Student Tweeting – and learning?

I just read a short post  at the Chronicle of Higher Ed about twitter and teaching and one quote in that story struck me:

Before Mr. Junco started using Twitter in class, he says, hardly any of his students had Twitter accounts. “Now I hear students say, ‘Facebook is where I go to socialize, and Twitter is where I go to work,’”

This is a theme that has been running through my engagement with social media for a little while now and one that I advocate when dealing with students and colleagues who ask “why do you bother with Twitter”?

Facebook is fantastic for socialising and networking with friends, family, colleagues but unless you run two accounts it is all too easy to have events in your personal life filter out into your network of peers. I deleted my Facebook account for the second time early last year while finalising my PhD after I realised that my friends list included a potential thesis examiner and a number of influential senior archaeologists. This realisation silenced me and highlighted the complexities and difficulties associated with melding together professional and personal networks via social media. Naturally, I was a quick to get on board with Twitter because of its simplicity and openness, and the fact that unlike Facebook people were mostly posting material relevant to their professional lives rather than personal ones.

Ultimately, I’d like to use Twitter in teaching, not for anything formal but more as a backchannel to topic content to help students to link up with each other. Although I have more pragmatic concerns to work through in terms of online teaching/learning activities, we’re putting some effort into building a twitter community around our Department. There are perhaps 10 students enrolled in our archaeology/heritage programs that I know who are using Twitter, most of whom seem to have joined  after the recent launch of our own account @FLINarchaeology. By building social networks via Twitter, we’re hoping reach out to current and potential students, as well as to engage more with the local and broader professional community; we principally post about events in the Department as well as news items, books, papers, jobs and other materials relevant to our programs. It’s going well so far, and students are slowly starting to send messages to us and to post news and information that they find, which is exciting.

Yesterday I wrote a short article for some upcoming marketing material we produce about the professional use of Twitter. It’s purpose is to advocate to students the benefits of embracing Twitter as a professional tool very early in their careers, and to highlight some of the issues associated with using the service in this way. I won’t post the whole article here, but I do want to post the ‘tips’ I included for students new to Twitter.

  • Be professional. Never, ever announce anything on Twitter that you wouldn’t be happy to announce on a loudspeaker in a crowded pub. There are people reading your tweets, perhaps not many to begin with but as they say, from little things, big things grow…
  • Use your real name. With effort, Twitter is a great way to build useful and real professional networks, however there’s little point in building these if people don’t know what your real name is. So, if possible try and use your real name as your Twitter name (i.e. @yournamehere), if it’s still available!
  • What are you doing? One or two personal tweets a day is nice, particularly when you are doing interesting things. Sadly though, most of your followers may not be all that interested in reading tweets about your day to day life posted at 25 minute intervals. So think twice before telling the world what your breakfast was like.
  • Sharing is caring. Twitter is a great source of information on things that interest you. However, one of the reasons that people will want to follow you is because you post interesting, useful things that are relevant to them. So, sharing useful and good quality information is critical to building a good following on Twitter. If you find a good newspaper article/journal article/video/blogpost, post a link and short description. If the quality is not so good, mention that to your followers (or don’t share it at all!)
  • Be courteous. Your followers are important, if they like what you post they will ‘retweet’ your posts or recommend that their followers should follow you. Being rude, crass or posting other inappropriate things is a fantastic way to rapidly loose followers. Also, if people mention you in a tweet favourably, be sure to thank them.
  • Your profile. The short statement under your twitter name on twitter.com is your chance to convince potential new followers, in one or two sentences, that you are worth following. Make it good and avoid leaving it blank. Equally, if you have a website then link to it on your profile page.

I’m still a little undecided if and how Twitter can be incorporated into teaching, particularly due to the technical issues associated with making it work as well as approaches to incorporating twitter into a class blog or other online learning environments. At a general level though, compared to Facebook, Twitter is far more useful for facilitating student learning and expanding their professional networks, provided that students make a decision early on about whether it is for work or for play. And that is my take home message to students (and colleagues!) who ask about the value of Twitter.

I’d be very happy to hear any other tips for using Twitter as a professional, so please forward them in if you have them!

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