My Professor Tweets: Archives, Visualizations, and Thoughts

On Thursday, September 3, my friend @mattthomas decided to do a search for “my American Studies professor” and retweeted the following:

retweets from Matt Thomas

This led, it seems, to a search for “my professor,” which opened the food-gates:

retweets by Matt ThomasI didn’t start to really see what was happening until September 5, and by then Matt was tweeting little other than all things “my professor”-related. I asked him if he was archiving the tweets and he said he wasn’t. On September 6, I decided I had to archive them—there was just too much interest from, well, everyone in the world. I’m happy to post them here for your enjoyment.

I’ve stopped the TAGS 5.0 archives from archiving (they’d reached capacity), but the yourTwapperKeeper archive, which has a larger storage capacity, is on-going:

  • TAGS 5.0 archive of search for “my professor” which is interpreted as a Boolean “my AND professor”
  • TAGS 5.0 archive of tweets with #myprofessor hashtag
  • youTwapperKeeper search for “my professor” which is interpreted as a Boolean “my AND professor”
    • total tweets:15,651 (as of this writing); first tweet: 9/613: 13:27:29 GMT; last tweet: on-going
    • “my professor” yourTwapperKepper archive link (If you download the tweets in Excel, I suggest splitting them in groups; a 15,000-tweet archive will take a long time for Excel to open, if it does at all. Once you download the parts, you can open one, then another and copy and paste the tweets into one large spreadsheet. Then, save as .xlsb. This will significantly reduce the file size and allow you to open it up again.)

For those of you who like visualizations, as do I, here is a visualization of 15,000+ “my professor” tweets using TAGS Explorer made at 8:00pm Eastern Time, September 6:

TAGS 5.0 visualizationAnd a visualization of 89 #myprofessor tweets, made 9:15am, September 7:

#myprofessor tweets

Jonathan Goodman has mapped 300 of Matt’s retweets using R with Twitter and Geocode packages:

Jon Goodwin imageThere has been much discussion among professors on Twitter about the tweets, what they say about students, what they say about professors as entertainers, what they say about the relationship between students and professors, and so on. Alan Jacobs has a brief blog post in which he wonders:

how many of these tweets can be assumed to be accurate transcriptions? I mean, maybe your professor said you should have sex with hundreds of people, but maybe you were texting someone when he prefaced that with “Some people think.” And by the time it became clear to you that he wasn’t in fact telling you to have sex with hundreds of people, if it ever did, the tweet was already out there and why take back something funny and interesting?

So I’m just wondering how much of this is a game called “Sh*t My Prof Says.” There’s no way to know, of course; but I’m wondering.

Alan, author of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, naturally continues to wonder about the nature of distraction and ends by pointing his readers to Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Lying.” I suspect many others wonder if the tweets are accurate representations of what is taking place in classes. I mean, just how many professors are bringing up twerking?

Yet, I’m not so sure why people tend to question the accuracy of these tweets (and, even, so, if accuracy is the right question to be asked). If this were a game, I suspect we would see an archive with considerably more @replies, RTs, and perhaps even more tweets with the #myprofessor hashtag. When people question the tweets’ accuracy they are really questioning the accuracy of the students themselves, which tends to be informed by the unfortunate assumption that students, at best, embellish the truth or, at worst, are liars. I don’t see students that way.

No, I see these as context-specific utterances that are more than likely accurate representations of what is happening in the classrooms throughout the country.  The fact that so many are tweeting about their professors at the same time, well, that just goes to show that many students are in classrooms, have access to Twitter, and are used to tweeting what they are doing, seeing, and hearing. One of the beautiful things about Twitter is that it shows just how many people are doing similar things at that very moment even if they don’t know others are doing it. (We humans are not very original.) For example, a search for “eat breakfast” reveals a wonderful diversity of all the people out there who are eating breakfast (I am yearning for granola crusted banana pancakes as I write this). This isn’t a game being played. I don’t doubt that they are eating breakfast or want to eat breakfast. It’s what people are doing and they are sharing it. I also don’t doubt that students find themselves in classes with professors saying things that are questionable, funny, attempting but failing to be funny, and insightful. I suspect my own students might accuse me of all of the above.

More to the point, in my experience asking students to live-tweet discussions during class—something I’ve been doing at least as far back as the spring 2009 semester-–their observations, transcriptions, and quips, have been spot-on. Often students have used the time to tweet things that I’ve said—serious and not serious and because they have used the hashtag, their classmates have been able to join in. Faculty, like my good friend, Chuck Rybak, have started asking students to create Storify threads of in-class live-tweets of class discussion, to be used to inform further discussion, interpretation, and engagement with the material.

What makes these tweets so unsettling, I suspect, is that students, without any malicious intent, are shining a spot-light on ourselves. And even if you or I are not the ones being tweeted about, we identify with that person in front of the class and wonder just what our students say about us outside of the confines of the classroom and the structure of course evaluations (and even the anonymity of RateMyProfessor). Though sitting in the classroom at the moment, students see Twitter and it’s writing space as outside the confines of the classroom and are presenting the professor to their followers in a space where they think their professor won’t see it. And the fact that most of the tweets don’t have a class hashtag associated with them makes that assumption probably true. What makes these unsettling is that we are seeing the students’ reality, and as T.S. Eliot wrote in “Burnt Norton”:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

My 3-week old son is crying, so I must interrupt this post. I suspect he wants breakfast, as well. And with that, I leave you with results of the search “my professor breakfast”:

my professor breakfast results

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