Twitterus Academicus

Ms E-Mentor recently joined Twitter: https://twitter.com/msementor .  It’s a buzzy, interesting and distracting place, the Twittersphere.  I managed within my first week to join in the Friday afternoon trend that was #popleveson, where thousands of tweeters posted Levenson Enquiry-style tweets using pop lyrics (example: “But you are not a poor boy from a poor family, are you Mr Mercury?” by @moomindroll).  I also started my own very small trend by using the hashtag #GoodLecturer to link to the Guardian Higher Education Network‘s live chat on ‘How to be a Good Lecturer’ on 18/05/12 (see my comments within the live chat thread as well).

There’s no shortage of interesting stuff out there on Twitter and Academia:  Are Twitter/blogging antithetical to ‘deep’, scholarly writing?; AcademHack’s suggestions on Twitter for Academia; Katrina Gulliver’s “10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics”; the LSE Impact Blog’s Guide to using Twitter in University Research, Teaching and Impact Activities; Should students ‘do’ social media with their lecturers/tutors?

Until recently I’d not taken much notice of Twitter, thinking it mainly for those with smartphones (hoping Antiques Roadshow will be in town soon so they can value my mobile).  But then I read the Observer’s “Twitter feeds you need” and met one of their mentioned top tweeters, Stella Duffy, at Gladstone’s Library.  I signed up.

As I’m tweeting as Ms E-Mentor I’m inevitably interested in the ways that Twitter can be used within academia, research and (higher education) teaching.  One of my most immediate responses to Twitter is to note its capacity for blurring of boundaries (what other medium offers the seeming proximity to celebs/stars — surely part of Twitter’s popularity?).  While academics on Facebook may well not (rightly, in my view) want their current students as ‘friends’ (and vice versa), Twitter is different.  Any tweet is immediately public and hence potentially there is a tweeting etiquette.  I hope some of my students will follow me, as I may well follow some of them, and some of the blurring of boundaries that Twitter brings seem to me to be good from an academic point of view.  Hopefully academics are rounded people who have lots of different interests and enthusiasms and it is good for our students to see this about us.  This isn’t about being inappropriately personal, it’s about being an authentic person (and lecturer/academic).  Twitter is also potentially a place for wit, wry comment and fun (as exemplified by the tweets of Elizabeth Windsor @Queen_UK).  If you’ve only got 140 characters you’ve got to be to the point; if you go over, edit down until you’re sharper!

But can you teach with Twitter?  Before I actually had a Twitter account I tried…