Academic Discussion via Twitter

I’ve finally arrived at the point in the fall semester when I need to be casting significant glances ahead to the spring. That means working on syllabi for two new classes (Media History and Feature Writing) and making syllabus adjustments for a class I’ll be teaching again (Media Writing).

Lately, though, I’ve been spending time trying to figure out how to incorporate social media into my classes. I’m playing with the idea of creating a Twitter account branded specifically for me as a WT professor (don’t laugh at my photo). Or, I might just use the one I have and assign some specific hashtags to help me distinguish topics in one class from topics discussed in another. Or, I just might create one hashtag so that my students can follow and comment on the things that are being discussed in all of my classes. That might be a bit confusing, though. Decisions….

I think Twitter can be quite valuable for students, particularly those who study mass communication. It forces them to be succinct with their thoughts and economical with their language. Twitter, of course, allows for a maximum of 140 characters. This restriction is a great tool in an era where my colleagues and I are finding many students who have difficulty paring their expression to its basic, clear essence.

For years my public radio colleagues have used a method to get focused on what their reports are essentially about — describe it in three words. If you can’t, you’re trying to cover too much. Once you get those three words, let them be your guide. If you stray from them, you’re getting away from the point of your report. It helps discipline your thinking and your writing. I think Twitter might be able to do the same for focusing our academic discussions.

To express yourself succinctly, you must first think about what you’re going to say. That’s a valuable habit to cultivate (don’t even get me started on our current pundit culture). And the idea here is not to limit academic discussion; instead, I’m hoping this will focus academic discussion, making it even more inviting and stimulating.

This sounds all nice and neat on a Sunday afternoon blog post, but I have no idea if this would actually work in a classroom setting. I would certainly have to sell it to my students, and I would have to make sure that this exercise is both relevant and stimulating for them (and me) for an entire semester.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience (success and failure) with a similar effort. And, if any of you readers have thoughts or advice to pass along, by all means, please do so.

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