By Kat Kiefer-Newman
From their laptops, their Blackberries, their iPhones, and now their iPads they Tweet. They Tweet in the library, the parking lot, walking along the pathways, in the dining hall. They Tweet because they can. And I am of the think-set that technology in college is “a good thing” (as Martha Stewart is fond of saying). But when they Tweet during my class, during my lectures, or when they are supposed to be working on a group or writing assignment, I get a miffed. I take their electronic gadget away from them, and if the Tweet is really cute, I read it aloud (often embarrassing them into never doing it again).
Did someone just ask “What’s a Tweet?” Well, my under-a-rock dweller, Tweets are those teeny-tiny (140 character) interactions in status lines on the social networking web site, Twitter. This sort of interaction is called micro-blogging, because it’s, well, micro (translation: really-really-really small).
Don’t believe what the Urban Dictionary lists as the #1 definition: “A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a [@#$%] what they’re doing at any given time” (Urban Dictionary). I roll my eyes at this kind of definition, and say, “Oh, puh-leez.” Yes, some Tweets are silly, but some are inspiring, creative, inventive, prescient, even timely. My family and I watched the last Presidential election on Twitter and it was super-exciting. Twitter is also hugely popular, hugely successful, and apparently much welcome in college classrooms.
Yes, I did just say that. If you Google Twitter news you’ll see that instructors are using Twitter to update students on assignments, do group work, run extended “office hours” with students, and to interact with students during large lecture classes. Professor of emerging media at UT-Dallas, David Parry, writes that students really don’t have the cohort experience that college once provided. This is because of the economy and the student profile we now see in the classroom (more full-time jobs, families, off-campus lives, etc.). But Twitter and other social networks make “‘up for it, in a way'” (August 2010 US News).
At the end of March of this year, over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, regular contributor Ben Wieder wants readers to know that Professors who have Twitter accounts tend to seem more accessible to students. Mostly, he references Kirsten A. Johnson‘s study published in Learning, Media and Technology. At the end, Wieder mentions The Chronicle’s ProfHacker columnist, Jason B. Jones. Jones suggests, in his piece about Twitter, that being impersonal while seeming to be personal is the key. Well, I thought to myself, isn’t that what “we” do in class anyway? My husband, a Comm instructor, and I, have carefully selected “family stories” that we use in lectures to illustrate whatever points we’re making during the lectures. This seems like common sense to me.
Back in October, last year, in the “Wired Campus” section of The Chronicle, Paige Chapman cites the 2010 Faculty Focus report on how educators are warming to (and using) Twitter. Nooooot so much for educating, but more for socializing with each other. Overall, people are torn about whether it’s a great tool or a waste of time. Meanwhile, in December of 2010, Jeff Young noted that some 18 percent of college students do use Twitter in some way. Since I’m being so link-tastic in this post, here’s the survey that Young based his Chronicle piece on. (Young isn’t new to the Twittering. In 2008, he offered guidelines for instructors on just what it was all about).
I don’t know if I will ever Tweet as I lecture; nor do I think I’ll craft impersonal stories about myself to allow my students to feel they know me. (I have a blog for that, lol, and many of them tell me they read it – hello “Oscar,” I know you’re seeing this).
I do like Twitter. I like the immediacy of it. I like that it’s also so forgivable. I mean, here in my blog, typos happen. I cringe when I see them days, weeks, months later. But in Tweets typos are part of the messaging format. And Tweeting is just plain fun, too. They’re like beautiful, imperfect Haiku of randomness. You can’t go wrong with that.
Just don’t do it in my class, I’ll take your cellphone or laptop away after I make fun of you.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)