Writing Centers and Twitter: How We Use this ‘Weird’ Space and How Students Perceive It
Jennifer Marciniak, Assistant Director, University of Louisville Virtual Writing Center
When I use Twitter, I use it for a wide variety of information. My interests are varied, and, therefore, my Twitter feed bounces from what’s going on in higher education to the latest trade rumors in Major League Baseball. I get the Groupons and other “slick deals” of the day, as well as headlines from oil and gas industry newspapers and blogs that commiserate with one another on the newest objections to hydraulic “fracking.” You’ll even find Usain Bolt tweeting photos of himself at post-Olympic parties alongside updates regarding The Walking Dead and Grimm. Yes, my Twitter feed is eclectic, to say the least.
However, interspersed among all these posts are those from writing centers at other universities. My position in the Virtual Writing Center at U of L demands I keep up with what’s being discussed in terms of online writing and writing centers as a whole, and for someone who is a perpetual headline-skimmer like me, Twitter is hard to beat. In terms of writing centers, there are the regular business-oriented tweets like University of Wisconsin –Madison’s call for students: “New badgers: stop by the UW-Madison Writing Center for individual writing instruction, group workshops & more!” Then there are “emergency tweets,” like University of Central Missouri Writing Center’s last minute change in plans that was cross-posted to UCM’s main Twitter feed for maximum effectiveness: “@UCentralMO writing center has temporarily been moved to Humph 119 Conference Room. Hopefully we will be back in #humph116 later today.” These types of Tweets are basic bits of information that students need to know in order to find and understand the Writing Center’s “place” at the University.
While most writing centers use Twitter to get the word out, there seems to be only so much a Writing Center can do to get people to follow their feed, or in terms of Facebook, “like” their page. Even when considering how the Uof L Writing Center could benefit from Twitter, I really couldn’t think of anything past the above UW-Madison and UCM examples. But further research shows that some writing centers are starting to push against the business-oriented Twitter post, and are starting to get more creative with what they tweet. West Virginia University uses Twitter to post helpful blogs and videos like this one for students to refer to once they leave the writing center: “New blog post about interpreting instructor feedback.” Others are using more visual forms of marketing to promote their services. The University of Kansas sometimes uses internet memes to market their center, such as this most recent one with a viral photograph of a marathon runner: “Even Ridiculously Photogenic Guy knows the power of the Writing Center.” The meshing of academic and social discourse arguably shows the writing center’s willingness to reach into dimensions utilized and accepted by the demographic toward which the center needs to market. Writing centers can also do more than just report available tutor times and promote writing workshops. Memes are visual and often shared and/or retweeted across the social media genres. Because the University of Kansas meme was also cross-posted to Facebook, the University of Kentucky Writing Center, a “friend” of the University of Kansas Writing Center, shared the meme with social media friends and followers, who will most likely share as well. I just retweeted it myself.
Some of the most remarkable writing center tweets are not even by the writing centers, but instead the students themselves. Student voices are by far the most heard on twitter when searching the key term writing center, out-tweeting writing centers 2-to-1. Many are positive, giving props to what the center has to offer. One student, Michelle W, tweeted of her writing center experience: “Coming to the writing center and there’s candy, play dough, and markers on the tables #lovecollege.” Another said, “The writing Center about to be My bff today.” Sometimes, though, student tweets show us that as Writing Center personnel we need to be aware of our actions and comments. Chelby KC tweeted about her not-so-hot experience in her writing center: “I love how there are a ton of people on the walk-in waiting list for the writing center and there are 5 staff members standing around.” Others, like this tweet by Scuba Steve, are just a bit more in need of interpretation: “Idk why my Professor wants us to get our papers checked by the Writing Center…we’re in college for a reason #smh.” There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Okay, well, publicity that displays a multi-faceted response to the Writing Center’s necessity to student learning, anyway. And while you would never hear me advocate Team_Marti’s choice to my students, the value of one-on-one assistance sometimes warrants some balancing of priorities: “I shoulda skipped this class x went to the writing center. Tuh !”
This is just a sample of how writing centers use Twitter and what people are saying about writing centers on Twitter. While it does give us an idea of how we can use this particular social networking site to market our writing center services, it is important to consider questions of oversaturation and too-much cross-posting, as well bordering on “creepy treehouse” syndrome. Another question to ask is do we even need it? Will it be another social networking tool that fades into the ether? Some writing centers have not updated their Twitter feeds in months, begging the question of whether or not it was deemed effective or possibly not used as effectively as it could have been, and therefore abandoned.
I know what I use Twitter for. If you use Twitter, I would like to know your thoughts on how your university programs, office and services (like the writing center) use Twitter. Do you think it is effective or intruding on your personal space? What do you wish the University would use it for? If you do not use Twitter, I would really like to know about your aversion to it. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 2010) describes Twitter as a “weird space” – that people either do not use it, or they go “all in.” That’s a pretty spot-on description, in my opinion. On my Twitter feed today actor Neil Patrick Harris was tweeting pictures of his dinner while mere seconds prior a digital media scholar posted an expletive-filled retweet about hating Blackboard. And that was about five minutes after Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps tweeted yet another picture of him holding a huge fish on some island in the Indian Ocean. “Weird” is right.
Jennifer Marciniak is a 3rd year PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at U of L. She is the Assistant Director of the U of L Virtual Writing Center. You can follower her on Twitter at @tululoo.