A Little Birdy Told Me

Twitter is the encapsulation of what the Internet has become, giving any person the ability to feed their need for instant gratification in 140-word characters or less. It has become a great way to enhance education by publicly generating intellectual dialoges and making that information readily accessible. In a way, live tweeting at acedemic conferences can emulate the enrichment that TED Talks give the public, and should be allowed during scholarly conferences.

The debate rages on among tweeters regarding whether people who attend these scholarly conferences should be able to live-tweet as they listen. Audience members use hashtags to create trending topics which make the subject matter easily searched.  Fittingly, the argument over tweeting during conferences uses the hashtag #TwitterGate.

The dilemma here lies in the presentation of scholarly work and whether it should be available to the normal person, using hashtags to cite the conference as the source.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of the scholarly communication of the Modern Language Association believes that when an academic wants his or her work to not be publicly disclosed, they should have the option to restrict tweeting.

The problem with live-tweeting scholarly conferences, according to Adeline Koh, an assistant professor at Richard Stockton College, is that while a lot of scholars want their research to be noticed, they do not want their original ideas taken and passed off as someone else’s. However, there are ways to go about Tweeting that keep focus on the speaker, constantly crediting back to the initial seed of the conversation, while still welcoming dialoge. For example, the Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter, a symposium done by University College London this past September, used the hashtag #4hum to promote the conference. This hashtag kept the conversation close to the roots of the conference, and can even be done for each speaker, so that the ideas discussed at the symposium were correctly credited.

Keeping the academic ideas in these conferences easily accessible is important to the public. In one example Koh writes about when she went into a school budget meeting and no one was there. She argues that if she had had some form of platform that could help her educate other people, something easy and widespread like Twitter, she could have alerted people about the meeting, thus making a statement to stop the budget cuts.

Twitter has its drawbacks, as it can lead to oversimplified ideas. Because a tweet can only hold 140 characters, it forces the tweeter to summarize the arguments in essentially two-sentences. This effectively simplifies the argument into a form that is several notches below that of scholarly conferences between academics. Live-tweeters at  Console-ing Passions, a conference on media and feminism at Suffolk University, were so busy Tweeting that they ended up simplifying the material, and even wrongly presented the information. Such as speaker Tara McPherson’s ideas were misinterpreted via Twitter, which depicted that she thought studying media and television narratives are a waste of time. In reality, she was just emphasizing the importance of also examining the codes, systems and networks of media “texts.” This is misleading to people who are trying to follow the presentations virtually.

If used properly, there are ways that Twitter can further education through live-tweeting. Christine Becker, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of Notre Dame, uses Twitter as a tool to spark conversations amongst TV critics and her students. Because most of the material she teaches revolves around events happening in the present, Twitter helps her stay updated with her students, and other professors around the world.

Live-tweeting conferences encourages conversations amongst academics, allowing graduate students and teachers to engage in discussions during and after, and allow people who can’t attend to participate virtually. Twitter is a place for information to gather and prosper: Ready to educate for whomever wants it.

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