Twitter is undoubtedly great for many things, and its rapid growth underlines the utility many people find in the site. There is nevertheless the impression that it is largely used for the fluffier things in life, and is certainly not a useful tool for learning anything of substance. Or is it?
That was the question posed by a new study that set out to explore how academics and their students were using Twitter in an intellectual context.
The researchers quizzed over 150 participants on their current use of Twitter, especially in an academic context. Were they using it to share information for instance, or maybe to talk with tutors about course content? This information was then compared with the same questions aimed at their tutors. Would they match?
Well, it would appear not. When it came to student uses of Twitter, it was primarily a tool used to engage with friends. It was much more common for students to follow their favourite celebrity than it was to follow prominent academics in their field. What’s more, they were very unlikely to actively engage with professors via the site.
In that sense, their professors were showing the way. They reported heavy usage of the site for information sharing, event organising, blog promoting and even international networking. Most of their Twitter usage was however done with fellow academics. Very few reported using the site for teaching purposes.
This self promotional activity on Twitter probably reflects the relative vulnerability of life as an academic, with ones reputation incredibly valuable in a professional sense. There is also a degree of risk associated with posting class related content on a public and social platform, which is no doubt contributing to the limited use of the site in such a way.
Nevertheless, the paper is optimistic that gradually uses will be found for academics to engage more with students via Twitter, whether that’s via a live lecture broadcast, an AMA style debate or more rudimentary course support. They suggest however that it will require some early adopters to show the way to those more prone to drag their heels, thus creating a critical mass.
The authors conclude “future trends (may) result in greater uptake…and opportunities for its utility in supporting the academic–student relationship in enhancing learning in the HE contexts.”
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