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Time to Twitter in Ferguson Classes
By Laura Black

Most college students have a checklist before walking into the classroom. Some of the to-dos have been around for decades, such as make sure you have pencil and paper and arrive on time. But one of the to-dos on the checklist is fairly new. Silence your cell phone. It can almost be guaranteed that this rule will be found on any professor's syllabus close to the top or said in class on the first day.

After entering communication professor Dr. Douglas A. Ferguson's classroom, students are shocked that this rule is nowhere to be found. In fact, his syllabus says,"Cell phones in class are encouraged, but not for socializing."

Ferguson gives students the option to ask questions they have during class via Twitter, a social networking site. "I think it's great because it adds to the professor's availability," said Chris Redfeather, a senior and student in Ferguson's communication research methods class. By allowing students to ask him questions via Twitter, Ferguson says he hopes to encourage students to ask questions who are less likely to speak out during class.

Twitter is one of the many new technologies that Ferguson is familiar with. "I like to follow the gradual changes in the way people communicate using technology," Ferguson said.

He has three Facebook sites. He has a personal site and sites for two of the textbooks he co-authored, "Media Promotion & Marketing for Broadcasting, Cable & the Internet" (5th Edition), and "Media Programming: Strategies and Practices."

"I spend at least 20 minutes a day surveying the media world to update the sites," Ferguson said. "Social media open new opportunities for people to interact. It is more personal because now there is more than just the phone and postal service."

In 2009, Ferguson did two studies on radio and television stations and how they can use Twitter to keep in touch with their audiences. "Old media are trying to learn new tricks and the progress has been slow," Ferguson said.

This is not the first time Ferguson has watched the struggle between old and new media. After earning both his bachelor's and master's degrees in speech communication from Ohio State University, he worked in the television industry from 1969-1987. "I saw in the 1980s that the best days of broadcasting were behind it," Ferguson said.

Ferguson became program director and station manager at WLIO-TV, an NBC affiliate in Lima, Ohio. He was also the program director for a cable channel in Bay City, Mich., that carried local game shows, children's shows, sporting events, movies, and off-network syndication.

During those years he watched broadcast television slowly become less "precious." Its audience was and continues to be eroded away by cable and satellite television and, nowadays, the Internet. When television channels were more scarce people made time for set programming. "Those days are long gone," Ferguson said.

After enjoying his time in the television industry, Ferguson chose a new career. He started teaching at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 1990 after earning his doctorate in mass communications there. He moved to the South 10 years later and joined the College of Charleston community.

Ferguson has been with the College of Charleston since 1999. He was the Department of Communication's first chair and the first graduate program director. He lives in Charleston with his wife, Cindy. He has a son, 31, and twin boys, 12.

Although his sons help him keep up with the vastly changing media world, Ferguson has no idea what is next. "Facebook and Twitter might be replaced in two years by something completely new," Ferguson said. He jokes about possibly having liquid music you can drop in the ear or a chip in the brain. "There's no telling what's next," Ferguson said.

For more information about Dr. Douglas Ferguson please visit http://fergusond.people.cofc.edu.