Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The collegiality of twitter

Delivering a workshop at Aquatnet (Image: @jbaqua)
Last week, I spent a great two days taking part in the AQUATNET Digital Teaching Skills Workshop, as well as helping to deliver the social media element of the workshop. As the two days came to a close in sunny Malta, it seemed appropriate to draw together some concluding thoughts on the issue of social networking in education.
The workshop kicked off with a very informative talk delivered by Mike Moulton of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Mike discussed the realities of teaching and learning in the "age of tweets", emphasising the growing importance of twitter amongst educationalists. Twitter and other social media tools, Moulton encouraged, were means of "creating trustworthy pathways through the internet".
In this respect, I was reminded of occasional responses I have received from non-tweeting academics to my use of twitter. "I don't know how you find the time to do all the tweeting", they might say or "shouldn't you be doing some proper work?".
My response to that is often: "How do you find the time not to tweet?". Social media allows you to establish a trustworthy network of contacts who are willing and able to do some of the leg-work for you. For example, my twitter network is able to
  • highlight the newest research in my area
  • share the latest news in my discipline
  • inform me of funding opportunities, job opportunities, etc.
  • allow for interaction and collaboration with others
  • inform me of upcoming conferences, workshops, etc.
As well as this, I form part of many other peoples' network where I hopefully perform many of the same roles for my followers. At its best, twitter and other forms of social media are about sharing and collegiality. For this to work, it's really essential that you are following the right people: those who share generously, inform, enlighten, challenge and debate. A well-curated twitter network has the capacity to reach much further than you can. Instead of you, as an individual, trying to keep an eye on emerging trends in a discipline, your twitter community can do so and share that information with you. An efficient use of your time, if ever I saw one.

I'm not alone in holding those views. Recently, I posed a question to my own twitter followers:

And got some interesting results, including:

One use of microblogging in education that I tried to highlight in the recent workshop was the idea of 'live-tweeting' the lecture. Corey Ryan Earle has written a really useful blog post on this idea based on his experience teaching a history course to nearly 400 students at Cornell University. Earle found that encouraging the students to tweet during the lecture encouraged active engagement, reduced distractions and provided instant feedback to the lecturer. Live-tweeting is something I'll be introducing in my first-year biology lectures this year. With over 400 students enrolled, it will be interesting to see whether it boosts interaction with the course material. I'll let you know how it goes!


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