THE BLOG

Is Your Professor a Twit?

02/15/2009 11:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Everyone's twittering about Twitter this week. David Pogue's "Twitter? It's What You Make It" was amongst the NYTimes.com most read articles this week. Vanity Fair's Michael Hogan just signed up on Twitter so that VF could live blog - or now "live twitter" - their Oscar Party. This week also saw the first Shorty Award Ceremony which honored the best twitterers of 2008 in categories such as entertainment, food, and health.

And it's not just New York Times technology writers, Oscar luvvies, and foodies with a knack for haiku who are "micro-blogging" at Twitter. Professors are at it too. They're even using it to teach.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus TV has posted a short video featuring David Parry, a professor at the University of Texas, who now uses Twitter as a teaching tool.

Parry is a professor of Emerging Media and Digital Culture. He's not some luddite Classical Civ. professor who still writes scholarly papers by hand (or even a professor like my relatively "modern" husband who looked at me blankly when I said I was going to post about Twitter). Thus, it isn't too surprising that Professor Parry is utilizing Twitter in - and out - of his classroom.

About half of Parry's grad students are signed up for Twitter and he says that he has a lot better sense of how these students are "doing in the class." When they're struggling with readings or assignments, he gets to know about it through their tweets (their 140 character Twitter posts).

Parry is aware that Twittering may blur the lines of professor/student relationships; something he doesn't want to do "too much." However, he believes that the old "walls of the classroom no longer apply." New media tools such as Twitter are now integral in so many students' lives, asserts Parry, and thus they offer a great new avenue in which professors and students can communicate.

Thinking back to my own student days, I'm thankful Twitter-teaching wasn't around. The idea of my professors reading updates on my life - with its copious partying and potential for drunken tweeting - makes me shudder. Furthermore, thinking back to the days when I taught undergrads myself, I'm not sure I'd have wanted to trawl through a myriad of student updates to find out what they were thinking about the assigned readings.

Yet, at the same time, I can see Parry's point. Maybe a tool such as Twitter can open up more dialogue between professors and students. No longer will students have to struggle with the finer points of Jacques Derrida or quantum physics on their own. They can tweet their confusions and get tweeted straight back by their helpful professor. Moreover, professors will not have to wait until end-of-semester evaluations to find out that their students hated every reading and class discussion.

Perhaps it's time all professors became twits.