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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Monitoring Freshman College Experience Through Content Analysis of Tweets: Observational Study.

  • Author(s): Liu, Sam
  • Zhu, Miaoqi
  • Young, Sean D
  • et al.

Freshman experiences can greatly influence students' success. Traditional methods of monitoring the freshman experience, such as conducting surveys, can be resource intensive and time consuming. Social media, such as Twitter, enable users to share their daily experiences. Thus, it may be possible to use Twitter to monitor students' postsecondary experience.Our objectives were to (1) describe the proportion of content posted on Twitter by college students relating to academic studies, personal health, and social life throughout the semester; and (2) examine whether the proportion of content differed by demographics and during nonexam versus exam periods.Between October 5 and December 11, 2015, we collected tweets from 170 freshmen attending the University of California Los Angeles, California, USA, aged 18 to 20 years. We categorized the tweets into topics related to academic, personal health, and social life using keyword searches. Mann-Whitney U and Kruskal-Wallis H tests examined whether the content posted differed by sex, ethnicity, and major. The Friedman test determined whether the total number of tweets and percentage of tweets related to academic studies, personal health, and social life differed between nonexam (weeks 1-8) and final exam (weeks 9 and 10) periods.Participants posted 24,421 tweets during the fall semester. Academic-related tweets (n=3433, 14.06%) were the most prevalent during the entire semester, compared with tweets related to personal health (n=2483, 10.17%) and social life (n=1646, 6.74%). The proportion of academic-related tweets increased during final-exam compared with nonexam periods (mean rank 68.9, mean 18%, standard error (SE) 0.1% vs mean rank 80.7, mean 21%, SE 0.2%; Z=-2.1, P=.04). Meanwhile, the proportion of tweets related to social life decreased during final exams compared with nonexam periods (mean rank 70.2, mean 5.4%, SE 0.01% vs mean rank 81.8, mean 7.4%, SE 0.01%; Z=-4.8, P<.001). Women tweeted more often than men during both nonexam (mean rank 95.8 vs 76.8; U=2876, P=.02) and final-exam periods (mean rank 96.2 vs 76.2; U=2832, P=.01). The percentages of academic-related tweets were similar between ethnic groups during nonexam periods (P>.05). However, during the final-exam periods, the percentage of academic tweets was significantly lower among African Americans than whites (χ24=15.1, P=.004). The percentages of tweets related to academic studies, personal health, and social life were not significantly different between areas of study during nonexam and exam periods (P>.05).The results suggest that the number of tweets related to academic studies and social life fluctuates to reflect real-time events. Student's ethnicity influenced the proportion of academic-related tweets posted. The findings from this study provide valuable information on the types of information that could be extracted from social media data. This information can be valuable for school administrators and researchers to improve students' university experience.

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