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Professors connect via Twitter

Sam Stryker | Thursday, December 2, 2010

Economics Professor Eric Sims started class one day last winter with a practical joke, poking fun at the search for the next Fighting Irish head football coach by stating he was interested in a job at Northwestern University. What was unique about this joke, however, was how he presented it.

Sims used the popular social networking website Twitter to “Tweet” his joke. The social networking website allows participants to Tweet thoughts, post links and hold conversations, 140 characters at a time. Users can also “follow” other Twitter users. Sims is one of several professors on campus who uses the website as a tool to stay connected with students and the community outside the classroom.

Sims said one of the benefits of the website is its interactive nature.

“It became something to post ideas or funny things. It is also a way to meet up with people on staff. It is a great way to get news,” he said. “Some students follow it, but it is really just my thoughts on the world. It is a way for me to stay connected.”

Sims estimates of the 255 people who follow him on the website, at least 10 to 20 are current or past students. In addition to students, Sims said he has one follower with a high profile on campus.

“Brian Kelly follows me on Twitter. He follows 91 people and has around 20,000 followers. I am one of the 91,” he said.

Senior Brad Adamo, who follows Sims, sees Twitter as an excellent way for students to stay connected with professors over the course of their academic career.

“It’s difficult to stay in touch and or build a relationship with professors in general and even more so after you’ve finished taking their classes,” he said. “I think that Twitter is a great way to interact with professors outside of the academic sphere.”

Marketing Professor Carol Phillips believes the social networking site also possesses a value to her career.

“I use it mostly for business. I have a consulting business, and I Tweet about things I am interested in,” she said. “It allows me to have a much bigger community of people who are interested in the things I am interested in.”

Phillips, who has been using the site for two years and has 5,000 followers, said students should consider opening a Twitter account for future employment opportunities.

“Showing an ability to use social media such as Twitter is important to employers. Twitter is about extending your network,” she said. “I’ve met people I wouldn’t have met another way.”

Mark Galano, a junior who follows Sims on Twitter, said he believes the website will prove important for social and employment purposes in the future.

“I do believe Twitter will be a powerful networking tool as far as staying in touch with old friends as well as making new business opportunities,” he said. “The way Twitter works is somewhat like a ripple effect, because you start to follow followers of your followers and people you follow.”

Phillips said though Twitter is important for business networking, she has not had success with the website as a classroom tool.

“I have found students at Notre Dame aren’t as interested in it,” she said. “I have students that follow me, but I don’t use it exclusively for class.”

Adamo said a reason students may not see much purpose in Twitter academically is its similarity to preexisting technology.

“Twitter is definitely an expedient way to disseminate information but I don’t know if it would be any more effective than e-mail,” he said. “Then again, it could be interesting to have to Tweet a discussion question. I think it’s definitely worth a try.”

Sims said Twitter is becoming an important source for current events.

“It condenses thoughts and information from a lot of people in a small space. There are webs of connection,” he said. “People aren’t trying to hide stuff. All the news sources have one, and it’s a great pool of information.”

In addition to the usefulness of the site for her career, Phillips said the enjoyable nature of the website is part of the reason she continues to use it.

“It is really fun. I check it before I check my e-mail. My husband knows to reach me he should Tweet and not e-mail,” she said. “Anyone can follow me.”