It’s just Twitter

Without fail, the annual “how should we use Twitter as student affairs professionals” conversation started again yesterday. Call me a curmudgeon, but I am tired of this conversation and here is why:

It’s just Twitter: I have written about this before. Twitter is not the end all be all when it comes to conversations in our field. It is not representative of the field as a whole. I find that much of the conversation lately has been new pros and grads, which I think is fantastic. However, don’t fall into the trap that it is representative of the entire field or indicative of the pulse of the field.

Some of the BEST pros I have worked with are not on Twitter: I bet this is true for you two. This statement speaks for itself. Also, can we stop telling grad and other pros they need to be on Twitter? Show them the value, but let them make their own decisions.

Trolls will be trolls: I elicited a lot of responses when I tweeted this yesterday:

I used the word challenged: not bullied, judged, or trolled. The latter does indeed happen. However, it comes with the territory. I am by no means condoning the behavior. You can try to make Twitter something it isn’t, but it won’t change. It’s like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet: you know what will probably happen. You decide if it is worth the risk. Twitter has its own equivalent to the childproof outlet cover: it’s called the block button.

All of the things I just mentioned happen in other places too: Like in meetings, offices, and conferences. It is easier to see and to talk about on Twitter. Let’s have a conversation about how people feel invisible at conferences or are shamed in meetings. Let’s talk about how many professionals do not have a safe space at work. Let’s talk about this because it starts there. Let’s not mask the issue by trying to make a public social media that space.

Whatever happened to discourse?: The underlying and troublesome tone in parts of the conversation yesterday were about feeling and being supported. Want to support me? Challenge my thoughts and ideas. Cause me to reflect and change my perspective. Don’t ditto everything I say. I am better because people challenge my perspective. Why are so many seemingly afraid of this? The more we challenge perspectives and push each other to think differently, the better off we all will be.

Twitter is a fraction of a piece of your personal/professional reputation: Your work is most important. Tweets won’t get you a job or help you get promoted. Lack of a Twitter presence or voice does not make you a bad professional. Use it how and if you want. You do you.

I often reflect and ask those in my inner circle why I care about this so much. After all, is this very post not hypocritical? I am critiquing the way we talk about Twitter and our expectations of it by saying it is just Twitter, yet I am spending the time to write about it. I want people to feel heard. I want people to feel like they have a safe space. I want people to connect. I want people to share ideas. I want people to feel like they can be their true selves. However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect all of that to happen all the time on Twitter. Use it for what it is; one method of communication (albeit a really good one). Have realistic expectations, be prepared to challenge and be challenged, and know when to disengage because after all, it is just Twitter.

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Hacking professional development: one year later

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

#suedle drawn by the talented Sue Caulfield

One year ago today, I launched a seemingly simple idea based on a single tweet:

If I had the $ and time, I’d go on an #sachat road trip. So many friends I’ve yet to meet in person.

— Tim St. John (@timstjohn) January 14, 2014

What has resulted since has been the most important, helpful, and meaningful year of professional development in learning in my entire career. The best part: it was completely FREE.

It seems like our community has been talking a lot lately again about professional associations, conference rates and the lack of accessibility that comes with ridiculously high fees. Here’s the thing – professional involvement and development is about the people, not an acronym, program, or conference in a fancy hotel with high profile keynote speakers. We learn from each other in presentations. We build our network through connecting with others online or in person. How is a Google Hangout any different? I have learned over the last year it is not much different, but a whole lot better.

When I started this project, I thought I would maybe chat with a few people. I did very little reaching out. I put this out there for the world and was at the mercy of people interested in taking the chance on an agenda free chat with a person they maybe had met before, never met but seen on Twitter, or never heard of at all. I was overwhelmed by the response.

What followed was 23 one hour chats, either through Google Hangout or in person (photos below). Many of the colleagues I met have become friends. Many of us still chat regularly. Folks I chatted with ranged from senior level to an undergraduate interested in the field and covered all functional areas. My trip took me from Canada to Texas, from New Jersey to Colorado and everywhere in between. We had no agenda and the topics ranged from the value of a PhD, how we recruit in our field, innovative educators, the trouble with how we overvalue social media in our field, running, family, starting a new job, and so much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that no single project has impacted my network, learning, and sense of belonging to my profession as this has.

Amma visits Clark!

Amma visits Clark!

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Hanging out with Courtney and Amma in Boston!

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Dinner with my #sabestie and queen of #sabullshit, Mallory Bower

It also led to some pretty amazing opportunities to be a guest on a podcast, contribute to an online course, and write for a prominent student affairs blog (the blog post I am most proud of).

What I have learned from this experience, above all else, is that we are a field of good people with incredible ideas that will are changing the course of education and the lives/experiences of the students we touch. You can only see this partially through Twitter or a conference meetup. These hour chats were everything that is great in a presentation, tweetup, informal coffee chat, and roundtable all in one.

My goals for year 2 of this continuous journey are as follows:

  • Pay it forward: help others see the potential in taking a hold of their own professional development and taking the steps to do so
  • Write more about the amazing people I have met and the profound impact they have had on my learning
  • Do more outreach and ask some people to connect
  • Bigger and better: take this to the next level by hanging out with an entire department, grad class, or even feed into a conference.

Who’s up for joining me on year two of my journey?

Permission to brag

I’ve written about this before: we have a branding issue in Student Affairs. We are misunderstood, and it is largely our own fault. We spend a lot of time in the classroom, on campus, at conferences, and especially on Social Media talking about this. How do we talk about what we do? How do we articulate and demonstrate our value to the academy? How do people outside of our field come to better understand what we do? I don’t have a solution, but I may have stumbled upon something, perhaps a starting point…

This morning, I was perusing my Twitter feed in the short few minutes I had before my next meeting and I stumbled on a particular tweet from my friend Jason Meier at Emerson College. He was talking about how proud he was that they addressed and discussed mental health at Orientation to begin to destigmatize asking for help. I immediately responded asking him to share what they were doing.

This is just one small example of many posts I see throughout this time of year; pictures of RA training, stories of move-in, Orientation program highlights, excitement for the start of the year, interactions with students, etc. I too find myself mostly posting about work this time of year. I do it to connect with students, but also, I am damn proud of what we do. I am proud of my team, my institution, and myself for what we accomplished during our Week One program. Here’s an example: I have posted several times about our new Consenting Communities workshop that was designed and led by students to begin to discuss the real issue of sexual assault. This program was created and led by students, with staff support. I was proud and felt the need to brag. Why does that not feel OK?

consent

Here’s my takeaway: we need to be better at ok with bragging. Jason’s tweet and my post are small examples. They show people outside of our field that we are more than just party planners or chaperones. It provides ideas and motivation to those within our field. My plea to all of you, my colleagues, is to keep these posts coming. Don’t let this just be an August thing. Make it an all year round thing. Let’s continue to talk about issues within our field, the future of it, and share ideas, but let’s also (and especially) be OK with showcasing our work. If it feels like bragging, embrace it. You do meaningful work – share it! At least in my mind, this will go a long way towards increasing the awareness and respect of what we do.

Let’s brag: share what you are proud about from the last few weeks!

The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?