All Atwitter Over Twitter

September 20- The White House Situation Room.  An operating room.  John Q. Public’s bedroom or private study.  There are certain locations from within which it would be impolite, unethical or downright unpatriotic to report without permission, especially in real time.


The masthead of Taylor's personal Web log.

The masthead of Taylor's personal Web log.


What about a college class?  Or more specifically, what about a college journalism class?  Or even more specifically, what about a college journalism class focused on reporting for the new media generation?


A related debate has surfaced among old and new media journalists, j-students, and j-academics after an NYU undergraduate enrolled in a “Reporting for Gen Y” course wrote a bitchslap of a blog that criticized the professor, the class, and the university as digitally and journalistically behind the times.  The post, and the Twitter microblogging upon which it was based, stirred attention for their criticisms but also for the manner in which they delivered them: quoting the professor’s comments in class in real-time and including a photo of the classroom snapped during a class break.


The blog post’s title: “Old Thinking Permeates Major Journalism School.”  The student, Alana Taylor, wrote in the post, which was run on the PBS blog “MediaShift”: “I don’t expect her [the course’s professor] to be an expert on the world of social media, but for some reason I am unsettled at the thought of having a teacher who is teaching me about the culture of my generation. . . . I am convinced that I am taking the only old-but-new-but-still-old media class in the country. At this point I may not learn too much I don’t already know about my generation and where it’s taking journalism. But one thing’s for sure — I’m certainly going to gain some insight into what exactly they mean by generation gap.”


A student-teacher conference ensued, followed by (as you can imagine) an awkward class discussion.  The result was a new course policy: No blogging, Twittering, texting or other live reporting while in class.


The policy begs the question: Should microblogging in class really be banned?  And should college courses just more generally be off-limits for media reports?


According to NYU’s journalism institute director: “Given the new means of communication and how instantaneous they are, it might be a good subject for a forum.  If you follow the Chronicle of Higher Education, you’ll see people come on and talk about IM’ing in class and texting in classes, and it’s distracting.  People aren’t excited about that in any circumstance. But on the other hand, we’re providing a total WiFi environment with computers in your face.”


My opinion: There is almost no corner of the world cut off from new media.  Now, a classroom’s public status certainly has limits.  It is not a place for the unenrolled to simply wander in, for example.  But there is no way you can tell students awash in texts, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and RateMyProfessor to suddenly stop using them.  It’s a policy that has failure written all over it.  First, what are the consequences?  A failing grade for the class?  Suspension from the university?  The media will have a field day, on the micro and macro level.  Also, what about enforcement?  How do you monitor such activity?  I envision profs with narrowed eyes watching for fast-moving thumbs beneath desks.  Instructors should concentrate on the big picture: Educating students.  There is no point in being all atwitter over blogs, texts, and Twitter.  They are not the enemy.  They are new media, and evermore frequent reporting outlets for Gen Y.

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