Twitter banality = academic credibility?

Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks

A piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an experiment at a US college to investigate students’ views of their teachers’ use of Twitter. The article also highlights a number of academics using Twitter in creative ways to support their teaching. It’s a small and slightly dispiriting study:

Kirsten A. Johnson always wondered whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites affected her credibility in the eyes of her students.

So the assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College designed an experiment for 120 students at the college and has just reported the results. It turns out that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. The study, co-authored with Jamie Bartolino, one of her students, appears in the most recent issue of Learning, Media and Technology.

The researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors” named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton. One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings), and the third with a combination.

To Ms. Johnson’s surprise, when the students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring—which adds up to credibility.

So it would seem that academics should just forget about using Twitter for anything useful in the classroom. Unless they are unconcerned about their “competence, trustworthiness, and caring”. Meantime, we’ll wait for the experiment looking at attitudes to administrators who post personal tweets.

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