Twitter for Academics

twitterLet’s face it:  among many academics, Twitter has a bad rap.  Maybe it’s because we first became aware of it through celebrity overexposure (Lady Gaga has over 40 million followers) or the trivial oversharing of its contributors (“eggs over easy for breakfast”).  And it’s only slightly interesting that #Thanksgiving and #BlackFriday are “trending” right now.

But this week, two articles came to my Inbox pointing to ways in which Twitter can be useful in our professional academic lives.  One is about creating conversational communities.  A blog post entitled “What does Twitter have to offer academics?” reflects on making connections.  Twitter’s 140 characters, they note, can be used to quickly solicit information, discuss concepts, network, keep up with current news in one’s discipline, increase visibility, promote recent publications, learn about conferences, and make global contacts.  During conferences, Twitter can create a “backchannel” that allows discussions among attendees during and after presentations.  Here, for example, is a sample of the Twitter feed from last spring’s CTE symposium, “Higher Education in the Crosshairs.”  For anyone thinking about using Twitter as an effective tool for academic networking, this post on 10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics gives good advice.

The second article (that I found through Twitter!) relates more directly to teaching.  Who could resist the title:  “How Orwell and Twitter Revitalized My Course”?  In it, a professor of English discusses his use of an assignment that each student in his 21st Century British Literature class post three ‘tweets’ a week related to the course.  He adopted this strategy because he found that his students rarely made connections between different topics in the course, or between their readings and the course’s big themes.  And so he set up the Twitter assignment to try to encourage those connections.  Here’s how he describes the experience:

As of this writing we are five weeks into the semester, and . . . this assignment has produced levels of connection and engagement among my students that I have never experienced before. We begin every class period by taking a quick look at the tweets that have been posted since the last meeting. That means every class begins with a brief discussion of connections they are seeing and forging.  [Through their posts] they are putting together a collective body of research on contemporary British life that has become a crucial resource for all of us in the course, including me.

Interested in learning more?  Take a look at 60 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom from the folks at TeachThought.


About Beth Thornburg

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2 Responses to Twitter for Academics

  1. Lynne Stokes says:

    I see this as alternative to the flipped classroom experience, as I am implementing it. I require the students to answer 2 “warmup” questions once a week. These questions are conceptual, rather than computational. That is, they have to explain why something is or is not true, and how they know. We take a look at a few of these in class (the good ones and sometimes a few of the common misundertandings that surface). I feel like a see more learning and connections being made by those who particpate seriously, but maybe those are the same ones who would have made the connections anyway. I don’t know if it increases the number of students who make the connections.

  2. Meghan Ryan says:

    By my count, there are at least ten SMU Law faculty members who tweet about either teaching or scholarship (or at least have a Twitter account). I think most of us find it useful, but it does take time. I don’t have permission to advertise my colleagues’ handles, but feel free to follow me @MeghanJRyan if you’re interested in torts, criminal law and procedure, law and science, or miscellany. Also, I’d be curious to know the number of tweeters in other departments if you’re willing to share.

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