Special article for the Ivan Allen College Newsletter
by Monica Miller
Brittain Fellow and Assistant Director of Writing and Communication
School of Literature, Media, and Communications Writing and Communication Program
Social media’s strength for scholars lies in its ability to extend our reach. In addition to research which uses social media as a subject of study (MunMun de Choudhury in the College of Computing, for example, has studied Twitter profiles associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement), there is also burgeoning research on how scholars use social media themselves as tools for research and collaboration (for example, LMC professor Krystina Madej’s most recent book Interactivity, Collaboration, and Authoring in Social Media includes an account of a small group collaboratively authored social media narrative, “Romeo and Juliet on Facebook: After Love Comes Destruction”; Nunn School’s Michael L. Best’s work using social media to report crisis and predict election outcomes in Nigeria).
Generally, scholars use social media platforms for promotion and networking — using Facebook and Twitter to post calls for papers or announcements about new books, for example. Many scholars have taken to live-tweeting conferences (tweeting summaries of presentations, questions, and responses in real-time) in order to increase access to emerging ideas, discussions, and arguments to those who aren’t able to attend, given financial, geographic, and other constraints. While the intentions of such live-tweeting is generally applauded — with some conferences even setting aside specific seats for live-tweeters in presentation rooms — some scholars have resisted this practice, for fear of having their ideas misrepresented, stolen, or circulated before the work is ready for a wider readership.
The informality and wide reach of social media, however, is one of its strengths. I like to think of academic Twitter as an enormous conference, with opportunities to interact in many ways. One of the most productive uses of Twitter for academic collaboration is through the use of planned, hashtagged chats, such as #FYCChat (which stands for “First Year Composition Chat”). For several years now, on Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. EST, users tweet using the #FYCChat hashtag to discuss ideas in teaching first year composition. Participants periodically brainstorm topics they wish to discuss, and a schedule of topics is posted online. Recent topics have included curriculum and assessment, multimodal assignments, and strategies for keeping teaching approaches current. Composition scholars and teachers from around the world who might otherwise never meet can use #FYCChat to ask questions and exchange ideas, allowing access to previously unprecedented collaboration.
Twitter can also be used in conjunction with Storify, an online platform which allows users to collect related social media posts and other links and compile them in a digital archive. For example, at a Modern Language Association Roundtable I moderated on the hot button topic of trigger warnings, one audience member created a Storify of the event, collecting live-tweets of the discussion and links to articles referenced, with additional narrative and commentary she wrote about the session (https://storify.com/kendalljoy/725-trigger-warnings-mla16). In this way, an annotated archive exists of the event which otherwise would likely remain as forgotten notes in conference programs.
Finally, many of these social media applications translate easily to the classroom. Many instructors use variations of live-tweeting to teach close reading and annotation, use Storify as a tool for collecting research, or encourage Twitter as a way of interacting with authors. With the inevitability of online lives, it’s important that as both scholars and teachers, we learn to take fuller advantage of these currently ubiquitous tools.