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From sport to the social & the political; my tour of Twitter – Opinion piece by Julia Warrener

julia_warrenerI’d enjoyed Twitter for many months, well before September, 2012.  It had given me immediate news on all the important things; Arsenal’s results; on all things cycling, who’d won what, who was going to win what as well as news that I’d rather not have, the latest drugs in cycling story for example. Excitingly it gave me access to my cycling heroes; I could send messages of congratulations if they’d won and commiserations when they’d lost. My day was made when they replied.  Looking back I can see that these brief exchanges, with distant sports personalities, levelled the playing field a little. Even if our chat was only about the facilities at Heathrow or an explanation of a cycling term I didn’t understand. In my mind it made a connection, however brief, with those otherwise out of reach. I was enjoying this immediate access to news about all that I am personally interested in. I was learning a lot and making the occasional connection. I hadn’t thought at this point about the value of Twitter in my professional life as a Researcher and Lecturer @ the University of Hertfordshire.

That was then, this is now- now when I use my second, ‘professional’ account, @juliawarrener, more than my personal one (well almost). Now I have access to loads of different sources and resources, people with similar interests with news about the worlds of social work, research and policy. But it’s not just about what I can acquire. It’s also about what I hope to contribute to people kind enough to follow me, including colleagues and students I work with the year round. Now, with a little time to reflect, I’m interested in what brought this change to my use of Twitter, from sport to the social and, dare I say, to the political. Just being more aware of the language helped I think. I’ve been a regular viewer of BBC Question Time, for years, when my Dad and I would join in the debate, both shouting at the TV but from different ends of the political spectrum.  Now, knowing what a hash-tag meant, I soon began following #bbcqt whilst watching Dimbleby et al. This soon moved from following to tweeting, again making connections with people expressing similar or even, at times, different views. Being aware of the language, was important- as was having more chance to use it in my work. As a Lecturer I’d noticed each module had its own hash-tag for students, and I guess anyone else, to follow. If I was going to encourage the use of hash-tags, I was going to have to acquire that second account. So in September, 2012 @juliawarrener came into life; a direct consequence of learning the value of Twitter’s language and of taking advantage of the changes around me to use it more.

There was something else though, perhaps the most important for me. This was the emerging culture, revealing Twitter’s value in teaching and learning. This first came to me locally, within my teaching group @ the University of Hertfordshire, largely through the efforts and interest of @claudiamegele. From informal chats, rather than power point presentations, we all became aware of how Twitter can be used in live teaching, projection of information and even assessment just to name a few. @claudiamegele encouraged other members of the team to take an account and now there are quite a few of us with a presence on Twitter at all times of the day and night.  Find me and @tanyamoore there usually after 10 pm and me often before 6 am. That’s one of the things I really like about Twitter, I can learn at any time of the day or night- as long as my phone and I have the energy.  @claudiamegele’s enthusiasm and encouragement was matched by the wider context and structures @ the University of Hertfordshire. As staff we’re encouraged to use the range of social media, including Twitter, to engage with students to promote and maximise learning.  So for me learning the language, having opportunities to practice it and having a culture encouraging me to ‘give it a go’ was vital to the start of my Twitter tour. I have to ask myself though whether there have been any ‘rainy days’, when Twitter has challenged me or not pleased me so much.

At this point I can honestly say no. Sometimes, I get a little apprehensive about doing the wrong thing, like re-tweeting something that’s been around a hundred times already.  Sometimes early on in the tour I struggled, getting a little frustrated, at my apparent inability to express myself adequately in 140 characters. Actually, I think I’ve got better at this. Twitter’s helped me realise that I often use far too many, unnecessary words. It’s made me focus so much more on communicating the essence of my meaning, rather than the superficial fluff.  Finally, I still feel a little shy of tweeting someone I consider more ‘eminent’ than me. Negative, self doubts can creep in, convincing me that “they won’t have time” or “it’s a silly question”. I’ve learnt though that people, however ‘eminent’, do usually have time and do want to respond and engage.  I’d recommend Twitter as a source of knowledge to any student and encourage all to learn the language, practice it, utilising the help available if necessary. Have confidence in what you can contribute and confidence in how others will respond to you, we are all there to network and interact with others and so want to engage with you. This brings me to my thoughts about how would I like my Twitter tour to continue?

I’ve liked my chats on Twitter, with people who share an interest or an idea. I’d like to develop this more, with all who follow me and those who follow hash tags which reflect my interests. I’ve made a start, by following & joining in on my favourite chats. I’ve learnt, made connections, shared interests and also been supported in these communities. Sometimes learning can isolate the learner. Twitter, for me, has helped to break this. So for the future I’d like to use Twitter to engage with the students I work with much more, not about when an assignment is due, but to share ideas, interests and reflections about social work and its wider social and political context. I still subscribe to the idea that information = knowledge = power to change. If I can use Twitter to engage more with everyone, including students, my tour of Twitter will arrive at its destination; empowering knowledge of the social and the political to affect change. Of course this is not the ultimate destination, just another beginning!

Julia Warrener (@juliawarrener) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire (@UoH_HealthandSW).

Join us and share your views and experiences regarding these and other relevant questions @SWSCmedia today 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM EST / 12:00 Noon PST.



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