Using Twitter to make you a more credible instructor

Just reading a piece of research by Kirsten A. Johnson from the Department of Communication at Elizabethtown College titled The effect of Twitter posts on students’ perception of instructor credibility (academic paywall) which illustrates some of the positive teaching benefits of not only using an open social network like Twitter, but using it in a very personal way.

Building on results of previous studies that show that instructors perceived as highly credible can have a positive impact on student learning, this study looked at the impact using Twitter might have on an instructors perceived credibility with students.

One of the factors that can increase the credibility of an instructor with learners is self-disclosure of personal information. You straddle a fine line with personal information. Too much or the wrong type and you can hurt your credibility (the phrase creepy treehouse just popped into my head as I wrote this). And indeed, many of the participants in this study expressed concerns about the appropriateness of instructors using social networks:

When participants in the study were asked why it is not appropriate for teachers to have social networking site accounts, many worried that they would not post appropriate information, thereby causing possible awkwardness in the student–teacher relationship. This feeling among participants supports previous findings that show it is important for teachers to disclose only appropriate information.

But as this research shows, when you hit that sweet spot, social media can help you make some very real connections with your learners, which can translate into improved learning.

The research looks at three different Twitter scenarios and how each influences a students perception of the instructors credibility.

  1. The instructor posts nothing but social information on Twitter
  2. The instructor posts nothing but scholarly information on Twitter
  3. The instructor posts both social and scholarly information on Twitter

120 undergrads from a small US college participated in the study. Interestingly, 81% of the respondents were female while only 17% were male and while the gender balance of the institution where the research was conducted did skew female (64%-36%), the author does acknowledge that this imbalance may alter the generalizability of the study.

The students were divided into three groups. One saw only tweets that were social, one group saw scholarly tweets, and one group a combination of scholarly and social tweets.

The results showed that the students who saw only the social tweets of the instructor rated that instructor as more credible than the group that saw only the scholarly tweets. Interestingly, there was no differences found between the group that saw the combination social-scholarly tweets and the other two groups, which runs counter to how I think Twitter should be used by College level educators since so much of an instructors credibility with students at this level is tied directly to their subject-matter expertise.  The authors of the study were also surprised by this result.

It was surprising that there was no significant difference between the scholarly group and the social + scholarly group. Since the dimensions used to measure credibility have both a caring and a competence component, it was interesting to note that the scholarly tweets, which were included in the study to raise the teacher’s level of perceived competence, did not significantly raise competence ratings in the groups that saw the scholarly posts. This could be an indication that caring, not competence, is the most important dimension when it comes to assessing perceived credibility on social networking sites.

The researchers conclude that:

No longer do teachers need to use class time to reveal bits of personal information about themselves: instead, this revelation of information can take place outside of class in a forum where students can choose whether to look at it. The nature of Twitter with its short updates, options to share pictures, and to easily post links may make it the ideal place to share information and carry on conversations with students outside of class. The use of social networking sites allows conversations to continue and can enrich a student’s perception of the teacher. As previous studies show, this personal communication can develop trust and lead to a productive learning environment

One of the bits about this research that I wasn’t keen about was that the fake instructor Twitter accounts did not contain a photo of a person, or even an avatar, but rather a generic photo of a sunset. I understand that the research didn’t want to bias the results of the study based on physical appearance, but to me if you are going to examine the issue of credibility on social networks, then not having a photo could very well flip the bias to the other end of the scale.

Ah well, at least it wasn’t Old Twitter default avatar


Privacy and cloud based apps – a background paper from BCcampus

Descending Clouds

Ahead of their province wide conference on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology happening on April 4th, BCcampus has released a background white paper on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology in British Columbia (PDF).

The report is based on questionnaires and interviews conducted by BCcampus with a cross section of institutional stakeholders (instructors, teaching and learning centres and IT administrators) at 9 BC post-secondary institutions (25 were contacted) in the Fall of 2010.

The paper highlights some of the concerns and benefits post-sec institutions in BC are grappling with when considering using cloud-based applications and services (specifically those hosted in the US), and illustrates some examples of how BC post-sec’s have addressed these issues within their institutions.

Some institutions are afraid to authorize any “web 2.0” technologies because of privacy concerns, some have used workarounds, and some have just gone ahead and implemented institution-wide technologies to the best of their ability.

If you are involved in IT or EdTech in BC, this report is well worth the read and provides some real-life examples of how post-sec institutions in BC are addressing the ambiguous issues inherent with the big elephant in the room. As the report notes:

All (post-secondary institutions) have one thing in common: the need for clarity around what is or is not aligned with B.C.’s privacy legislation.

This ambiguity is reflected in one of the questions raised by Vancouver Island University:

Getting clear-cut responses from the Office of the BC Privacy Commissioner is important to  enabling post-secondary administrators to provide correct advice and guidance on FIPPA  related questions. What can the BC government ministry [responsible for FIPPA] do to  facilitate this?

Gina Bennett from the College of the Rockies also reflects this clarity concern.

According to Gina Bennett at COTR, FIPPA requirements aren’t well understood. “[Postsecondary institutions] use extreme caution, they don’t act -out of fear– or they fly under the  radar,” when they consider using cloud-based services or social media.

But my favorite Gina Bennett quote has to be this one, which nicely encapsulates one of the big picture issue that are at stake here.

“I wish we could have ‘openness people’ rather than ‘privacy people” at institutions. We  should be all about sharing. What is the purpose of the academy if not for sharing ideas?”

Hear, hear.

Photo: Descending Clouds by Gary Hayes used under Creative Commons license


A couple of upcoming events for BC EdTechies

ETUG Mosiac

I want to give a heads up to BC IT/EdTechie types about a couple of upcoming events some of my colleagues are busy organizing and that you may be interested in attending.

The first is the Vancouver Island Higher Education Information Technology Day (VIHET) being held next Wednesday, March 30th at Royal Roads University. I’m looking forward to the day and the opportunity to connect with my island colleagues from Camosun, UVic, VIU and North Island. The theme is Global Connections: International Trends in Educational Technologies. David Porter from BCcampus is the keynote speaker. I always enjoy seeing David present. He is one of the most progressive voices in our field in this province, and his recent excursion to Mongolia will no doubt provide him with some rich material for the theme at hand.

The second is the upcoming Educational Technology User Group (ETUG) spring workshop, being hosted by Selkirk College in Nelson, BC.  My colleagues Tracy Roberts and Amanda Coolidge are part of the organizing comittee this year and are planning a great conference built around the theme of Open4Learning. Think open professional development, OER’s, open courses (MOOC’s perhaps?), open source software & some of the non-teaching & learning issues (privacy) related to being open. Personally, I’m hoping Grant Potter does a bit on open radio & show us all how he set up & manages ds106radio, but I know he’s on the organizing committee & will have his hands full as it is. Call for proposals is on now until April 8th for the event on June 2 & 3.

Photo: ETUG Mosaic by Sylvia Currie used under Creative Commons license.


Camaraderie can be potent

I love this phrase “coaxing serendipity” as a way to describe the process that results when a loosely structured informal social environment of like minded people occurs. I’ve experienced this kind of serendipity in my own learning as a result of the loose connections I make using social networks.

I don’t think these informal salons are something that are necessarily exclusive to the domain of artists or cultural creatives, but rather any type of CoP or NoP where a common practice occurs. Same thing with the tip on making it ridiculous – not something I think is crucial, but I agree that loose and fun will win out at the end of the day.

via Chris Lott

Amplify’d from
The establishment of informal “salons” or “circles” of artists or cultural creatives dates back to the Ancient Greeks and is a common feature of several touchstone cultural movements from impressionism to abstract expressionism to beat poetry.  The free-flowing exchange of ideas in a social setting serves to encourage deeper thinking, challenge assumptions, and expand resources – crucial aspects of any creative career. 

Furthermore, a consistent regular forum for discussion acts as a method to “coax serendipity” or encourage chance overlaps that lead to something exceptional: an idea that turns into a novel, the mention of a name that turns into a mentor, an acquaintance that becomes a star client.

A few tips on coaxing serendipity
1. Gather the right people.
2. Don’t dwell on making history.
3. Keep the agenda loose and social.
4. Establish consistency.
5. Keep it ridiculous.
Camaraderie can be potent.




Tools for distributed learning research

Article from The Guardian about new research done on an MA level distance program and how some specific technology tools were incorporated into the program. Specifically, e-readers, Second Life and audio. Interesting that Second Life was being used as an asynchronous resource instead of a synchronous meeting space, which is how I usually read about Second Life being used. I also liked that students enjoyed & appreciated the audio feedback from other students & their tutor and appeared to pay more attention to comments received via audio than text. There is something appealing to me in the linear presentation of audio feedback that might make learners less likely to skim through feedback.

Amplify’d from

Research carried out recently among a group of students enrolled on a distance MA Tesol course at Leicester University offers a glimpse into a not-too-distant future when learners distributed around the world but linked via the internet will be able to enhance their learning experience with the use of some simple and low-cost digital tools.

with a simple voice recording program and headphone-and-mic sets it is possible for students to add audio clips to these message board postings
as part of the trial students and teachers were encouraged to post feedback about their work and exchange messages.

“It was incredibly successful,” Witthaus said. “Audio feedback gives the students the sense of their tutor as a real human being.”

She says tutors began to create a more effective, time-saving combination of text and audio. “They found they could write quick little annotations on students’ essays and then elaborate more in the audio feedback.”

The research also revealed that students appeared more willing to listen to feedback via audio than to commit time to reading written comments.

One other interesting result of the research was how communication could still be effective when it was asynchronous, particularly for study groups spread across different times zones.

This was most apparent with the use of Second Life. Instead of attempting to get student to congregate, in their avatar personas, in some part of the vast virtual world at the same time, the teaching staff identified where language learning was going on in SL and instructed students to carry out observations of what was happening in these virtual classrooms.

“The e-readers fitted into their lives. They didn’t necessarily replace print or their laptops or smartphones, it just fitted in. They used them in contexts where it worked for them.”




ICT’s: Complement or Substitute to F2F?

Something I have been noticing in my own virtual connections is that, whether on Facebook or Twitter, I am conversing more and more with people I associate with IRL. I’ve been wondering why this is, and I think it has to do with the mainstreaming of these two social networks. When I began using FB in 2007 and Twitter in 2008, they were still the domains of early adopters, who tended to be geographically dispersed. However, as these social networks have moved into the mainstream, there are many more people who I associated with face to face on a regular basis that I also communicate with in these forums. ICT’s have always been a great way to geographically shrink the world, and I certainly do still have strong connections with people on the other side of the world that I have never met f2f. But increasingly my inner trusted virtual circle – the people who I have the most interactive discussions with – are people who I am in fairly close physical proximity to.

In the language of economics, the core question is whether face-to-face interactions and electronic connections are substitutes or complements
In our original paper, we argued that the number of human interactions was hardly a zero-sum game, and more electronic interactions didn’t have to mean fewer meetings face-to-face.

If the new media increased the number of relationships – the connectedness of the world – more than it decreased personal meetings within any given relationship, then better electronic communications could increase the number of face-to-face meetings.

In later research and in my book “Triumph of the City” (The Penguin Press, 2011), I emphasized a slightly different idea: electronic connections and face-to-face connections are complements because new technologies increase the returns to innovation.

Better electronic interactions make it easier to produce new ideas in low-cost areas (think New York fashion designers’ ideas that are manufactured in China) or to sell creativity worldwide (think the global success of “Avatar”), and that means bigger returns to innovation.

As long as interpersonal contact – the sharing of knowledge at close quarters – remains an important ingredient in innovation (as it seemed to be in Facebook), then better electronic connections can make face-to-face contact, and innovation-assisting cities, more important.

We also cited earlier research that found that people tended to call people who were physically close: in the 1970s, more than 40 percent of phone calls connected places less than two miles apart. More recent data from Japan confirmed that proximity and phoning seemed to complement each other.

It shouldn’t be surprising that people both call and meet with their friends, and that suggests a certain kind of complementarity.

Another piece of evidence suggesting that information technology and face-to-face contact are complements is the geographic concentration of the tech cluster. America’s cutting-edge computer scientists have access to the best electronic means of long-distance connection, yet they have come together to form the world’s most famous industrial cluster: Silicon Valley.

A similar cluster exists in Bangalore.

In my own industry as well, there is little evidence that long-distance learning is eliminating demand for the high-intensity in-person education that places like Princeton and Yale provide. Anyone who teaches knows that good lecturing is far more than proclaiming wisdom from on high.

The teacher constantly struggles to understand what is getting across, and that’s far easier at close quarters. The more complex the idea, the more you need to rely on the rich cues that humans have evolved for signaling confusion or comprehension.

Humanity is a profoundly social species, with a deep ability to learn from people nearby. I believe that the future will only make that asset more important.