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

Redundancy and Contingency – Mary Power

stormWe weathered the storm of the three and a half day outage of our campus learning management system and have come out the other side relatively intact. It has left me thinking about our reliance on this technology and about redundancy and contingency. Basically, what do we need to do to prevent complete immobilization in the (I hope extremely unlikely) event of another shutdown?

An IT colleague described redundancy as: “If a system crashes, or the building falls in a sinkhole, an identical backup system takes over within minutes.  Like our Connect email server. We have 5 servers in the Math building and 5 identical in another building. If the math building gets sucked into space, within minutes the other building takes over and users notice little or no change.” Obviously, Desire2Learn needs to be responsible for the server redundancy – but it behooves all of us to have backup plans, our own redundancies, in place in case another black hole event occurs.

That brings me to contingency. In hospitals contingency plans are required to be in place to cover the eventuality of any system outage. Arguably there are more serious consequences of a system failure in a hospital environment. However, since so many are reliant on our course management system, a framework both system wide and as individuals should be in place – at least for peace of mind. The conversations have begun at an institutional level and I believe many individuals created their own workarounds.

It seems to me that the key in an event such as this, as with so many other things, is communication. A great deal of anxiety can be alleviated if communication lines can be kept open.  Keeping an email list of your students is a good idea. If you have sent an email to your class the copy that the system sends to you will have all the Bcc: addresses – keep that. The classlists available for download from Quest contain the student email addresses as well.  Just having the ability to let students know that you know what is going on and what your expectations are of them is a good first step. A number of faculty members are already using twitter as a means of communicating with their students. Generally a course specific Twitter account is created and then students are invited to follow and important information can be broadcast. Bill Power in Chemistry has been using this for several semesters now and his students did not feel the pain of the recent outage. Bill presented on his successful use of Twitter last year at the OND conference. During this downtime the Biology Department began using its departmental Twitter account to communicate with students.

Course materials are the other thing of primary concern to students.  IST supports a secure file transfer service called Sendit by which faculty can send a link via email to their students. The advantage of this route is that it is secure and supported by the university. Many people already use Dropbox to share files (even just between their own computers). With Dropbox, a url to a specific file can be shared to students via email or tweeted via Twitter.  Google Drive is another option.

These are just a couple examples of the contingencies that had been devised and I would love to hear of others that were used.  Of course we hope that something like this does not happen again, but if it does at least we can be prepared. I wonder if that is the silver lining? Or the 100s of new followers of the Biology Department on Twitter!

Twittering and Continuous Partial Attention – Trevor Holmes

For a week, I’ve been Twittering. Normally, Mark Morton (intrepid voyager in neotechnology-land) would be the jolly fellow bringing you glad tidings of great techno-teaching joy. Having experimented for something like fifteen years in the classroom, though, I thought it would be fun to continue my Early Adopter mentality and change up my own course this coming Winter term over at That Other University down the street, adding a bunch of social networking tools that had previously existed in partial form or by accident in Cultural Studies 101. Continue reading Twittering and Continuous Partial Attention – Trevor Holmes