To tweet or not to tweet….?

Professors worried about the impact their social “tweets” have on their image and student relationships need worry no longer. A new study has revealed that professors who make social tweets are perceived as more credible than those who stick to purely academic comments.

The study, published in the March edition of Learning, Media and Technology is by Kirsten Johnson, professor of communications at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania and student Jamie Bartolino. It examines how students perceive the professors they follow on Twitter.

Professor Johnson sets out to compare whether online “self-disclosure” is treated the same way as it would be in a classroom environment. Studies have shown that revealing personal information helps you relate better to students – but there is of course a fine line before you stray into “too much information”.

The research showed that social tweeting raised the credibility of the professor far more than scholarly tweets. There was also a significant difference in ratings for professors thought to be “caring”.

”These results support previous research that shows revealing personal information can increase a professor’s perceived credibility,” says the paper. ”[I]t was interesting to note that the scholarly tweets did not significantly raise competence ratings in the groups that saw the scholarly posts. This could be an indication that caring, not competence, is the most important dimension when it comes to assessing perceived credibility on social networking sites.”

So professors – it’s OK to show your caring, human side. Tweet away about your holidays, pets and hobbies.

Just two small notes of caution: your older students may be made uneasy by all this. Older students gave lower credibility scores after viewing Twitter accounts, and were more likely to think twittering professors are a bad idea, risking an awkard student/teacher relationship from too much personal information. Also, all the fake professors in the study were female…. it remains to be seen if gender makes a difference in these matters.

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