I am co-moderating and co-organizing three academic Twitter chats this semester–#Lingchat, #FYCchat, and the newly minted #SFLchat. It’s a lot to do in terms of social media engagement and planning. But I enjoy it–I told a colleague it’s my way to “productively procrastinate.”
Kidding aside, there are some good reasons why I do academic Twitter chats and have been doing them since I joined Twitter in 2013. And I think those reasons might resonate with some people who already participate in them–and they might encourage others to join in.
- They are convenient. Any academic who wants to contribute to their field or wants to keep up with developments in their field has several options. They can read or publish in journals in their field. They can attend conferences. They can join professional organizations. They can participate in webinars. But each of these has limitations. Journals are periodic and only allow delayed communication. Conferences are annual. Professional organizations might offer listservs or newsletters, but most forms of communication will be asynchronous. Webinars are great, but might cost money and sometimes are just a presentation. Twitter chats are weekly or bi-weekly, mostly synchronous, and free.
- They help me understand my field of study. I’m early in my career–just two years out from my dissertation. Even then, I only know my subfield–genre theory in Systemic Functional Linguistics–fairly well. But the larger field of linguistics, or even the larger field of Systemic Functional Linguistics or genre studies, are still something of a mystery. Sure, I know our general disciplinary narratives. I know big names. But I still have big questions: Where are we going? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What I have always loved about the academy was the ability to think and speak freely in order to better understand the world. And while the halls of the academy–or the local watering hole–are good venues for this kind of informal academic discourse, Twitter chats enable it on a broader scale, exposing their participants to the unconventional view or the new idea. It is what I value most about academic Twitter chats.
- They improve my teaching. Obviously chats like #FYCchat are expressly designed to support professional development of teachers. And they do a great job of doing that–it’s why Trent M. Kays and I revived #FYCchat after it went on hiatus. We share resources on these chats and discuss important issues in our practice. I have used some of the ideas I’ve gotten from those chats. So there’s the explicit aspect of the chat that promotes the sharing of pedagogy. But on another level, even the more theoretical chats like #Lingchat and #SFLchat are spaces for me to practice my teaching–because sometimes mine is the unconventional view or the new idea. And I have to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it. In 140 characters. It forces recontextualization in a way that mirrors, in some ways, the classroom. Any time you get to practice teaching, like any craft, you get a little better. And Twitter chats give you a space to do that.
- They provide me with a community of colleagues, mentors, and mentees. We meet around a hashtag. That hashtag is our common idea, our focal point. That’s why we are there, initially. But then, as you participate more, you build what Karl Maton calls “sociality.” The community forms through the sharing of ideas and practices, through the support of each other, and through the resolution of disagreements (more later). As we learn more about each other, we develop relationships of different kinds. I have many colleagues on these chats, but I’ve also been mentored by people and mentored people myself through these chats. And those relationships have extended beyond the Twitter timeline, to long emails, conversations, and presentations at conferences. That community matters to me. And I’m personally and professionally grateful to have them in my life.
- They are challenging. I’m argumentative on Twitter. Sometimes too much so, and that gets me in trouble. But even if you’re not, Twitter chats will challenge you because they attract voices and views from literally all around the world. Most chats develop as supportive communities, but sometimes there are disagreements. And like any community, those disagreements can only be resolved by the members themselves. Fortunately, most (if not all) of my disagreements have been resolved well, and I learned something, and I like to think the other person did as well. But for me, what has mattered is that those debates have continued to influence my own thinking and research. I regularly think about how so-and-so from the chat would respond to some idea I’ve had. And sometimes that has changed my view or practice. I am–at least I like to think–more open-minded towards views because of the challenge that Twitter chats offer to my own views.
Like many things in life, Twitter chats are what you make of them–so your experience may vary. But these are the reasons why I spend some time every week on Twitter talking to people around the world about linguistics and teaching writing. If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat, I encourage you to try one out. Here’s a good list to start from–or ask someone who participates about dates and times. Hope to see you there!