The Digital Bridge: How Interactions on Twitter Can Connect Students to the World Beyond Academia

by Benjamin Dally

Conclusions and Further Ideas

Through Twitter, students are able to engage in communal conversations and share ideas with each other as well as with professionals in their field. Twitter allows students to be a part of the genre circulation of the university and disciplinary activity system(s). Because of the dialectical nature of activity systems, students also influence the overall activity system of Twitter, which, in whatever small ways, affects the activity systems to which it is connected. Additionally, by reaching out beyond the classroom about topics related to their study, students will have begun a vital step in their professional lives, professional networking and professional development (Bazerman, 1994). Through their contact with professionals they may begin to understand their field of study extra-academically and therefore understand that conversations about their field are ongoing, intensive, and influential.

While there are many ways that Twitter could be incorporated into the classroom, one avenue stands out as easy and effective, and it is an avenue that was echoed by Katharine in her interview. The professor could, after establishing a strictly professional Twitter account if she chose to do so, ask the members of the class to become one of her Twitter followers. Then the professor could share “links throughout the course of the semester for different articles that [the class will] be talking about [which] will just further cement the ideas” from the class, as Katharine suggests. This would be accompanied by a 5-10 minute mini-lesson about Twitter and its salient features as well as the privacy settings and concerns. But this avenue does not need to stop at this stage. Students could then elect to follow other students in the class. To further participation, the professor could provide a list of professionals or other academics in her field of study that the students are asked to follow. From here, student participation on Twitter could be graded or ungraded depending on the involvement of the professor. The professor could potentially ask that students tweet @ a certain number of professionals (a tweet that would also be tweeted @ the professor or including a class hashtag in order to grade it). Or the professor could ask that students bring in an article from one of the links.

In order for the above scenario to work, as with the implementation of any new book, article, or technology, the professor would need to do some amount of prep work. Professors would need to become Web 2.0 literate and engage with Twitter to some degree. They would also need to vet professional or academic user’s Twitter accounts to ensure they are worthwhile before suggesting that students follow them. In fact, there are already a number of composition and rhetoric academics and journals that are already using Twitter. By bringing these sources into the activity system of the composition classroom, students might begin to understand the active, on-going, and mobile nature of discussions in academic and professional activity systems. Additionally, the sort of connection with writing (composing tweets, reading tweets, and dialoguing with professionals and academics) that Twitter offers in this digital age is helpful for increasing student buy-in. Hopefully this study has shown that the potential gain from Twitter usage outweighs the necessary steps required to bring it into the classroom. Future research in this area might address some of the limitations with regard to scope and/or focus more directly on specific activity systems, as that was not a focus of this webtext. And hopefully, as academia moves further into the 21st century, Twitter can be seen not just as a social experiment, but rather as a powerful mediator between academia and the world beyond the classroom.