“A live pulse”: Yik Yak for understanding teaching, learning and assessment at Edinburgh

Research areas 
Digital Cultures
Research team 

Sian Bayne (School of Education), Nicola Osborne (EDINA), Louise Connelly (Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies), Bea Alex (School of Informatics) and Claire Grover (School of Informatics). 

Key contact 
Funding 

Principal's Teaching Award Scheme, University of Edinburgh.

Dates 
01 Sep 201631 Aug 2017

Yik Yak was a location-based social media app, launched in 2013, which quickly became ubiquitously adopted by students on university and college campuses in the US and the UK, though it then declined in usage and closed in May 2017.

It allowed users located within the same geographical area to create and respond to short, anonymous posts, and became an often-controversial space in which candid, dynamic and sometimes taboo issues were raised and discussed by young users. Widely-reported instances of bullying, victimisation and hate speech on Yik Yak needed to be understood alongside the less-discussed community value of the platform to students, who used it to talk openly about many issues, including teaching, assessment and student support.

The gritty immediacy, anonymity and informality of comments posted on Yik Yak made it an ideal space in which to build an understanding of our students’ perspectives on learning, teaching and assessment. This project –  undertaken by a team spanning the three Colleges of the University of Edinburgh – conducted mixed-methods research drawing on data generated in Yik Yak over academic year 2016-17. In doing so, we aimed to build a better understanding of the teaching, learning and assessment priorities and concerns of Edinburgh students: as Yik Yak declined and fell over the course of the project, it also helped us to build a fascinating understanding of the value of anonymity to higher education students.

The project's emergent findings are available on video here.