I’ll Defend Twitter to the End

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows how much I love Twitter. I will forever defend the platform from naysayers, although I will also admit that it’s not perfect. But my love for Twitter meant I was looking forward to reading a study about Twitter use and its effects on student perception of instructor credibility.

They asked the wrong question

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed when I realized that the study didn’t actually answer the main question that its title led me to believe it would. Instead of actually asking “does Twitter use impact perception of instructor credibility?”, they instead asked “do different types of Twitter use (social, professional, or a blend) have different effects on the perception of instructor credibility?”. For me, this framing of the question really limits the usefulness of the results in the teaching world.

Arguably, the point of conducting a study like this one would be to help instructors make decisions about their Twitter use. But does this study do that? If you’re an instructor who has already committed to using Twitter, the answer would be yes. Based on this study, you would want to post only or primarily professional content. But if you are an instructor who is trying to decide whether or not to use Twitter, this study tells you nothing. Because the study didn’t involve a control group who didn’t see any tweets, there’s no way to tell whether use of Twitter has an overall positive, negative, or negligible effect on the perception of instructor credibility. If you’re that instructor trying to decide whether or not to use Twitter, there’s not much point in knowing how you should use Twitter to maintain as much credibility as possible if using the platform at all is known to decrease your credibility overall.

The limits of experimental design

The point of experimental design (or at least, one of the points) is to limit the number of variables that influence the thing that you are looking at. In general, this is a good thing. But it also sometimes eliminates the bigger picture- and in real life, there almost always is a bigger picture. As outlined in the article, a number of different things can influence credibility: competence, trustworthiness, caring, high immediacy, relatability, self-disclosure, etc. In real life, your assessment of instructor credibility is likely based on class delivery, probably assignment feedback and grades, your interactions with the instructor after class or in office hours, in addition to their Twitter presence. When you’re focusing on just Twitter presence, it may have an effect on credibility, but how large is that effect in the grand scheme of things? Does it even matter?

Defending Twitter

As part of the qualitative portion of this study, the researchers posed open-ended questions asking students about their perceptions of instructors with public Twitter accounts, and asked for both possible positive outcomes and possible negative outcomes. The positive outcomes made me feel all warm and gooey inside, but those negative items- well, many of them had me all a-twitter (pun obviously intended).

Overstepping time boundaries

Some students seemed to be worried that if instructors were interacting with students on Twitter, instructors would be asked too many questions at all hours of the day. It’s great that they’re trying to look out for the instructor…but I’m guessing they also don’t understand what an instructor’s email inbox looks like. It’s generally full of way too many questions sent at all hours of the day. Just because you ask a question on social media doesn’t mean you’ll get an immediate response- it’s perfectly fine if the instructor gets to it when they have time, or are back in ‘work mode’. Next.

Professional tweeting only, please

Some students made comments that defined or described professional tweeting (the only kind they deemed acceptable, I’m guessing). These descriptions included setting up separate accounts for personal and professional and maintaining a private account.

No thanks.

Creating a private Twitter account would reduce the value of Twitter for an instructor, especially for an instructor who is also a researcher, by a LOT. They wouldn’t be able to disseminate their research via Twitter to a broader public, no one could retweet them, their participation in Twitter chats would be extremely limited, they wouldn’t show up on hashtags… the list goes on. Research isn’t meant to be private- so why would a researcher have a private Twitter account?

Plus, while this may not apply to Twitter, on many social media platforms, it violates the terms of service to have more than one account!

You’re fired!

This one is small and quick. Instructors could post tweets that harm their credibility or get them fired from their job? Sure. But the reality is, if an instructor is posting something on Twitter, it likely reflects their views and who they really are… and if that something will get them fired, well, I’d kind of like to know!

Professors aren’t people

When I read that participants thought that Twitter use could “decrease the professor’s position of authority”, and perceived this as a negative outcome, I came a full stop and started scribbling in the margin of the paper like mad. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a possible outcome. I also 100% think this is a positive outcome.

One of the huge problems we have in higher ed, especially when it comes to first-year students, is that professors aren’t really viewed as people. They are viewed as an authority, an expert, someone who is scary and unapproachable. This view then means that students don’t approach the professor; they don’t ask questions in class, they don’t visit office hours, they don’t ask for help until it’s wayyy too late. This has extremely detrimental effects on a student’s first-year experience (and grades!). As another student said in this study, Twitter makes it “…easier to see them as a human being rather than just someone who gives us information”. Twitter can help humanize the instructor, and to me, that’s HUGE.

In the online pre-arrival program I developed at UVic, humanizing the professor was a huge focus in our academic success topic. The video we created attempts to do just this- make the professor seem like a real person who has likes and dislikes and nerves and a personality! (It’s an unlisted video, but feel free to ask if you’d like to see it and I’ll share the link!).

Additional Questions

  1. The authors never directly state that their study is mixed methods. They just explain the quantitative part and they explain the qualitative part. Is there a known rationale for this?
  2. Would Twitter affect credibility differently for instructors at different levels or modalities? i.e. for an instructor teaching in-person vs. an instructor teaching online? For a university-level instructor, where the professor is often seen as an unapproachable being, vs. a high-school teacher, who gets to know their students on a much more personal level?
  3. What exactly defines a professional tweet, and would different types of professional tweets have a different impact? i.e. tweets simply relaying information and sharing articles vs. tweets adding perspective (and even further, positive perspective vs. being critical).
  4. In the quantitative portion of the study, participants were given reasons why it might be a good or bad idea for an instructor to have a Twitter account. In the qualitative portion of the study, participants were asked for possible positive and negative outcomes of an instructor having a public account. Does the fact that they’ve already been presented with good and bad reasons then bias the qualitative results?

I told you Twitter could get me all riled up.

Featured image by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

3 thoughts on “I’ll Defend Twitter to the End

  1. Wow! I also wrote a long blog about my evolving Twitter use, but you examines the article to much more depth and I feel I overlooked some of the good questions you posed. As for “personal” accounts, what I judged that to mean is that students didn’t want to see tweets about a movie the instructor saw or the “feels” they got at a restaurant. Those are personal. “I don’t tweet anything personal” to me means mundane, superficial and irrelevant to my profession.

  2. Since I started teaching I have been very hesitant to share in social media with students. I feel that there needs to be some separation of my personal life and professional. That being said, I have considered making a blog or website… maybe even a twitter account, that students can use to contact me and I can use to share resources and project ideas. It would also be a convenient way for parents to be able to contact me as well and see what their child is up to. I think what stops me from doing that is that I like to keep my evenings and weekends work free and I am already pretty terrible at that.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this issue. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top