Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Twitter: Democratizing policy and research, or a HUGE waste of time?

I (@mlinic1) joined Twitter for several reasons. Professionally, it serves as an excellent way to promote my own research and that of the Forum on the Future of Public Education (@forum_future_ed). Further, Twitter provides an excellent opportunity to customize your own access to the news of the day by following people and organizations that are important to you. As such I’m able to keep abreast of recent developments in politics (@barackobama, @corybooker, @marcorubio), follow favorite entertainers (@neilhimself, @colbertreport, @nathanfillian), follow research organizations and think-tanks (@occrl, @heritage,  @nepctweet, @hooverinst), and keep up on the news (@newsbreaker, @educationweek). Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Twitter, for me, is following the discussions of individual educational researchers, advocates, and media figures (@clubienski, @schlfinance101, @mpolikoff, @saragoldrickrab, @michaelpetrilli, @shermandorn, @michellerhee, @leoniehaimson, @dianeravtich, @chingos). When I started using Twitter (@mlinic1), I was concerned that it was consuming too much of my time, reducing my productivity, and distracting me from meaningful work. I am amazed by productive scholars that are able to use Twitter engagingly, while promoting their scholarly pursuits, and challenging poor research (@saragoldrickrab and@schlfinance101 are great examples of such scholars).

In recent years, research and policy discussions have experienced a great democratization with the expansion of new media forms such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Debates about policy are no longer contained to newspapers and news broadcasts, nor are debates about research validity contained to after-the-fact responses in journal articles (but, for a great example look here.) I have found the use of Twitter to provide two benefits to me as a new scholar. First, despite the restrictive nature of 140 characters, excellent and enlightening discussions can emerge on Twitter about the intricacies of education research. For example, in 2012 Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson released a widely discussed study of voucher effectiveness; however, despite endorsement by the Wall Street Journal, the study’s methods were quickly attacked on Twitter. Additionally, wisdom can be found 140 characters or less. Following a discussion between several educational researchers about the validity of voucher studies, Dr. Morgan Polikoff asked “So, until such time as a review appears, how would you discuss voucher literature,” and Dr. Chris Lubienski responded, “Cautiously, considering the source, research design, etc.” While only requiring 57 characters, such advice is something all researchers (especially those working with policy) would do well to heed. 

Second, understanding how Twitter is used by organizations and individuals to disseminate and absorb information regarding policies and research is an interesting prospect, especially for any researchers interested in the use of research in policymaking. As discussed by Michael Petrilli, simply understanding who is following who, says quite a bit about how information is disseminated and echo chamber that exists (he provides a great image here). I am currently pursuing further research on this subject, examining organizational approaches to research dissemination. I will be presenting a paper on this subject at AERA 2013, and will share more about my findings in coming months.     

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My vote is for huge distraction ;)
But the insight about democratization of research is important. Actually, when you look across history at technical innovations that led to democratization of information (the printing press, the radio, now the internet), the introduction of these new technologies is always immediately followed by chaotic upheaval, as almost any person -- expert or snake-oil salesman -- can enter the public dialogue and create a following. Only gradually do social and institutional mechanisms for quality control re-assert some order. This makes me wonder about how Twitter (and similar media) will look a few years from now. Thought-provoking post!