Twitter and Academic Teaching

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Information about Twitter and Academic Teaching

Published on February 6, 2014

Author: thewikiman



A guide to using Twitter in HE, not in a Research or comms capacity, but specifically in learning and teaching. Delivered for the Learning & Teaching Forum at the University of York.

Includes info on embedding a tweetstream in the VLE.

Twitter Using in Academic Teaching #yorksocmed Ned Potter Academic Liaison

Please go to and fill out my one-question survey

Plan for today: explore why Twitter might be useful in the academic environment, set up Twitter profiles (if you don’t already have them) and discuss the differences between using Twitter for teaching and for research.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social network which allows users to exchange public messages of 140 characters or less, known as Tweets. It’s easy to tweet, via:

Tweets can be entirely text-based or they can contain multimedia such as images or video, and links to anything online.

It works like this: Your tweets are seen by other Twitter users who follow you; you see the tweets of users you follow. You can quickly build up a network of peers with shared interests. There are around half a billion Twitter users worldwide.


1: YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING IN 140 CHARACTERS. Yes you can, because Twitter is meant to be a conversation rather than a broadcast. It’s easy to ask, and answer, questions in 140 characters or less.

2: IT’S JUST PEOPLE SAYING WHAT THEY HAD FOR LUNCH. No it isn’t – only celebrities really do that, because they have so many followers that meaningful dialogue isn’t really possible. For the rest of us, it’s a conversation.

3: IT’S GREAT FOR RESEARCH AND BUILDING REPUTATION, BUT IT CAN’T BE USED FOR LEARING AND TEACHING.. Twitter is certainly more complicated when it comes to teaching, but the obstacles are not insurmountable and it can be extremely beneficial.

Why use Twitter? non-teaching-reasons

Connect with your peers Twitter is a brilliant networking tool – for finding researchers with similar interests, for keeping in touch after conferences , for finding and engaging the leaders in your field.

If you follow the right people on Twitter you’ll always know when the latest papers are published, when calls for papers announced, when conferences are happening, when developments in your field are occurring, when new technology emerges which is relevant to what you do, and what’s going on in HE. Keeping up to date On Twitter, the information comes to you.

Twitter is a great way to tell people about your research outputs, your current projects, and your professional activities. Share what you’re doing with the world It can also be a brilliant funnel for all your other social media activities too – nothing is more likely to get people reading your blog (etc) than people tweeting about it.

(Highly tweeted articles are 11 times more likely to be cited than less-tweeted articles) Eyesenbach, 2011, Can tweets predict citations? Journal of Medical Internet Research 13 (4) Hat-tip to Michelle Dalton – see for more stats.

Also Twitter is FUN.

Click the pic for some more academic perspectives on the non-teaching aspects

Find Tweeters by discipline:

Departmental tweeters: @uniofyork is the main account of the University @UoYLibrary is the Library’s account @UoYITServices is the IT services account @RDT_York is the Researcher Development Team account @TFTV_YORK is the TFTV account, one of the many Departments on Twitter @UoYEvents is the account for Events at York @UoY_Yorkshare is the VLE team’s account Wider HE tweeters: @timeshighered is the Times Higher’s very active account @lseimpactblog is the LSE Impact Blog’s account (don’t be put off by the name, it’s relevant to all academics interested in Web 2.0 tools) @gdnhighered is the Guardian’s Higher Education account

Key concepts defined

Tweet: your tweet is your message. 140 characters. Seen by a: your followers who happen to be online at the time and b: anyone who happens to look at your profile, and potentially c: by the followers of anyone who ReTweets it. ReTweet: if you RT someone else’s tweet, it will appear in your timeline and your followers can see it. Being ReTweeted yourself is a really good thing – it means your ideas are being exposed to new networks.

@reply: you can converse directly with someone by putting their username (beginning with @) into your tweet – this will ensure the tweet shows up in their ‘@ replies’. Your tweets will be seen by anyone following both you AND the person with whom you’re conversing. (In other words, you don’t see every tweet from every person you follow – Twitter filters out the noise.)

Hashtag: a #hashtag is a way to bring together disparate users on the same topic, without the tweets needing to know each other already. Hashtags can also be a way to archive conversations on a theme, and discuss events or conferences. You can click on any #hashtag (for example #altmetrics) and find all recent tweets which have included it. This is the best way to tweet around a specific module (or academic topic). Direct Message: a DM is a private message, within the network, which only you and the recipient see.

Time to get started. Go to and follow the instructions EXCERCISE 1 in the hand-out, Getting to know Twitter. (10—15 minutes) The handout is also available digitally at

The key issue for today:

4 ways to use Twitter for teaching

1) Support the module Using a hashtag for the module (e.g. ##CHE2C32) provide further reading suggestions, interesting links to related content, additional assignments for keen students, reminders about deadlines, clarifications and answers to questions, third-party opinions and stories.

2) Enhance the lecture / labsession / clinic The backchannel… Allows students to ask questions, emboldens them, allows them to share with each other. You can (twt)poll them during the session. High risk, high reward.

Unlike other places we encourage students to interact (message boards in BlackBoard for example), with Twitter many students are there anyway. This means participation is slightly more likely to take off.

3) Keep in touch Excellent for postgrads who aren’t on campus – but also for all students, to have regular interaction outside the scheduled lectures and seminars.

4) Synchronous and asynchronous communication Twitter allows you to post key information to found later – as does BlackBoard – but can also talk in real time and answer queries on the fly.

Gary Wood at Sheffield has asked that students direct all questions to him via Twitter (unless sensitive) and it has significantly reduced his time spent responding to enquries. Replies are necessarily short and lacking in formality, and are public so can be linked to rather than rewritten (and may also reduce duplicate queries). Allows you to visualise tweets on a topic, in real-time, on big screens in the lab/seminar/lecture

Go to, and type in the hashtag for this session #yorksocmed

But surely we can’t MAKE the students sign up for Twitter?

We cannot enforce UG participation of any social media platform – and all the same information must be also provided for students who chose not to participate in the Twitter aspect of the module. So what’s the answer..?

We cannot enforce UG participation of any social media platform – and all the same information must be also provided for students who chose not to participate in the Twitter aspect of the module. So what’s the answer..?

Exercise 3. Embed the #YorkSocMed stream (or anything else you fancy) into a BlackBoard module – follow the instructions on the handout. (20 minutes)

E.g. Academic Tweeting

Archaeology academic at York. Uses Twitter in teaching with Yr3 and Postgrad students (as well as for research and other purposes).

Year 3 students created blogs as part of summative assessments, and used Twitter in conjuction with this. “In combination with running these blogs, more than half of the students either set up their own project-specific Twitter feeds, or tweeted about their projects through their personal accounts. They used Twitter completely of their own volition – I didn't require it; indeed, I'm not sure how much I encouraged it at all – but from reading their final reflections on their projects, my impression is that everyone thought it was meaningful: primarily for raising the visibility of their blogs, but also for connecting them with new audiences and contributors to their blog content.”

Using it with Masters students has seem results vary according to the character of the cohort. “I've used the #yorkchm2 hashtag informally with my Master's level students since 2012. While previous cohorts have used it to share resources and connect with professionals in the field, my current cohort is not active at all. The best result was with my 2013 cohort, where one of my students initiated a now well-established and international debate, using #freearchaeology, about the exploitation of archaeology/heritage specialists.” Read more in Sara’s FORUM article:

More on the horizon. “Starting in two weeks, I am launching a new Master's level module where I am requiring students to join and use Twitter, identifying their module-specific tweets with the hashtag #yorkunimuseums. I mention this as your workshop participants can literally, then, follow along to monitor the uptake and use of the hashtag – they can basically be adjudicators of its success!”

Here's a blurb from the module description to explain my rationale for necessitating Twitter use: We will also explore the potential of Twitter for sharing and debating museums issues. There is a massive and productive museums community tweeting about current, pressing museological topics from around the world. It’s important that you become familiar with this community and learn how to filter and assess the information that it is circulating. Before class, instructions will be shared with you on joining Twitter, and from there we will tweet using the hashtag #yorkunimuseums.

Tweeting well

Generally speaking there are three kinds of Twitter tips for HE 1 Twitter in general 2 Twitter for teaching 3 Twitter for research Numbers 2 and 3 are, by and large, the exact opposite of each other…

Twitter in general Above all, remember it’s not about broadcasting, it’s about conversation!

Twitter for research Consider the 1 in 4 rule* Tweets directly about your work

Twitter for research Consider the 1 in 4 rule* A ReTweet? A reply? Tweets directly about your work A link to something useful? *actually it’s more of a guideline…

Twitter for teaching research 4 out of 4 should relate to the module A ReTweet? A reminder? Additional assignment or reading? A link to something relevant in the news?

Try not to think of it as purely personal or purely professional – it works better when it’s both. Twitter for research

Try not to think of it as purely personal or purely professional – it works better when it’s both. (For this reason I’d recommend one account only. All work accounts get no followers; all play accounts have no value) Twitter for research

Teaching accounts should be purely professional. (For this reason I would recommend a separate account, perhaps even one per module.) Twitter for teaching research

Embrace the smartphone! (Soon there will only BE smartphones so you may as well get started now.) Twitter in general

Embrace the smartphone! (Soon there will only BE smartphones so you may as well get started now.) Tweet from conferences (including pictures), converse on the train, reply in the supermarket queue. Twitter doesn’t have to be something you MAKE TIME for. Twitter in general

Look for third-party content that related to the module’s subject matter, for example news reports and media analysis, other academic output, non-scholarly writing on the same subject, etc. Twitter for teaching research

Don’t just make statements, ask questions. Twitter in general

Twitter in general You need to actually tell people you’re there.

Twitter in general You need to actually tell people you’re there. @username on your business cards on your PowerPoint presentations on your name-badge at conferences in your email signature

Any questions, comments, ideas, plans?

Thanks for coming! Feel free to get in touch with follow up questions: Library support for Researchers at These slides will be online at: Absolutely every picture via

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