Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Staff Strike Balance in 140 Characters or Less

Writing about topics from food reviews to bulldog care tips, faculty and administrators have taken to Twitter in recent years, bridging the gap between their professional and personal lives.

While for most the social media service serves as a mode of personal communication, for academics it offers a way to share valuable work-related information with both students and peers.

As more faculty members begin using the site as an expansion of the classroom, they often find that their private and public lives blend together in 140 characters.

When Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., became one of the first Georgetown professors to join Twitter in 2009, he did not intend for it to be an extension of his academic work.

“When I first started tweeting, it was mostly personal,” he said. “I used Twitter like a Facebook on the go. I didn’t tell people I was tweeting, but they found out.”

As Steck’s account gained followers, he began including links to articles he found interesting and informative.

“I got involved in curriculum reform at Georgetown and saw how important it was to bring [students and alums] into the conversation, so I started including more content about higher education and pedagogy,” Steck said.

Still, he peppers his feed with tidbits from his day-to-day experience.

“TGIF baby! just got out of a meeting 45 minutes early!! Yes, there is a God,” Steck wrote in a recent post.

He commented that despite his drive to share educational material, his personal tweets, especially those focusing on his care of Jack the Bulldog, are the ones most likely to be retweeted.

Professor Garrison LeMasters, who teaches in Georgetown’s communication, culture and technology department, also praised Twitter’s ability to spread invaluable ideas among peers.

“It’s as though you’d gone to a cocktail hour at an international symposium, and never left. If other scholars’ disciplines aren’t like that yet, they soon will be,” he said.

However, LeMasters also uses the service to connect with his students outside of the classroom.

“First day of classes, just 2 weeks away. Now I just need to think of something to say,” he recently tweeted.

According to LeMasters, Twitter’s tendency to merge public and private information is indicative of a larger cultural change.

“If your tweets are strictly professional, you’re missing the point,” he said.

Director of Student Programs Erika Cohen-Derr, who has been tweeting for a few months, also seeks to strike a balance between posting personal and professional information on Twitter.

“I think of it as a tool to share information related to my role as director of student programs, though occasionally I use it to communicate with friends,” she said. “In general my work doesn’t conform to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, and sometimes my communication patterns may reflect that.”

Still, Cohen-Derr recognizes that her Twitter’s primary role is tied to her position. The Center for Student Programs has started its own official Twitter account, which Cohen-Derr thinks may replace her need to use her personal Twitter for professional reasons.

“The value of Twitter for my work is to find additional channels to share information, amplify the good work that student leaders and student organizations are doing and stay connected to students,” she said. “I think that, like other faculty and staff, I have to be conscious of the overlap between my work-related and personal tweets.”

But even with all the focus on the professional aspects of a Twitter account, faculty still find time to loosen up with an occasional humorous post.

“Why is everyone in such a hurry for Bert and Ernie to marry? Clearly, their relationship works for them,” LeMasters wrote this summer.

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