Twitter, Academic Conversation, and the Research Paper

I have been thinking a lot recently about the research paper as academic conversation. Conversation is where ideas form and are honed and exchanged–and this is what good academic research papers do. To me, this is both a very simple and very important concept necessary to academic pursuit as well as to life. I think it is an important thing to teach in our present (and hopefully future) climate of transliterate  library instruction, where many different types of media are used to not only join in on the conversation but to create conversational opportunities. But how do we teach it and its importance? Conversation and idea exchange can be such ephemeral concepts. Not only that, many students (and, let’s admit it, people in general) want the ultimate truth: the final, correct, black or white answer, not the greys of the back-and-forth of discourse. But sometimes this isn’t possible in academia. Isn’t this the whole point of academic research? To advance further? To keep questioning and “conversing” with the discoveries and ideas that have come before yours?

What began my train of thought on conversation? Twitter. Twitter itself can create a visual of conversation and that’s what it did for me. Last Fall there was a (admittedly small) firestorm of conversation on Twitter about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on social networking’s lack of effect on social justice. I know I saw plenty of response in mine. People were also posting response articles they had seen to the Gladwell such as Maria Popova’s. Perhaps, then, Twitter is one way to teach and describe academic conversation: the back and forth; point and counterpoint; original thought and “retweets”–aka the thoughts of others with credited attribution (and hopefully one’s own commentary to build upon others’ thoughts). It seems to me there’s something about Twitter and the way it’s used as conversation in text that could help librarians and other academics teach about academic conversation–but I’ve not yet worked out how. If anyone has any thoughts or current uses along these lines, I’d appreciate your comments!

Speaking of Twitter and conversation, you might also check out this excellent and insightful article about Twitter’s interesting mix of orality and literacy from “Technosociology” .

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