Academics working in higher education institutions have been using Twitter to communicate, network and share information extending from and about their various ideas and academic practices (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon and Kinsley, 2010) since Twitter was established in 2006. In more recent years, as curiosity and confidence about the technology has grown, the number of academics using Twitter has expanded. Acknowledging the increasing role that Twitter is now playing in academic life this research aims to hear from the voices of those participating on this online community in their roles as academics. Why might academics in higher education use the microblogging site Twitter to communicate and to what end? What ways do they use this particular form of social media, unique in its brevity, to communicate with others? How does this engagement contribute to their developing identities as scholars? These questions and others are asked to academics working in higher education institutions internationally about their specific engagement with Twitter.
We have designed a research study to be conducted over 2014 – 2015 to investigate these questions with academics who use Twitter. The aim of this research is two fold: firstly to understand how and why academics use Twitter and where they position microblogging in their academic identities; and secondly to undercover the lived experiences of how Twitter can support a new way of working in academia through the voice of academics internationally. This research study grew from our work together on the article “Academics who tweet: ‘messy’ identities in academia” (Budge et al., under review/2014) and from our interest in using social media as academics and networking on Twitter and Instagram.
This study is significant as it addresses why academics use Twitter, in particular, to microblog and begins to provide evidence as to usage, non-usage, and boundaries of use. Fransman’s (2013) research into academic literacy practices around the microblogging platform, Twitter, provides a useful springboard and positioning for our inquiry of three narratives that grew into this research study. Our study is focusing on a more micro-level, personalised experience of using Twitter, illuminating at a detailed level how academics came to Twitter, engaged with it and learned from it, and continue to evolve our identities as scholars.
Dr Narelle Lemon is a Senior Lecturer in Curriculum Studies at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Narelle researches in the field of Arts Education, cultural engagement, image based research methods, advocacy of teacher and learner voice, and the integration of digital technologies. Dr Lemon has published a book, several book chapters and journal articles as well as curriculum documentations, commissioned reports and has been invited nationally and internationally to present on image based research and young peoples voice.
Narelle tweets and instagrams at @Rellypops
Narelle’s academic research publications are listed on her La Trobe University profile http://www.latrobe.edu.au/education/about/staff/profile?uname=NLemon
Dr Kylie Budge is Research Manager at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, Australia. When she began work on this project she was Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Collaborative Learning & Teaching at Victorian University in Melbourne. She completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne where the focus of her research was creative practice and the teaching of art and design in higher education. Her research interests include researching art/design and creativity, social media and its intersections with art/design and learning contexts, and academic identity and development.
Kylie tweets at @kyliebudge
Kylie’s academic research publications are listed on her Linkedin profile http://au.linkedin.com/pub/kylie-budge/49/b63/44b
Megan McPherson is a PhD scholar in the Faculty of Education, Monash University conducting a study of the university art school crit. She is also a Project Manager of learning and teaching research at RMIT University and involved in a number of learning and teaching studies that have investigated peer learning and peer assessment in the creative industries, elearning approaches in the university studio and professional development for teaching in new generation learning spaces. Megan is a practicing artist and has taught and researched in the university studio for 18 years.
Megan tweets and instagrams at @MeganJMcPherson
Background of Academics who Tweet
There is a paucity of research on academics and their use of Twitter available at present. This is perhaps due to the relative newness of the technology, the slow pace involved in publishing academic research, and what Pearce et al. (2011) argue as the inherent conservatism within higher education. However, to date, a small amount of research has been conducted into academics and their use of Twitter. For example, Priem and Costello (2010) have researched academics usage on Twitter but in relation to particular specifics, for example, how academics cite on Twitter. In addition, Rinaldo, Tapp and Laverie (2011), focused on the way in which academics use Twitter for pedagogical purposes, especially with their students, and the benefits that result from such innovations.
Perhaps the largest study on academics and their use of Twitter to date is that conducted by Fransman (2013) and her colleagues at the Open University in the UK. In this study, comprising three different methodological approaches – metric analysis, survey, and ethnography – applied to one British university, Fransman highlighted a number of findings about the ways in which academics interact with Twitter (or not). Each of the methodological approaches employed uses a macro lens to explore and understand academics’ Twitter usage (and non-usage). Given the few studies available overall to draw on, we look to the literature surrounding digital identities, academic literacies and digital scholarship to provide a more established base and useful territory in which to locate our inquiry.
The overarching research question of this study is: Are academics, by participating in the use of social media sites such as Twitter, transforming what it means to be an academic? Are we constructing new identities by engaging with social media?
The guiding sub-questions include:
a) Does using Twitter enable the development of more intimate networks?
b) How was enacting scholarly work changed with use of Twitter?
c) Why might academics in higher education use the microblogging site Twitter to communicate and to what end?
d) What ways do they use this particular form of social media, unique in its brevity, to communicate with others?
e) How does this engagement contribute to their developing identities as scholars?
f) How do academics enact Marwick and boyd (2011) and Pearce et al. (2010) notions of ‘branding’?
g) Does participating in the online community of Twitter support reflexive/ reflective practice of making academic work and academic identities less “messy” (James, 1997; Mewburn, 2012)?
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Budge, K., Lemon, N., and McPherson, M. (under review/2014). Academics who tweet: ‘messy’ identities in academia. Reflective Practice Journal.
Fransman, J. (2013). Researching academic literacy practices around Twitter: Performative methods and their onto-ethical implications. In: Literacy in the Digital University: Learning as Social Practice in a Digital World. Research into Higher Education. Routledge.
Marwick, A. E., & boyd, d. (2011). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13, 96-113.
Mewburn, I., & Thomson, P. (2013). Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 38(8), 1105-1111
Pearce, N., Weller, M., Scanlon E., & Kinsley, S. (2010). Digital scholarship considered: how new technologies could transform academic work. In Education, 16(1).
Priem, J. & Costello, K. L. (2010). How and why scholars cite on Twitter. Proceedings for the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 47 (1), 1-4.
Rinaldo, S. B., Tapp, S., & Laverie, D. A. (2011). Learning by tweeting: using Twitter as a pedagogical tool. Journal of Marketing Education, 33, (2), 193-203.
Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.