Following on from my blog post on using Twitter as a student and as an educator, I wanted to talk about the ways in which social media helps students at every level of study, in every subject, develop a stronger sense of their own academic voice.
Academic voice is something that many students really struggle with, and there’s no easy fix. Students are often either too respectful of or too short with secondary sources, don’t know how to situate themselves in the field and get frustrated with the sense that they are doing something wrong that they don’t know how to correct. We can tell students to read as widely as possible, give them tips for structure and provide helpful phrases to help them construct an argument, but we can’t give them their own voice.
Social media, however, can. Here are three ways in which online tools can help students develop a better sense of their own voice in their writing.
Using social media at conferences
While this is aimed primarily at postgraduate students (the usual conference-going crew), it can also be adapted for lectures and seminars with undergraduates.
Most large conferences encourage real-time online discussion through hashtags and ‘official’ Twitter accounts – it’s no longer rude to be on your phone in the front row of an event! It’s also actually more difficult than you might think to condense what a speaker is saying into 140 characters that make sense, and doing so helps students develop skills like paraphrasing and enhances their understanding of complex ideas. You have to understand something quite well in order to multitask and tweet it, and you need to find a clear idea that you can express in a brief and succinct way. This also helps students evaluate speakers: is what the speaker is saying clear? Can you work out what their argument is? Engaging in this kind of conversation with others can also encourage students to work out their own responses to what they’ve heard, and provide a new level of appreciation. For more on the benefits of live-tweeting, both for attendees and presenters, see this insightful post by Martin O’Connor.
Of course there is a kind of etiquette to tweeting at conferences. Tweets should be respectful, attribute quotes correctly and engage with the social media outlets that the organisers promote. Here are ten tips for tweeting at academic conferences to get you started.
For undergraduates, suggesting that they live-tweet during seminar presentations or lectures may seem counter-intuitive. However, you might be surprised at what they take away from the experience – as long as it is restricted to appropriate situations.
There have been some great blog articles recently on the merits of blogging as a researcher, including Laura Mair’s post and Pat Thompson’s article on whether doctoral students should blog. While this piece suggests it may be more beneficial to blog for others, running a blog yourself is a brilliant way to find your own academic style. Maintaining a ‘successful’ blog (which receives a lot of traffic) can be difficult and is certainly time-consuming, but if you are blogging for your own benefit (rather than the numbers) it can be especially rewarding. It’s a great way of keeping track of ideas, finding topics to write about and getting used to writing regularly. Without the fear of a mark scheme and pre-conceived expectations about what the work should look like, students are able to experiment more with forms of writing and bring some of their own interests and style to academic subjects. Feedback from peers online helps bloggers reflect on their writing, and sitting down with a blank blog post box can free students from some of their anxieties about assessed written work.
Educators can encourage this by asking for posts for a specific module blog or showing their own work in this way. Reading blogs, especially those written with the conventions of academic writing, will give students more exposure to the kind of work going on in their field, and more examples of good – and sometimes bad! – academic writing.
Joining the conversation: Facebook and Twitter
Facebook often receives short shrift in conversations about the benefits of social media in education. However, Facebook groups and pages can be good tools to share ideas and begin to comment critically on the work of others. Module groups and departmental groups are excellent ways to share material and encourage debate – sometimes students gets quite passionate in their responses, and this is something to be harnessed in their own work.
Twitter as a tool enables students to interact with others doing similar work and facing similar issues – they can talk to other students at different universities, but they can also see how the academics whose work they are reading approach their material. Part of finding your academic voice is locating yourself in relation to critics, and the prevalence of social media in academia makes this possible in an entirely new way.