In the past few years, Ben Bernanke has brought Federal Reserve communication into the 20th Century, with television interviews and regular news conferences. This afternoon, he'll try bringing it into the 21st.

Bernanke will take questions through Twitter for the first time, as the Fed chairman participates in what is intended to be a free-wheeling, open-ended discussion Monday afternoon at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy.

Tweet at me, guys.

The unscripted conversation will be led by Ford School Dean Susan Collins, a noted international macroeconomist who earned her doctorate at MIT a few years after Bernanke. Collins said she plans to bring up the debate among members of the Federal Reserve’s policy-making committee over when to end purchases of mortgage-backed securities and the economic consequences of the fiscal cliff compromise. Collins also intends to ask about the message the Fed is trying to send by outlining thresholds for unemployment and inflation as well as its role promoting long-term domestic growth.

That’s just the warm-up. After their question-and-answer session, Bernanke will answer questions from Twitter. The Hashtag is #fordschoolbernanke, and as of this morning, most of the questions are from, ahem, journalists. But others range from the impact of Fed policies on the national debt to the Fed’s plan for shrinking its balance sheet to why it won’t go along with the trillion-dollar platinum coin idea.

We’re assuming the chairman’s answers will exceed 140 characters.

The appearance is part of the Fed’s ongoing attempts to increase engagement with the public and generally demystify itself. Collins said she suggested the unorthodox format to Bernanke’s staff, and they actually seemed to prefer it. Even the venue itself represents a departure for normally insular institution.

“Coming to Michigan and the Midwest sends a different message in terms of public interest and engagement,” Collins said in an interview.

The event will be streamed online beginning at 4 p.m. at the Ford School's Web site.