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Last year, there was some controversy over the question of live-tweeting at academic conferences and in academic settings more generally. The hashtag that emerged then, on Twitter of course, was #Twittergate.

My response at the time was to integrate Twitter more intentionally into my own academic presentations. In doing so, I hoped to extend and enrich the content of my lectures and to integrate them into a wider public conversation. I explain why and how I do it in the post “On Live Tweeting Your Own Lecture.”

Since then, I’ve live-tweeted lectures at the University of San Francisco, The Catholic University of America, Newman University in Wichita, KS, and the University of Nebraska at the #DH2013 conference.

Now, however, as I prepare to return to my alma mater, Wittenberg University, and plan another interactive lecture, I thought it important to talk a bit about precisely how an audience member might best go about live-tweeting such a lecture.

There is a helpful post on Twitter itself about the best practices of live-tweeting that focuses on some very practical issues like the importance of using the hashtag, etc. But that post focuses on live-tweeting highly public pop-culture events. My purpose here, following in the spirit of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, is to consider how to cultivate good habits of live-tweeting in academic contexts.

Live-Tweeting as Collaborative Public Note Taking

Think of live-tweeting as interactive note taking. I live-tweet for the same reason I take notes, it heightens my attention, forces me to become an active listener, and creates a record of ideas and resources for future reference.

As with all good note taking, attentive listening is critical to live-tweeting. If best note taking practice is for 80% of your attention to be focused on listening and 20% on writing, best live-tweeting practice might be for 80% of your attention to be focused on listening, 10% on reading the stream, 5% on crafting a tweet and 5% on considering if your tweet adds value to the conversation before pressing send.

The advantage live-tweeting has over note taking is that it is collaborative and public. Because it is collaborative, live-tweeting draws a diversity of perspectives and experiences into conversation around the theme of a particular lecture; because it is public, it opens the conversation to a wider audience. Of course, because it is both collaborative and public, live-tweeting is vulnerable to disruptive forces in a way private note taking is not. This vulnerability, however, is a small price to pay for the potential value live-tweeting can bring to an academic lecture.

One way to minimize such disruptive influences is to consider what a good live-tweet looks like; they come in a variety of flavors.

Types of Live-Tweets

Here is a list of some of the various kinds of live-tweets that might be posted to enrich the live-twitter stream of a lecture. It is not comprehensive, and I would invite you to add others in the comments below as you think of them.

The Amplifying Tweet repeats or summarizes something you think is of note in what is being said, be it a particularly eloquent phrase or a poignant idea. In an amplifying tweet, the tweeter is channeling the ideas of the speaker. Retweeting such amplifying tweets is a way to give the idea yet wider exposure.

The Supplementing Tweet adds a link to some resource related to the topic at hand. The supplementing tweet can be a kind of amplifying tweet if the resource is mentioned by the speaker and the tweeter has simply taken the time to find the source online and tweet the link. But it can also simply be the addition of a link to something people in the audience and the speaker might not otherwise have discovered. The best supplementing tweets are animated by the spirit of serendipitous discovery; they connect those following the stream to something they would not otherwise discover.

The Commenting Tweet adds a thoughtful remark that moves the conversation in the stream in a new direction. The best commenting tweets bring new insights to the ideas articulated in the lecture. These can be helpful suggestions to the speaker or, of course, disagreements with what is being said. If the later, consider how to phrase the comment in a way that does not put the speaker on the defensive, but invites a thoughtful response.

The Responsive Tweet is one made in the spirit of ongoing conversation. It responds either to something said in the lecture or to one of the other tweets in the stream. The best responsive tweets create tributary streams of discussion that further enrich the main conversation.

The Questioning Tweet poses a question to the speaker or to others in the audience or in the wider public following the stream. As with the commenting tweet, consider how to phrase the question in a way that invites thoughtful responses.

The Playful Tweet is rooted in that spirit of playfulness that often leads to great insight. It is not to be confused with The Snarky Tweet, which is one of the more disruptive and juvenile aspects of the Twitter culture. It is far easier to make a snarky tweet than it is to write a playful tweet that provides insight even as it makes us smile. This latter creates community, the former erodes it.

Cultivating Community

The guiding principle that should animate the live-tweeting of a lecture is the attempt to use public words to create a supportive community of thoughts, ideas, and people related to the theme under consideration. When it is done well, a lecture live-tweeted generates unanticipated insights and new paths of further inquiry and scholarship. But a community capable of that is a vulnerable thing, and it is easier for corrosive words to destroy it than it is for generous, even if critical, words to cultivate it.

Consider, then, as you live-tweet: will this add value to the conversation? Will it build trust and community among those sharing the experience of the lecture? Will your words create the kind of intellectual community to which you would like to belong?


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