Academics and Social Media

A Roehampton lecturer inspired students around the world to deliver their academic thesis in 140 characters with a viral campaign #tweetyourthesis.

Developed after an exercise during a narrative nonfiction class, former journalist and editor Susan Greenberg encouraged students to use Twitter to shrink their thesis work down to a single-sentence. The campaign sparked a debate about the role of social media in scholarship and the effect on public engagement and Susan recently shared about how this idea went from vision to viral.

“I have spent a lifetime being interested in discovering new things; as a reporter, writer and editor; as a university lecturer; and currently, as a part-time doctoral student at UCL’s Department of Information Studies,” she said.

“As a staff member on a writing degree, where much of the teacher’s work consists of encouraging students to give very detailed attention to language. I am used to demonstrating the creativity made possible by constraint. Assessment can include not only creative work, but also the synopsis, story outline and single-sentence summary.

“From this, a single tweet sparked a rapidly growing meme that has provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of early-career research, and a lively spin-off a debate. Such limits help the writer define the story and achieve creative distance and, as mentioned in a Day of DH 2011 post, helps to contextualize digital forms in the classroom.”

Susan tracked the journey of the debate from a social occasion laced with academic chat, to a classroom discussion, and then to twitter.

“Within 24 hours there were contributions from around the world, and an interview request from the US Chronicle of Higher Education. I am still digesting the experience, but can say for certain that it leaves me very appreciative of a rewarding and innovative research culture made possible by a combination of encouragement from above and an active network that involves both faculty and students,” she said.

“It also confirms my feeling that the public engagement skills that come with practice-based disciplines are valuable, although probably still undervalued. Finally, I have been reminded of the fears that social media still evoke, in academe and elsewhere, and the need to continue the dialogue about its impact.”