Academics on Twitter

Recently I was interviewed for The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on academics who Twitter. Here’s my portion of the story:

8. Scott McLeod, an associate professor at Iowa State University and director of the university's Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education. Tweet: "College students are online more AND reading more?"
Followers: 1,307. Posts: 1,190.

Mr. McLeod argues that professors have been too slow to adopt Twitter. Academic discussions online often take place on closed e-mail lists, he says, when they should be happening in public forums like Twitter, so that a diverse group of outsiders can join in. "I think academics are actually missing a lot by not being involved in more of these social tools," he told me. "There are a lot of academics who think, 'If it's not coming from some other academic it's not worth a damn,' and that's not right."

He admits that some of the messages on Twitter are banal, such as people describing what they had for lunch that day, but he said such notes are part of what makes Twitter such a powerful way to feel connected to far-flung colleagues. "It's like those daily interactions you have with your neighbor — sometimes they're highbrow and sometimes they're lowbrow, but after a while you really get to know the person."

I don’t know if academics have been too slow to adopt Twitter specifically, but I definitely believe that academics have been too slow to adopt social media generally.

Check out the article if you’re interested. What do you think are some good ways that professors could be using Twitter?

8 Responses to “Academics on Twitter”

  1. Having been in the freshman Pysch class of 225 students, I think it would be a great way to get a question to the prof (or the other students) without interrupting the flow of the lecture.

    It certainly doesn’t hurt to promote your topic between classes. “I just heard a great recording of the song we are doing at iTunes…” or “I just saw a great use of…” That can connect what you teach to the real world and get your students thinking along those lines at times other than class time.

    The personally interesting use I saw for Twitter this month was the Fargo flood. My brother lives near the Red River (at 43 feet.) Useful, real-time data out to everyone who cares. Twitter was also being used to get the labor to where it was needed quickly. Very helpful.

    There were several flood feeds, this one tells where they are at now:

  2. Hi Prof. McLeod,

    I just read your commentary on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on academics who Twitter and followed you (@gradeguru). I graduated college in 2006, not too long ago. Since then, I’ve seen an a significant increase of academics who are adopting social media tools to enhance their research and teaching methods. Even in my own alma mater – Boston University, the communication school is now teaching blogging, podcasting and social media related PR courses by well known bloggers and new media enthusiasts .

    I am part of a team that developed a collaborative study platform for college students. Our site,, is a collaborative learning tool that helps students share their study methods and offers peer feedback and support. As an education technology expert, I would love to talk to you more about this and get your take on some things we’re working on.

  3. I am experimenting with twitter as a comment and assignment board with my senior students in an astronomy class. This is shifting their paradigms, as it challenges them to check their twitter feeds, rather than a simple text message (which is how I have been doing it for the first 3 quarters). I am using this as a way to communicate and Retweet questions to a group, but as in anything, it has taken class time to focus what I am doing by forcing them to use the tool as a daily feedback or assignment.

    I think, after a few weeks, they will be hooked; however, I am unsure how well the college buy-in is happening. Do we have any data on how many kids twitter in college? Is it a requirement from the class? I’m curious.

  4. I thought about using Twitter as a backchannel for an introductory econ class of 500 students but none of my students are on Twitter. Since many seem confused by the other technology used in the class (Blackboard, clickers, podcasts, lecture recordings on iTunesU and an online site that provides problems and interactive activities), I am loath to add more. I might require it for a smaller class that used fewer other tools but until it is more mainstream for students, I wonder about the value of requiring Twitter. I think a Facebook group or a class wiki would make more sense, at least for my students.

  5. I teach Microsoft networking at Fountainhead College of Technology. We are a Technical School so I try to embrace the latest technologies. I believe that learing about tools like twitter, diigo and linked in (among others) are important. It is important not only because they are new technologies but because their colleges and contemporaries are using them.

    For example I recently got in touch with Dan Houser. He is the Director at ISC² and author of Submarine Warfare which is a document I was researching for a paper I am writing. All the links to the article were broken and extensive Google searches reviled email address that were no longer available. However I was able to find him through some contacts I made through linkedin. I am a nobody when compared to Dan Houser. Not only was I able to get in touch with him, he made the articles available again and is interested in my paper. This demonstrates the power of these tools.

    Another example of how social networking works that I have learned about this article from twitter. Powerful Stuff Eh?

    You can find me on the web (if you are interested) as jh2fct. Just Google it. I am everywhere.

  6. If students are motivated by teachers’ enthusiasm for a subject (as some work Project Tomorrow does suggests they are in the STEM field) then show how what they are learning in the classroom is relevant to what’s happening all around them, and why it is interesting to the teacher, sounds like a good idea to me.

  7. Two sided question. Professors can (and should) first use Twitter for their own learning. And the more they use it, the more possibilities will come to mind on using it for instruction. I personally like some of the comments above about backchannel communication in class. Marcia’s point is good – Twitter is not mainstream for college kids…but it is moving that way in corporate America, and so incorporating it adds to the life skills they can use on leaving the university.

  8. I have used twitter for project supervision. It creates a community of learners who can help each other and as a supervisor my self I get to know what my students are going through so that I can tailor my support to them.

Leave a Reply