A hashtag for the head: v-c tweets to keep in touch

De Montfort's new leader uses Twitter to engage with staff and students. Sarah Cunnane reports

July 22, 2010

A university vice-chancellor is hoping for tweet success in his new role by reaching out to his staff and students and others in the sector via the social networking site Twitter.

Since taking the reins at De Montfort University last month, Dominic Shellard (@DMUVC) has been quick to embrace the Twittersphere.

In doing so, he joins university heads from around the world including E. Gordon Gee (@presidentgee) of Ohio State University, Richard Descoings (@rdescoings) of Sciences Po in France and Steven Schwartz (@macquarievc), vice-chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia.

But Professor Shellard's UK peers have been slow to take to social media. He is only the second to personally twitter, following Martin Hall of the University of Salford (@VCSalford).

Mario Creatura, an education blogger working in the sector, discusses the paltry use of social media by UK vice-chancellors in a blog post titled He sends text messages, how hard can Twitter be?. It is, he says, an "incredibly tricky process" to convince institution heads to add social media to their daily lives.

He advises any vice-chancellors thinking of twittering: "It can't hurt to give it a go. Provided that you aren't spewing tripe about what you had for breakfast and use your podium to promote official messages and interact with your audience, it shouldn't be incredibly daunting."

Professor Shellard said he was "really attracted to the idea that social media can complement traditional means of engaging with colleagues. As a new vice-chancellor, it's a way of quickly giving colleagues a sense of who you are.

"I recognise that there's a lot of curiosity about what I'm like, about my ideas on a new vision, how many arms I've got - that kind of stuff."

Professor Shellard, who aims to tweet three or four times a day, insisted that the messages come from him alone. "Unless it's me, there's no point doing it."

The academic community on Twitter has welcomed Professor Shellard's overtures to a wider audience: @DMUVC has been inundated, not just with ideas and comments on the university and the sector, but also with praise for his efforts.

One senior lecturer at De Montfort, Miles Weaver (@weavermiles), tweeted that Professor Shellard's engagement showed "refreshing leadership", while Chris Lowthorpe (@chrislowthorpe), a lecturer at Norwich University College of the Arts, added: "Your peers could learn a lot from you."

The debate sparked by his tweets has pleased Professor Shellard. He hopes that staff will use the medium to help shape De Montfort's new strategic plan, and has invited them to contribute ideas via Twitter.

"I think the days where you spend 18 months, 58 committees and tens of thousands of pounds on a consultation exercise to produce a strategic plan are long gone," he said, although he stopped short of suggesting that the final plan would, like tweets, be written in no more than 140 characters.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

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