We are recruiting: three undergraduate research associates needed!

“A live pulse”: anonymous social media for understanding teaching, learning and assessment at Edinburgh 

Job opportunity for undergraduates in 2nd year and above

Closing date 28 September 2016

We are appointing three Undergraduate Research Associates to work with us on a project looking at anonymous social media over this academic year. The project aims to help the university understand the teaching, learning and assessment priorities and concerns of Edinburgh students, and to inform its future planning for teaching innovation, assessment and support.

The three RAs will spend a total of 20 days each on the project, spread across specific weeks in October, December, January and May. They will be responsible for conducting a participant observation within Yik Yak and possibly other anonymous social media platforms, collecting data directly from these applications, coding it using specialist software, and writing four brief accounts of their findings. Full training and mentorship will be provided.

This is an excellent opportunity for a student interested in digital and social media research to build skills, receive training and work with an interdisciplinary team on a project directly related to the Edinburgh student experience.

Job context
The project is based in the Centre for Research in Digital Education (http://www.de.ed.ac.uk/), working closely with a team from across four areas of the university: the School of Education, the School of Informatics, the Vet School and EDINA. It will take a mixed methods approach using computational data, survey data, focus groups and participant observation. The Research Associates will conduct the participant observation part of the research.

Yik Yak is one example of an anonymous, location-based social media app. Launched in 2013, it has quickly become ubiquitously adopted by students on university and college campuses in the US and, increasingly, the UK. It allows users located within the same geographical area to create and respond to short, generally anonymous posts, and is emerging as an often-controversial space in which candid, dynamic and sometimes taboo issues are raised and discussed by young users. Yik Yak is widely used at Edinburgh: in early 2015 approximately 30% of undergraduates were active users: scoping work done by this project team shows approximately 100 original ‘yaks’ being posted in the George Square area every three hours. This same scoping work revealed that students use this platform to talk openly about many issues, including teaching, assessment and student support. In 2016 – despite significant changes to the app over the summer – we expect continued wide usage, possibly alongside other anonymous geosocial apps such as Jodel.

The gritty immediacy, anonymity and informality of comments posted on Yik Yak and other, similar social media apps make them an ideal space in which to build an understanding of students’ perspectives on learning, teaching and assessment. This project – working within the university’s agenda to prioritise teaching, and undertaken by a team spanning the three Colleges – will conduct mixed-methods research drawing on data generated in anonymous geosocial apps over academic year 2016-17.

The project team are: Professor Sian Bayne (School of Education: PI); Dr Louise Connelly (School of Veterinary Studies); Dr Claire Grover, Dr Bea Alex and Dr Richard Toibin (School of Informatics); Nicola Osborne (EDINA).

Main responsibilities
The RAs will work with the research team to manually collect data at four critical points in the academic year: mid-October, mid-December, mid-January, early May. They will:

  • gather yaks and posts in one of three geographical locations: George Square, King’s Buildings, and Little France over a period of three days at each point, including evenings
  • transcribe posts, and import them into an appropriate computer-assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS) package for coding, clustering and organising
  • provide a narrative report on the data gathered

The RAs will receive training, guidance and support in the use of anonymous geosocial media, computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software, research ethics and digital ethnographic research methods. Even though these are anonymous social networks the post holder will be expected to be discreet and appropriately respectful in their handling of data.

Person specification
The posts are open to second year or above undergraduate students in any School or discipline. Job requirements are detailed below.


  • An active interest in, and use of, social media
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Ability to organise information effectively
  • Ability to work independently, assuming appropriate support
  • Keenness to develop skills in qualitative data collection and analysis
  • Understanding of the importance of confidentiality and sensitive handling of data
  • Ability to comply with University policies and guidelines
  • Ownership of a mobile device and laptop or desktop computer


  • Previous experience of a similar task
  • Demonstrable proficiency in software for qualitative data analysis

Candidates must ensure they are available for work over the four critical points defined above: mid-October 2016, mid-December2016, mid-January 2017, early May 2017.

Grade and pay
Grade UE03.1; 160 hours (20 days) at £8.96 per hour plus 12.07% holiday pay: total of £1,607 .

Start date
1st October 2016

End date
1st June 2017

Line manager
Professor Sian Bayne, School of Education (project PI), with day-to-day mentoring and support from Nicola Osborne, EDINA (project Co-I).

Desk space, should it be needed, will be provided by EDINA in Argyle House, Lady Lawson Street (http://www.ed.ac.uk/estates/buildings-information/building-profile/425).

Application procedure
To apply, please email your CV and a letter explaining why you feel you are suitable for this role to:

Angela Hunter, Administrator for the Centre for Research in Digital Education (angela.hunter@ed.ac.uk)

​Closing date is 28 September 2016. Applicants should be available for interview for the post on the morning of 3 October 2016.