Twitter: a central connection to professional life.

Dr Hazel Christie, is a Student Learning Advisor in the Centre for Learning and Study Support in Student and Academic Services at Edinburgh Napier University. In this guest blog Hazel reflects on her experiences of using twitter. You can follow Hazel on twitter  @christiehazel

Hazel_Donegal_biggerAcademics are often sceptical when I talk about twitter.  They don’t see the appeal of the 140 character tweet, which can, at best, give only a headline comment or a snapshot of a situation, and, at worst, fill your tweet deck with banal details about a random group of individuals.  Twitter is yet another task to be prioritised amidst the mounting piles of assessments, the e-mails that need to be answered, the lectures that needs to be written, the research project that needs attention.  And, of course, twitter is never ending.

For me, twitter started as an escape route from a particularly testing time in my personal and family life.  It was an unexpected oasis of stability and tranquillity that I could retreat to when things were very difficult.  And although I didn’t anticipate it at the start, twitter has become a central connection to, and an integral part of, my professional life.  It’s a very efficient and effective way both to keep in touch with colleagues here at Edinburgh Napier, and to become networked into a wider community of practice, for me in the field of teaching and learning in higher education.

I’ve been using twitter seriously for over a year and, as time progressed, I started to reflect on why it has become a central crux of my professional life.  Like everything, you have to invest time and energy to learn how twitter works, indeed this is something that Hazel Hall has written about more broadly in her account of the social processes through which people engage in on-line environments (Hall et al 2010).  There’s the messy busy of finding people who are on twitter and who, more importantly, are worth following.  I check out a person’s twitter history before I decide to follow them, looking for the ones who have interesting and useful things to say about teaching and learning, or about what’s happening here at Edinburgh Napier.  For me, a lot of the appeal of twitter stems from how our colleagues here (or at least the ones I follow) use it in a very constructive fashion.  There’s the usual round of tweets that are in effect news or announcements about what’s happening in the University – calls for papers, details of upcoming conferences, success with research grants and so on.  Some of these are interesting enough to want to follow up the (obligatory) links, and others I give only a cursory glance to.  But I appreciate that colleagues are taking the time and effort to put information ‘out there’, and I find twitter a very easy, light touch, way to gain a sense of what’s happening in my university world.  It’s possible to stay connected and feel knowledgeable even if you aren’t actively participating in a round of tweets.

And perhaps more importantly, I try to find people to follow in my wider research area.  Again, it’s about finding the right people, and the right organisations, to follow.  And again, there’s a learning curve.  I’ve been lucky – there are lots of great people tweeting about teaching and learning, particularly as the ground is shifting so fast with changes in digital media culture, and the majority of the learned societies, professional bodies, policy units and so on in my field have an active twitter presence.  Some I’ve found by serendipity, perhaps picking up on an interesting conversation in someone else’s timeline, but the majority I find by design, by actively seeking out the twitter feeds that will give me a heads-up about what’s happening in my wider professional world.  I love the range of things I touch on every day, from tiny details about where people are at in the research process – their writing targets, new collaborative research project, the headline comments from conferences and workshops they attend – to bigger research and policy questions.  And it’s an active process.  I’ve followed up suggestions about how best to support students to write to deadline, and implemented these in my workshops; I’ve followed links to the processes which help student to become independent learners, and used these in my teaching; and I’ve gained insight into the research and teaching practices of people at the cutting edge of the discipline.  My timeline is full of information that useful to me in my job here; after all, I’ve customised it to suit my needs. And that, perhaps, is why I find twitter such a powerful way to connect to a professional teaching and learning community.

References

Hall, H., Widén, G. and Paterson, L. (2010) Not what you know, nor who you know, but who you know already: Examining Online Information Sharing Behaviours in a Blogging Environment through the Lens of Social Exchange Theory Libri, 60(2): 117-128

See also Hazel Hall’s blog on many things to do with information and knowledge management.

Five of my favourite twitter accounts for teaching and learning in higher education

@timeshighered

Up-to-the minute headlines on what’s happening across the university, links to articles published in The Times Higher Education Supplement.

@thesiswhisperer 

Aimed at research students but useful for all academics. Lots of hints and tips for PhD students, often linking through to thesiswhisperer’s blog, about writing and managing the research process.

@ThomsonPat

Professor of Education, Pat tweets links to her blog on research methods, academic writing and public engagement.

@timbuckteeth

Prolific tweeter concentrating on if and how our teaching and learning practices are being reshaped by technological shifts.

@Write4Research

Based at the LSE, this account centres on the hard, skilled work required to write for research publications.  Looks also at how to use all kinds of writing in the process of public engagement.

For more information on how to use twitter in learning, teachign and research see the London School of Economic twitter guide.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences of using twitter? How do you use it for research? Do you have any further “follow” suggestions? Please feel free to leave comments below.

If you are interested in contributing to the HERENblog please contact Karen Strickland at k(dot)strickland(at)napier(dot)ac(dot)uk 

 

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