Let’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.