Archive for March, 2012

A Little Birdie Told Me: Academic Research and the Twittersphere

Amidst headlines about the ongoing violence in Syria, the 2012 presidential race, and people (myself included) griping about Facebook’s mandatory rollout of Timeline, I was fortunate to stumble upon this little gem in my Twitter feed: MLA Releases Guidelines for Citing a Tweet.
‘Great,’, I thought. ‘As if taking up arms against the persistence of plagiarism isn’t already challenging enough what with Wikipedia, Google, and the fact that the I Phone has shrunk the world of information to a pocket-sized piece of plastic’. Now we’ve got to contend with Twitter.

You would think that, having spent roughly half of my life becoming increasingly reliant on the Internet, that I’d be a bit less of a Luddite about this most recent acknowledgement of the extent to which internet technology has altered the way we conduct (and in turn cite) research. But the truth is, I needed a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor before I could actually process this information. Several cups of coffee later, with the gears of my brain grinding, I challenged myself to step back and evaluate the situation from a more technologically open-minded perspective. Let’s face it: I blog, I use Facebook, I tweet like a twit, and I’ll be much surprised if I am never called upon to address a question from a student about the correct method for citing a tweet. Thanks to the MLA, I now have a default response.

That being said, there remains the issue of what constitutes legitimate, authoritative sources, and the circumstances under which Twitter might be considered appropriate for academic research. Admittedly, I was hard-pressed to think of such scenarios; as a literature and writing teacher and a Victorian scholar, I’ve never encountered (at least not yet) such a scenario. However, I am aware that in recent years, scholars in my field, as well as fans, have taken to creating accounts on Twitter impersonating—for entertainment as well as edification—fictional characters and their creators, everyone from Wilkie Collins and the great Sherlock Holmes to Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones fame (though he hasn’t tweeted in months…not that I know this, because I don’t follow him or anything). To return to the point, if someone, whether a student or professional scholar, wanted to conduct research focusing on the use of social media such as Twitter for engaging with literature and encouraging the “I Phone generation” to read, this might be a scenario where citing a tweet might be academically appropriate.

To use another example, the course I taught last semester—Writing through Media—and the course I’m currently teaching—Advanced Argumentative Writing—both have a heavy emphasis on the usage of new media tools, including Twitter, as means through which to enrich our writing experiences and create new spaces for readers and writers to interact with one another. I’ve just assigned my Advanced Argumentative Writing students an essay addressing this very topic, and in a context where one is studying the trends of popular media, there might be cause for incorporating Twitter into the research and writing. In that case, the MLA has offered us a solution to a question for which, until now, teachers have had no standard, textbook response.

How do you feel about the acknowledgement of Twitter as potentially suitable for use in academic research? What situations can you think of in which such usage would be called for? How can teachers instruct students about how best to use Twitter as an academic tool? Is Twitter even an internet resource that can offer students legitimate, authoritative information, or should we teach students to treat Twitter as we instruct them to treat Wikipedia–a source of general (though not necessarily verifiable) information?


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To Leap is to Live!: Reflections on 2/29

“She’s a butterfly, pretty as the crimson sky. Nothin’s ever gonna bring her down. And everywhere she goes, everybody knows, she’s just glad to be alive. She’s a butterfly.”- Martina McBride

I was 5 years-old, standing at the edge of the community pool, watching as plumes of spray rose around the other children as they splashed and swam. Across the pool, a girl performed an effortless swan-dive into the water from the diving board. Oh, how I wanted that—to leap, to fly, to feel momentarily weightless before the pull of gravity took its hold. I glanced down at the water below, squinting at the arc of sunlight bouncing off its surface into my eyes. Without my glasses, I could barely see the point where the concrete ended and the water began, but I could see the outline of my father’s shoulders against the glare of sun and sky reflecting off the water.
“Jump. I’ll catch you,” he encouraged. I gulped, envisioning broken bones and blood-splattered bricks.
“It’s safe. I promise.” (Sure, dad, and the Easter Bunny is real. Whatever).
“Nothing is going to happen to you.” (Really? I seem to recall a story about an overly ambitious pig with the desire to fly who wound up with a pair of melted wings and a squashed-in face. Moral of the story: creatures without wings are not meant to become airborne).
“You can do it. There’s no reason to be scared.” I swallowed hard, squeezed my eyes shut (because the view wouldn’t have been much different with my eyes open) and jumped…straight into the water and into my father’s arms.

As children, we believe in the miracle of flying—that all it takes is a superman cape and a rooftop to send us soaring into the sky. As adults, reality is the gravity that drags us down; we heed the caveat to “look before you leap,” fearing that, like the little pig who got his wings, we might fall prey to the failure of our fanciful, flighty dreams. Today, I am thankful that I learned to leap, for to leap is to live. Sometimes, I land on my feet with feline agility; more often than not, I cradle a bruised elbow (or ego), for with every leap there comes a lesson.

Nearly a year ago, I took a leap into a relationship (albeit a wonderful one, in many ways) that forced me to think I could have benefited from a few emotional skydiving lessons. There’s a reason why they tell you to tuck and roll when you hit the ground—part of learning to fly is learning to fall. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. And yet the only way to love is freely, without inhibitions, and with the bruised egos and broken bones comes the strength of survival.

“And you know,” my best friend said to me when we were discussing it recently, “one of the things about you that’s really amazing, and maybe a little intimidating, is that in spite of everything you’ve been through, you can still love so easily.” And this is why, when the opportunity to love comes again, I will leap at the chance, because to love is to leap, and to leap is to live.

Question: How did you celebrate Leap Day? Who taught you to leap—in either a literal or figurative sense?

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