Three in ten college faculty surveyed earlier this summer said they use the micro-blogging site Twitter as an educational tool, but many educators remain skeptical of the social network and believe the site contributes to poor writing habits and will prove to be a "fad."
Faculty Focus, a company that distributes electronic newsletters to higher-education professionals, surveyed about 2,000 college and university faculty this summer and found that 69.3 percent of respondents don’t use Twitter in any capacity.
About 50 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know how to use the web site, where members write statements that must be less than 140 characters. Sixty-three percent said they didn’t have time to use Twitter, and 62 percent questioned the site’s educational value. Almost 13 percent surveyed said the used to tweet, but did not find the web site useful.
Twitter has seen steady growth in the past year, boasting more than 6 million members–about 4 percent of internet users–in 2008, according to eMarketer, which tracks Twitter usage. The site hosted more than 14 million unique visitors in March, according to market research. eMarketer projects that about 10 percent of the American adult population will use Twitter by next year.
Jeremy S. Hyman, a longtime college educator and co-author of Professors’ Guide to Getting Good Grades, a self-help book for new college students, said professors who consistently use Twitter usually come from "a demographic [that is] a lot younger and different" than most college faculty.
"A lot of times, professors want a certain amount of distance between them and their students," said Hyman, a part-time faculty member at the University of Arkansas. "[Some faculty] feel uncomfortable with penetrating that social sphere … and many professors would not like the constant contact of a Twitter interchange."
Anonymous comments included in the Faculty Focus study, titled "Twitter in Higher Education: Usage Habits and Trends of Today’s College Faculty," showed that many respondents believe course-management systems such as Blackboard already provide online arenas for student-to-professor communication, making Twitter largely redundant in academia.
"I do not believe Twitter can be used as an effective educational tool," one respondent said. "Twitter is almost the same as any social networking site, and as with other social networking sites, there are the issues of how far can you go with your students, problems of inappropriate comments, too much familiarity, etc."
The Twitter survey included dozens of responses in support of a Twitter-inclusive classroom. Some advocates said the site helps them keep in touch with colleagues and can contribute to class conversation. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they "frequently" use Twitter to collaborate with other professors and faculty.
"I have used Twitter to capture real-time feedback from students on course design and assignments," another educator said. "Additionally, my students use it to stay abreast of current issues in our field [distance education] and to bring those topics to the classroom for further discussion. The students have given positive feedback on that use of Twitter–they like the feeling of not having all their information filtered through me, and it encourages them to challenge my point of view."
The Faculty Focus survey included professionals from many corners of higher education. More than half of respondents were professors or instructors–4.3 percent identified themselves as online professors–and 23.6 percent were provosts, department chairs, or deans. Sixteen percent were librarians and faculty members from marketing, admissions, academic advising, and other departments.
Ignorance of Twitter was only part of the reason the site is largely unused by college faculty, experts said. Hyman, co-author of Professors’ Guide, said there is a looming fear among university educators that constant web-based communication with students could leave them exposed to harassment charges.
"Professors could make themselves vulnerable to that on Facebook or Twitter," he said. "Professors often shy away from activities that might get them into trouble. … Many feel very uncomfortable with that."