Round-up: Scholarly Value of Twitter

I was just asked a reference question:

“Where can I find information about the scholarly value of a tweet chat? Would you say it’s a personal learning network?”

To make the answering easier, I’m collecting here a number of citations and posts on the topic. Section one, why this seems to be in the news again; section two, responses from various communities and perspectives; section three, broader thoughts on Twitter’s value; section four, a bit on ROI.

Section one, why this seems to be in the news again

This is a valid question, which has recently surfaced in academic spaces yet again.

President Stephen Toope talks money, MOOCs and bad reviews in annual State of UBC interview. Ubyssey February 25, 2013, 1:14pm PDT.

Jonny Wakefield: Would you ever consider getting on Twitter?
Stephen Toope: No, I was asked that at an AMS council meeting once and I have a very clear answer on that one. I despise twitter, truthfully. I think it’s one of the worst things thats been created in my lifetime, and so there’s no way I’m going to go on it. I dislike everything about it. I think that the notion of the immediate reaction to something without any reflection, the idea that you can say anything that matters in the limited number of characters you’re given, and that you have to do it immediately, and everyone will respond immediately with no reflection, I think it’s the worst of our society, so no.

Section two, responses from various communities and perspectives

Of course, this has gotten quite a bit of attention over the past months. Many of these have been collected here.

Muck Rack: Trending Topic: What journalists are saying about Stephen Toope:

Stephen Toope has previously argued in favor of freedom of expression.

In 2011, UBC president Stephen Toope upheld the free speech rights of students who set up a controversial and graphic anti-abortion display on campus. Campus security informed counter-protesters that they had every right to express their disagreement peacefully, but no right to block, obstruct or disrupt the display, as had been done in prior years. The right to free expression does not justify trampling or obstructing the rights of others to express themselves, assemble peaceably, or use property.

Free speech integral to campus life, by John Carpay. Vancouver Sun JUNE 24, 2013.

The most cogent and potent response has come from a teacher, Iram Khan, in the form of an open letter to Dr. Toope.

The Value of Twitter: An Open Letter to Stephen Toope, President of UBC

I am quite shocked that the president of an educational institution like UBC, and specifically an institution that trains teachers, would make such a statement. I am sure you have heard your share of backlash from this quote. I just wanted to present to you my thoughts as a UBC alumni, an administrator and a teacher. … Twitter has flattened the walls of society. … Twitter has been a tool that has led to deep reflections and connections in the education community. … You can not negate the potential of a tool without trying it yourself.

Reactions to her blogpost came from such education notables as Dean Shareski and many others. The comment stream on the blogpost is absolutely as valuable as the post itself. Toope did reply, but again with a negative view. His reply was posted in the comments to the blogpost where you can read it. Here are just a few highlights from those who argued on behalf of Twitter.

Dean Shareski: It’s amazing that someone in leadership, someone in education is making such a bold statement about something he obviously knows very little about. What an awful example of a life long learner. I’m fine if he chooses not to have one because he may not see value from a distance, but to speak so boldly when he is ignorant is quite shocking and doesn’t, in my opinion speak well of his ability to lead and empower people.

Ben Hartman: It sounds as though President Toope has fallen victim to the “Bieberization” effect. That is, taking a kernel of the conversation found on Twitter and extrapolating that exchange to all of the platform.

Tia: Should he not be modelling openness and willingness to try new things to the students who attend the university of which he is the president?

Dean Shareski 2: As leaders and academics I think ignoring these mediums suggest they have no validity. I would argue that while Dr. Toope may certainly maintain his view, he should be able to point to and acknowledge people in his own field and others who have used these tools and affordances for positive. The more thoughtful people take hold and offer ways to make the world a better place with tools such as twitter, the better chance of it collectively being a good thing for society.

Karin Litzcke: Dr. Toope makes at least three mistakes in his assessment. First, he believes that Twitter has accomplished only what he is aware that it has accomplished. In fact, people on Twitter have meaningful conversations or gain game-changing insights every day – but he hasn’t seen those things happen. Second, he sees only conversations he is not involved in, because he is not involved. So the relationship and personality aspect entirely escapes him – it just looks like random noise. Third, he mistakes the 140 character limit for a barrier to communication, when it fact it is a stimulus to it.

Chris Gamble: I see Twitter as the bread crumb trail which leads to the real sources of information on Blogs and other internet resources. We collaborate together to create a better understanding of the world around us.

Section three, broader thoughts on Twitter’s value

University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Twitter matters: UCCS researchers show value of social media in crisis communication, by Tom Hutton. Communique June 20, 2013

“Our analysis of messages across 29 targeted accounts showed great consistency in the content of the messages,” Sutton said. “That’s an impressive feat in any crisis and is particularly challenging in the fast-moving world of social media.”

Harvard University. Nieman Foundation for Journalism. @Twitter Is Where J-School Students Need to Be

But my interest in Twitter as an essential tool for journalists was growing the more that I saw reporters using it to share links to news stories or search for sources or strengthen their interaction with readers. Producing a good tweet also meant employing good editing techniques, including finding the focus of a story and summarizing it concisely to entice others to read it.

Burton SH, Tanner KW, Giraud-Carrier CG, West JH, Barnes MD
“Right Time, Right Place” Health Communication on Twitter: Value and Accuracy of Location Information. J Med Internet Res 2012;14(6):e156.

Twitter provides various types of location data, including exact Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, which could be used for infoveillance and infodemiology (ie, the study and monitoring of online health information), health communication, and interventions. Despite its potential, Twitter location information is not well understood or well documented, limiting its public health utility.

André P, Bernstein MS, Luther K. Who Gives A Tweet? Evaluating Microblog Content Value. Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, p.471-474.

Ratings revealed that our users primarily valued Twitter as an information medium. Tweets worth reading were often informative (48%) or funny (24%), as seen in Figure 2. These tags had very little overlap: a tweet was often one or the other, but not both. … Social media technologies present both new opportunities for connection, as well as new tensions and conflicts.

Social Media in Education: Utilizing Twitter chats for professional development, By Tom Murray on March 27th, 2013.

The conversation below on the Power of Twitter Chats was designed to share the value of this mode of professional development with other educators. … Twitter chats have evolved into an excellent, differentiated form of professional development. Share your insight, gain feedback and get connected through an upcoming chat that meets your needs.

Recommended resource from the above link.

Weekly education Twitter chat times (137 listed as of today):

LG Javier: My top 4 reasons for joining #phdchat on Twitter

I’m curious! I want to know what it’s like to participant in a Twitter chat.
I’d like to meet other PhD students from around the world and possibly make new connections.
I’m interested in the topic of conversation (which was on ‘blogging about your research’).
I want to learn more about using this particular feature of Twitter.


There are so many, that I limited to just a couple examples that nicely show the power of Twitter chats for academic disciplines, selecting some that people might not expect.

The Rise of the Data Scientist: Recap of IBM Twitter chat:

Twitter chat transcript – quantitative methods. New social media, new social science? (from NatCen Social Research, SAGE and the Oxford Internet Institute)

Section four, a bit on ROI & Metrics

The Wrong Twitter Metrics, by Michelle Dalton. LibFocus May 28, 2013.

Real life examples, exchanges and vignettes that show evidence of real engagement can offer much greater insight than a simple statistic. As well as this richer qualitative data, some quantitative measures such as how many people are tweeting @you or retweeting you are also useful. This shows that people value the content that you are sharing, and thus are more likely to continue to follow and interact with you, building closer and longer-lasting relationships.

Researchers And Social Media: Uptake Increases When Obvious Benefits Result, by David Crotty. Scholarly Kitchen MAR 1, 2011.

Researchers are a time-pressed community, and tools that are seeing adoption are tools that create efficiencies, rather than timesinks.

“Why do you find Twitter useful as an academic?” Sociological Imagination March 6, 2013.

This was the question I asked earlier this morning on Twitter. I was preparing a workshop on twitter for academics and was a little nervous about my content. The basic point of the workshop was to convince participants about the value of using twitter as an academic. The quality and quantity of responses was in itself one of the best arguments I could make for the value of Twitter. The very fact of being able to crowd source broad questions in this way is one of the most striking advantages which stem from engaging regularly with Twitter as an academic.


2 responses to “Round-up: Scholarly Value of Twitter

  1. There is single point made by Toope that captures his failure to understand “I think that the notion of the immediate reaction to something without any reflection, the idea that you can say anything that matters in the limited number of characters you’re given, and that you have to do it immediately, and everyone will respond immediately with no reflection, I think it’s the worst of our society, so no”

    Note that he uses lack of or in ability of a reflection being the key problem with Twitter. Reflection is the single most important action learners can take when they are integrating knowledge into their own experiences in order to create new behavior etc. His dismissing Twitter as being reflectionless is a failure to understand how adults learn. And learn specifically within healthcare, they are seeking solutions to problems and reflecting on those solutions. And as you review comments to counter his dismissing of Twitter you will see they nearly to a person identify Twitter as a place for meaningful knowledge and reflection. Perhaps Miley Cyrus followers Tweet without reflection but someone with cancer or a caregiver doesn’t.


    • Mark, I was hoping someone would bring that up! I am so biased, and spend so much time crafting the poems that I occasionally tweet that the idea of no reflection seemed alien to me. There are moments, and yes, we all have times when we stick our foot in our mouth, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the ability to pause and consider, or equate to a mandate that “thou shalt not think”. Consider the books that have been tweeted, the historical accounts of important events, the creative ways in which Twitter is used for teaching and learning, and so forth. Twitter is an emerging cultural and creative space in addition to being a social space.


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