Twitter: The Educational Commons By Justin Vest
Justin Vest graduated with his BSW from the University of Montevallo in December 2013 and begins the MSW program at the University of Alabama in January 2014. In this post, he discusses how his use of Twitter grew from a class assignment to a professional tool.
Twitter can be about celebrities and national or global trends, but I find its value in connecting users with educational content. I was first introduced to Twitter as an educational tool in Spring 2013 while taking Dr. Laurel Hitchcock’s class on social work with groups, communities, and organizations. The assignment encouraged students to engage with social media as a means of discovering information and connecting with other professionals. Over a relatively short period of time I have modified my own Twitter usage from that of fulfilling a course requirement to actively utilizing it as a tool for continuous learning. Above all else, I feel my role in the Twitter-sphere is that of student. I have a wide array of interests (mostly professional) that I keep up with via Twitter to the point that it is one of my primary sources for information regarding specific topics. To do this, I have created lists reflecting professional interests and categorized most of the people and organizations I follow into one of them. I am then able to filter out everything in my feed except tweets from pages within a specific list. Other Twitter users can also choose to follow these lists.
As a social networking site, Twitter can also be a valuable tool for networking with other professionals. While I don’t personally generate a lot of interactive content, I have found it to be very useful in connecting with other social workers who share my own interests in macro practice, particularly in areas of policy. Given the limited emphasis on macro practice within social work education, it is nice to be able to follow the work and thoughts of social workers employed in the macro arena. Several great resources that I’ve seen come from Rachel L. West including this one on how to search for macro job listings and this one on using social media to establish a career in macro social work. Others of note include:
- Melinda Lewis (@melindaklewis), author of Classroom to Capitol blog
- Congressional Social Work Caucus (@SocWorkCaucus)
- Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (@CRISPontheHill)
Perhaps the thing I find most fascinating about Twitter is its ability to give a voice to people who may not otherwise have the means to express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Twitter and other social media sites were credited, at least partially, with many of the successes of the Arab Spring. It was paramount to Occupy Wall Street organizers’ ability to call supporters to action at a moment’s notice and it provided a venue for many to express their frustration and educate others about issues of systemic racism in the U.S. after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Most of the pages I follow provide information that is not readily available via mainstream media sources and it is a great benefit to essentially use Twitter lists as a RSS feed pertaining to topics I want to learn more about.
One of my constant struggles with Twitter is determining what to share. The vast majority of my tweets contain links to outside sources, typically with the intent to inform others of something I believe is important or otherwise of note. Many things translate simply into an obvious category of professional interest like tweeting against cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in order to prevent reduced access to food for low-income households. Other topics do not fall neatly into the purview of social work and may be more prone to divisiveness. My main concern with these topics (think partisan politics) is how it will appear to a potential employer, so I attempt to convey an educational message while not necessarily endorsing the content. I do also plan to get in the routine of blogging about policy issues from a social work perspective over the winter break as means of both exploring in greater depth some political ideas as well as highlighting my professional values and skills to potential employers.