The other day I was talking with a colleague about how we and our professional friends approach Twitter. As with any tool of self-expression (e.g. paper, text messages, office decorations), we all have different styles.
Why is it important to understand how you express yourself on Twitter? For me, it goes back to my understanding of Connected Learning. I believe Connected Learning promotes three types of participatory learning: strategic reflection, associative trailblazing, and creative interpretation. A person engaging in strategic reflection will use personal reflection to identify their role in discourse and their position in any body of content and then move themselves around the board (as in chess) to get to where they want to be. Of course the ability to reflect strategically doesn’t happen just because you take connected learning courses. The courses give you the opportunity to practice your skills but you must actually do the work. Twitter has given me a venue in which to move freely and strategically. However I must do the reflective work to decide how I move, how I want to move, and where I want to be. Strategic reflection is a process and one that I’ve been working through in regards to Twitter since I started tweeting last April.
How do the people I know use Twitter? (Bear in mind this is not intended to be generalizable.)
Some people use Twitter as a form of curation and signal amplification. @GardnerCampbell does this fabulously. He live tweets conferences (right now he’s live tweeting #AACU – Association of American Colleges and Universities) when he goes to them. He also does a great job of sifting through the New York Times and other papers/journals, tweeting out links to the better articles. @amcunningham does the same for the health professional/educational fields. Both will enter scholarly exchanges if you start them. Both generously retweet your work or words if they find them interesting.
Other people use Twitter for autobiography. Those who do it well are entertaining to read and stimulate others’ reflective practices. These people tell great stories in colorful modern haikus. Reading them provides me with moments of perspective and windows away from my spreadsheets and into humanity. I value these. My personal favorites are @DrGarcia and @CBPotts.
Then there are the experts – the people who are more than willing to offer technical advice and they do it in a nice way. They also write exceedingly informative blog posts and find/make interesting things and they use Twitter to point you towards those things. @twoodwar and @cogdog do that sort of thing very well for the educational technology field.
And then there are the people who have somehow collected a huge number of followers and use Twitter the same way a traditional professor uses the front of the classroom: They use Twitter to broadcast, profess, or rant. I’m watching this one young critical theory scholar from Indiana, @kim_tastiic, use her Twitter base of thousands to engage in really inflammatory exchanges around Islam, communism, and racial voice. She’s young young and she hasn’t found her scholarly footing yet, but I swear she’s one to watch (meanwhile she’s calling me out as a “troll,” but I’m trying to be ok with that).
Finally we have the people who have seemed to find a balance between it all – a little signal amplification, curation, autobiography, expert advice, and the occasional short rant (when the mood is right). They create a face of holistic, public scholarship – real knowledge grounded in the real world, produced by real people. @jonbecker and @tressiemcphd are my role models on this one.
But where do I land in all of this? Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve tried them all. I can’t seem to stick with professional expertise or information curation because it’s too tempting to insert more than a little of my personality somewhere in the mix–more than what is traditionally acceptable in scholarship. I can’t do autobiography alone, because (a) I’m not that witty and (b) it feels lonely out there when no one responds to my tweets ever. I can’t really amplify signals because my twitter following isn’t that large and I don’t rant consistently or for long because I feel guilty about subjecting the followers I do have to that sort of thing. And I’m not that angry. I think I’m trying (slowly, with plenty of errors and room for improvement) to move towards a goal of using Twitter as a platform of holistic, public scholarship.
So I challenge those who are just picking up Twitter to respect it as a powerful tool for self expression…in terms of personal and professional use. You don’t have to know what sort of tweeter you are right away; in fact, I think it’s something that emerges over time. But bear in mind that this is an opportunity to access a free, openly available platform for scholarship – it’s just a matter of figuring out how you want to use it. Experimentation takes time, but it’s worth it in the end.