Professor John Boyer of Virginia Tech has made Rate My Professors’ Top Lists as one of the #MostFollowedProfessors two years in a row. Now, the Twitter-famous professor is travelling across the world by boat to further his mission as The Plaid Avenger, “an enlightener of American students on all things global.”
Docked in Cape Town, South Africa, Professor Boyer talked to Rate My Professors about social media, his reign on the Top Lists, and what it’s like to participate in a unique program for higher education – Semester At Sea.
You’ve been one of the #MostFollowedProfessors for two years. What makes you so popular on Twitter?
I think it’s simply because I am one of the kind of, old fart professor types that actually stays engaged with the new technologies and the new social medium. So from the get go, I’ve always relied on smart students to tell me kind of what’s hip and happening what’s going on.
John Boyer with his European Commission Class in Brussels.
You’ve almost doubled your Twitter followers since 2012, the first time you were on the Top Lists. What are your social media goals for the next year?
What I’m trying to do with this Semester at Sea thing is take it full-on — the class completely online and still keep it engaging… I’m actually doing podcasts from around the world and saying, “Here’s what the course is about. Here’s this online live thing that I’m doing right here,” and I’m also using Skype, UStream.com, Google Hangout, and SpreeCast to connect with students so I can do a Q & A live from around the world… just talking about the place say from a physical geography standpoint, or more importantly, “Hey what if I can get an interview with the president of South Africa? What if I can talk to some politicians or some people on the street here in South Africa?” And I want to connect them with you, the students… Let’s actually connect people together via education using these awesome technologies and tools that we have.
John Boyer skyped from South Africa with a 7th grade class in New York.
How would you persuade less tech savvy professors to use social media?
What I try to coach professors — even the hesitant ones, even the old ones still wearing turtle necks and tweed jackets is the say, an online office hour. It’s such a simple transition, because instead of trying to talk to these old folks into revamping their courses … Just use this technology like we are using right now with Skype to actually interact with your students, because this is the way that they see the world now… Who the hell is going to tramp across campus to stand in line in some dungy, old, dusty, old book-smelling room to talk to with their professor when you have this?
How has this Semester at Sea experience been different than teaching at Virginia Tech?
You can sit in college, you can sit in classes, hell, in high school or college — read books, read things, read the news, but it’s not simply going to a place that makes it come alive, but going to a place in-person and connecting with people, with real people, with people in the streets, with politicians, with diplomats, with cab drivers… You have interaction with the people not just in the society, but interaction with other professors on the boat from a variety of mediums, or from a variety of majors, or from a variety of institutions across America. That has upped my game exponentially as well.