launched; if it’s outside of academic teaching, many students will not be on campus, and you will have to place a greater reliance on online promotion. It is also useful to check whether the university is conducting any other surveys – such as the NSS or end-of-year departmental feedback questionnaires – to ensure that students are not overwhelmed by the number of surveys they are being asked to complete.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to successful student engagement and it is important to consider the following:

  1. Know your audience
    • Who are you trying to secure engagement from? (Students? If so, are you seeking feedback from those in a particular department or academic year?)
    • When might they be most willing to get involved? (Whilst waiting for their next class? As a break or distraction from revision? During a particular event?)
    • What are the incentives for them to get involved? (Focus on your language – emphasise the power of the student voice in contributing towards policy change; offer students the chance to win a voucher; if running a workshop, say that it’s an opportunity to network with peers and even make new friends)
  2. Think about how the ways in which they can get involved
    • Will canvassing a busy student before class necessarily be more effective than a survey that can be filled out in their own time?
    • Is the university keen to promote engagement through Instagram or Snapchat? Can your project also utilise these platforms?
  3. Connect with colleagues across departments and student groups or societies
    • Partnerships and collaborative working are great ways to contact groups of students who might be harder to reach.
    • Think about your audience – who are they likely to be in contact with? If students, do they have a student representative for their academic course?
    • Make contact with the university’s Student Union (SU); for example, their student engagement and communications officer. Getting some publicity on their website, social media feeds and newsletters is great for exposure. Asking to place posters around the SU building is a good way to reach more students.

Ultimately, this project unveiled a positive message: students are keen to get involved in sharing their views on the teaching and learning experience at LSE. 

Don’t be scared to pilot a new approach to student engagement. Understand your audience, think about how they interact in the university community, and take advantage of the new channels of communication. Over the next few years, we are likely to witness a changing landscape in higher education as Generation Z bring to their university a whole set of new expectations, skills and approaches to life in an ever-evolving digital environment. It is an exciting time for universities to engage with students and discuss the potential and opportunities for the future of higher education.  By approaching engagement in a creative way, we are more likely to kickstart a widespread conversation across the entire learning community.



Other blogs in the LSE 2020 series: (see here and here)

July 25th, 2017|Clement House, Learning Spaces, Social Media, Student projects, Surveys|Comments Off on From interviews to Instagram, how did we engage students in the evaluation of Clement House?|

Understanding student use of informal learning spaces with cognitive and photographic mapping

This article is one of three blog posts on the newly refurbished learning spaces in Clement House. It is written by Emma Wilson, Graduate Intern for LTI. You can find her on Twitter (@MindfulEm). For more information about the Clement House evaluation, please take a look at our final report.

In 2016, LSE unveiled six refurbished informal learning spaces in Clement House.

As part of this process, we sought to uncover how spaces such as these fit into the day-to-day life of a student. To help with our enquiry, we decided to design and deliver a one-hour interactive workshop with students at LSE. We had three objectives:

  • To better understand the behaviours, attitudes and preferences of LSE students using informal learning spaces such as those within the Clement House rotunda. Specifically, to better understand how, what, when, where and why students use particular learning spaces.
  • To compare the original design intentions for each floor at Clement House to how these spaces are viewed by students.
  • To better understand how the Clement House spaces fit into the overall student learning experience at LSE

The workshop was divided into two parts:

  1. A cognitive mapping exercise
  2. A photographic mapping exercise


1. Cognitive Mapping

The first part of the workshop, adapted from work undertaken in the ERIAL project and developed by Donna Lanclos at UNC Charlotte, aimed to explore how the learning spaces at Clement House fit into the overall learning journey at LSE. Each student was provided with a blank sheet of A3 paper and four different coloured pens. The first part of the activity required students to list all the places in which they go to study – from the library, to a local café, to halls of residence. This part of the exercise took 6 minutes in total. Every 2 minutes, students were asked to switch the colour of their pens in this order: blue, red, black. After 6 minutes, students were asked to annotate their maps using a green pen, to say why they chose these spaces and what they do in these spaces – individual reading; group work; essay writing? By using different coloured pens, it was possible to see which locations came to the forefront of students’ minds when asked to think about places they go to study. Students were then asked to discuss their maps with the group.


2. Photographic Mapping

Building on the work at the University of Rochester, (Briden, 2007) the activity in photographic mapping asked students to take photographs of their preferred spaces at Clement House based on a list of questions:

  1. Something you would like to see replicated on other parts of campus.
  2. Something you think could be improved.
  3. Your favourite piece of technology.
  4. Your favourite piece of furniture.

Students worked in pairs and were asked to write down reasons for their photos. Following the exercise in photographic mapping, students were asked about the design intentions of each floor. This was a useful opportunity to compare student opinion with original design intentions.

Full size images of the exercise in photographic mapping can be found here: 1, 2, 3.


This workshop was an opportunity to engage with students using a creative and interactive approach. The 10 spaces for the workshop were filled in a short space of time and recruitment was conducted over Twitter and/or departmental newsletters. Participants were awarded £10 for their time and Eventbrite was used. Looking ahead to future sessions, it would be worth having 1.5 hours for the workshops in order to have more time for discussion.

The cognitive mapping exercise provided some insightful data and it was interesting to see the different approaches that students took to presenting their mind maps. Cumulatively, a total of over 40 different areas, both on- and off-campus, were cited as places where students choose to study. This signals two things: firstly, there is diversity in preference that moves beyond traditional learning spaces such as the library; secondly, the learning environment reaches far beyond the classroom walls, and stretches across the day – from checking emails on the morning commute, to finding a study space after – or in-between – class, in an area such as Clement House.

The photographic exercise was another interesting activity that highlighted the diversity of student preferences within the built learning environment. It was important to ask students the reasons behind their choices. When looking at possible improvements to the learning spaces, all of the students focused their discussion on spatial factors, such as maximising the number of tables and chairs.

Regarding the second objective – to compare the original design intentions for each floor at Clement House to how these spaces are viewed by students – it was interesting that student perception of each space contrasted to the original design intentions. Given that many of these spaces were designed to facilitate interactive group working rather than individual self-study, it is not surprising, at this stage, for a difference of opinion – at present, students are more familiar with the traditional methods of learning, rather than using interactive or static whiteboards for group discussion. Looking ahead, it is hoped that these spaces will be well-suited for LSE’s increasing focus on assessment diversification; particularly those projects which involve group work.

Further information about the workshop (including methodology, references, complete findings and discussion) can be found in the report. If you have any questions on the recruitment process or any of the activities, contact Emma Wilson (e.wilson2@lse.ac.uk).

A full version of the evaluation report, complete with the methodology used for the workshop, can be found here.



BRIDEN, J. 2007. Photo surveys: eliciting more than you knew to ask for. In: FOSTER, N. F. & GIBBONS, S. (eds.) Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

ASHER, A. & MILLER, S. 2011. A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic Libraries: The ERIAL Project.

LANCLOS, D. 2013. Playing with Cognitive Mapping. the Anthropologist in the Stacks [Online].


July 18th, 2017|Clement House, Learning Spaces|Comments Off on Understanding student use of informal learning spaces with cognitive and photographic mapping|

Technology and the student journey: introducing phase two of LSE 2020

Written by Emma Wilson (@MindfulEm), Research and Evaluation Graduate Intern for LTI.

This blog post is one in a series of articles that will catalogue the process of, and findings from, phase two of our student-centred project, LSE 2020.

About LSE 2020

Launched in 2016, the LSE 2020 project seeks to discuss, debate and engage with students about what teaching and learning with technology could look like at LSE in 2020. Phase one used a multi-methodological approach that began to uncover the views, experiences and expectations of students. Building upon this work, phase two aims to look more closely at how students use specific pieces of technology in their personal, educational and working lives. From smartphones to iPads, phase two aims to fully investigate the relationship of technology as it integrates itself into all aspects of a student’s journey. By better understanding how students currently view and use technology, future policy can be guided by the voice of the student.

As a recent MSc graduate at LSE, I have experienced first-hand the important role of technology in teaching and learning. Having undertaken an undergraduate degree in 2010-2013, I have already seen how much has changed in a relatively short period of time. This project provided an exciting opportunity to gain a better understanding into how today’s students navigate our technology-rich world, and the beliefs and values in which they hold around its use.

What have we done so far? 

LSE 2020 places the student voice at its heart and several interesting findings have been uncovered so far. Data collection has involved interviews around campus with 88 studentsan interactive workshop and an online survey which has collected the views of over 350 students. So far, three short videos have been developed and a report is due for release later this year. We have presented early findings to delegates at the Change Agents’ Network (CAN) Conference 2017; the PowerPoint presentation can be found here.

Finally, we are going to work with two filmmakers in designing a creative interpretation of the findings that will truly document what it is like to be a student living in the digital age.

What are students telling us about their use of technology..?

We have divided our research findings into three categories:

  1. Digital Ownership, Collaboration, Communication and Usage
  2. Digital Wellbeing and Identity
  3. Digital Literacy

The following videos provide an initial insight into some of the views held by those students who took part in the 88 interviews around campus.

Ultimately, technology is not going to disappear any time soon. Rather than resisting the changing landscape in which we live, study and work, it is an exciting opportunity to embrace the many opportunities that technology affords us in teaching and learning. It is hoped that LSE 2020 will bring to light an insight into students of today, and we can continue to have these conversations in years to come.

Further analysis, theories and conclusions will be presented in future blog posts. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we will begin to look at the emerging findings in more detail and discuss what this will mean for Higher Education.

May 12th, 2017|innovation, LSE 2020, Projects, Social Media, Surveys|Comments Off on Technology and the student journey: introducing phase two of LSE 2020|