Refining my Twitter “voice” for CTE tweets — Trevor Holmes

I think I was probably born in the wrong era. Sometimes, I feel like a late Victorian. Other times, I feel like a Millennial. I want to talk about the latter feeling in today’s blog post. In a dizzyingly “meta” moment, I’ll probably tweet the link to it as soon as I post.

You see, I’m someone who has been more comfortable texting than phoning someone ever since texting became a thing. This seems to characterize most of the Millennials I know, and few of the Boomers. Perhaps as Generation X, I just tend to sit on the cusp one way or another. Unlike Millennials, I also played around in very rich text-based virtual worlds before there was a visual web… you know, when the internet seemed all fresh and new and had no pictures besides ASCII art. Of course all these generational generalisations are probably false. I suspect I’m just a sci fi geek in educational developer clothing, and therefore an “early adopter” in my tech and teaching life.

So when Twitter came along in 2006, I did the usual exploration* that I do when new things pop up. That is to say, I pretended I was evaluating its possibilities for teaching and learning. In truth, I DO do this with new software, new platforms, new technologies. But it’s also, of course, about my own predilection for fun toys I only imagined as a kid (this may be why I held onto my flip phone far longer than anyone I know — it reminded me of an original Star Trek communicator!).

paper speech bubbles laid on a green background, concept of open discussion and debate
Speech Bubbles

In short, nothing seems more natural to me than musing in 140-character thoughtlets, or sharing interesting links to topics various with hundreds of other people, or recirculating helpful hints by others. This is probably why I jumped at the opportunity to tweet on behalf of CTE when it came round. Our Faculty Liaisons had a Twitter account, run mostly by Zara Rafferty, who has since moved on to teach in Recreation and Leisure Studies. When Zara left, it became clear that we could leverage Twitter for CTE more widely, and so we created @uwcte, and started to gather followers. For the most part, I’ve been handling the daily (except for weekends) tweets, and to be honest, it’s a very different approach to tweet institutionally than to tweet individually.

I’ll start with what I am trying to do, and what we are trying to avoid.

What I tweet on behalf of CTE:

  • links to upcoming events across the range of our practice and audience (TAs, faculty — full-time and adjunct, teaching staff, postdoctoral fellows)
  • mentions of events underway or just finished (sometimes with links to relevant resources)
  • links to resources around the web for teaching practices /theory, including our Tip Sheets and blog posts
  • University of Waterloo or Faculty-specific good news (retweet)
  • material of interest to the mid-career professors who follow us locally
  • tips and sample techniques that suit the time of term we’re in (e.g. mid-course feedback tips at midterm, how to end a course and review for exams near the end of term)
  • publicizing CTE news (hires, retirements, accomplishments)
  • critical engagement with educational controversies where they seem relevant to uWaterloo communities
  • musings on current events, without taking a strong position

Some things I try to avoid:

  • particular endorsements of a one-sided position
  • inflammatory or controversial statements about higher education, particular people, or universities
  • bad press for our own University or any neighbouring ones
  • jokes — they are usually at someone’s expense


Again, this is all very different from my individual Twitter account, which I’ve had for some time and use to post items about more political aspects of higher education, items about my personal interest in food and food culture, and items related to my former discipline, among other things. As @vardalek, I’m very much my uncensored self; I rarely hesitate to post what I’m thinking or feeling, although I am very aware of the dangers of permanent archives and the problem of the fatal error in judgment. I guess I have nothing to hide that is unsavoury, in my view anyway. I have always taken seriously the idea that we ought to build personal histories and narratives using the internet archives of ourselves (some call it branding). Searches through old listservs devoted to higher education topics or to queer theory would likely result in some classic Trevor rants.

Such an apparently wanton approach (actually it’s of course more rhetorically intentional than one might assume) is exactly wrong, though, for an institutional account. As a CTE tweeter, or as @ks101wlu (my course over at WLU), I have a different relationship to official culture. I’m not the same kind of autonomous individual. Certainly, lines blur when we make a constant stream of crossings-over that transcends single or simple identity. Some of the people I follow and those @uwcte follows are the same. @uwcte even follows @vardalek (retweeting one’s own tweets turns out to feel rather self-indulgent, but I’m certainly not doing it for some future day when retweets count like citations do now!).

I draw the line at thinking like a corporate Chief Information Officer (CIO), though. I’ve noticed articles or blog posts lately about social media “compliance” and “return on investment” (ROI). While I can imagine ways in which our tweets can be shown to enhance our work, I’m not in this for the obvious ROI. We are a helping group, teaching developers, and we just, it seems to me, want those with whom we work to have a sense of confidence as they plan, deliver, and assess learning. That is why I tweet for CTE, and why I hope you will follow @uwcte if you join Twitter or are already using it.

*note: I’m more cautious than I let on here. I didn’t begin tweeting seriously until mid-2009. Apparently I have been a user longer than 93.9% of all users though. See Twopcharts’ tool for your own data.

Image Attribution: Creative Commons Creative Commons License

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.