Twitter Use Is Growing Among College Faculty

Next time your college professor glances at his phone or stops to type something on his laptop, check your Twitter stream.

A survey of about 1,958 higher education professionals - professors, instructors, deans and others - across the nation found that nearly a third are using Twitter in some way, shape or form. Even so, more than half said they had never used Twitter in any way, shape or form.

Some highlights of the 20-page study, "Twitter in Higher Education: Usage Habits and Trends of Today's College Faculty":
  • 30.7 percent of those surveyed are using Twitter in some capacity
  • 56.4 percent have never used Twitter
  • 12.9 percent of respondents say they tried but no longer used it because it took too much time, they did not find it valuable, or a combination of reasons.
  • Of those who use Twitter, 21 percent say they "frequently" use it to collaborate with colleagues; 15.6 percent do so "occasionally."
  • Of those who use Twitter, 7.2 percent "frequently" use it as a learning tool in the classroom; 9.4 percent do so "occasionally."
  • 71.8 percent of current Twitterers expect their usage to increase this school year.
  • 20.6 percent of current non-Twitter users say there is a "50/50 chance" they will use Twitter as a learning tool in the classroom in the next two years.

Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed were professors or instructors and nearly a quarter were "academic leaders" (i.e., department chairs, deans, provosts, etc.). Another 16 percent designated themselves as other, which could mean they're in faculty development, academic advisement, instructional design, marketing, admissions, assessment, library services and other types of instructors. The study was conducted by Faculty Focus, a website for higher education professionals.

Those who said they'd never used Twitter gave a variety of reasons for that choice, including that they didn't know how to use it, didn't have time to use it, they were unsure of its relevance in education and didn't know if their students used it.

Some of the comments from the respondents who don't use Twitter were revealing:
• It seems to be a stupid time-eating worthless pursuit
• I am already hooked on Facebook. If I added Twitter, I am not sure I would ever get any real work done!
• Logical arguments cannot well be delivered in short bursts; students must be able to follow arguments in paragraphs.
• I am sick of student writing that is unprofessional. I am also tired of receiving written work that has incomplete sentences, fragments, subject-verb agreement mistakes, point of view mistakes, tense mistakes. Students need to learn how to write on at least a 13th grade level and on-line discussions, twitter, texting, etc. does not help them. NO! I will not use this in my classes!
• Would need institutional approval
• When I have a minute I want to check it out - I tried using MySpace for teaching purposes and half of my students couldn't figure it out.
• Haven't had a good resource to teach me. I don't have time to teach myself...want someone who knows what they are doing to show me.
• Seems like yet another flash-in-the-pan tool that will be obsolete in three years. Why bother learning to use it if it has such a short shelf life?

As were some of the comments from that one-third of respondents who do use Twitter:
• To keep up with latest issues in libraries and education for blogging purposes. Also to get more traffic to my blog from twitter followers.
• Frequently: As a source of useful information and resources that I can share with faculty.
• To follow academic conferences that I can't attend in person.
• I am learning Twitter in order to use it in the classroom. So, my plan is to use it a means to let students know when I am available in my virtual office.
• Promote awareness of our department, services, and health issues relevant to college students.
• Currently, we have a Russian instructor using it to tweet on every day activities. His students respond in Russian. It gives him a chance to correct mistakes and it gives the students daily practice in writing and understanding the language. Students from other universities have joined in to make it a very dynamic learning tool.

Most of those who stopped using Twitter did so because they found it wasn't valuable. But many also said their colleagues and students weren't using it, so it's possible there was a correlation between the two.

The survey was conducted in July and August 2009. An email invitation to participate in the online survey was distributed to Faculty Focus subscribers, among others, and Faculty Focus' Twitter followers also were alerted to the study, should they want to participate.