So how are we coping with social media?

I tend to be an early adopter of new technology and all things online. But when it comes to the social media, I was a late developer. I first became aware of the whole scene when, as President of Dublin City University, I was approached by a colleague who wanted to block access by students to Bebo. You may not even remember Bebo now, it’s so very 2007. But in that year it was suddenly all the rage, and students were hogging access to library workstations while chatting to their online friends.

The early lead enjoyed by Bebo was, as we all know, wiped out by the all-conquering Facebook. And along came Twitter also. One of the perhaps unexpected consequences of the social networking revolution was that older online vehicles began to fade. From about 2008 you could see students gradually abandoning the use of email, as their virtual interaction moved to Facebook. Twitter, which was not initially popular with students but was more influential amongst more mature internet users, eventually also caught on and brought the culture of mobile phone texting to internet communications and commentary.

But it has to be said, the academy was nonplussed. It simply could not understand what this was all about. Academics are, in terms of social trends, not always at the cutting edge, and Facebook and Twitter just seemed alien to many of them. Even now, more than half a decade after social networking really took off, most academics have no social networking presence at all; and while universities in their corporate sense do, most have absolutely no idea how to use it. Indeed the risk is that the university world will finally come to grips with Facebook and Twitter just as the online world is moving on to something else.

I recently had a long conversation with an old friend who is a very senior professor in another university. For him, the social media represent a flight from intellectual discourse to ephemeral trivia; a whole generation of young people turning their backs on scholarship in favour of gossip.

For me, it is very different. I suspect some find the social media so difficult because they make directly visible the conversations that previously took place privately in the pub or in a student residence. But this interaction always took place; what’s new is that it is now on the same platforms that also support, or could support, academic conversations. We must not only get used to this, we must be anxious to have some of our scholarship in the places where students, and others, actually want to be. We must look again at how we communicate what we do, and how we engage our partners in the educational journey. And maybe we should remember that pretty much the same reservations were voiced about the printing press when it first emerged.

As for me, I joined Bebo, Facebook and Twitter in 2007. I have no regrets. It is time to harness social networking, and not resist it.

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10 Comments on “So how are we coping with social media?”

  1. Vince Says:

    People, some of them, believe the new web is something like the difference between walking and flying about 90 years ago in 1920.

    I feel the community of scholars will never be fully comfortable until they own the means themselves. A bit like in the past when some published in the mainstream, but most in the university presses.

    And of course there is always the very real prospect of something on social media coming back to bite ya in the rear. Not the photo of one exiting the tuk-tuk with a pair of eaux de vie in one arm and a sarong rucked somewhere about the belly. No No, something far worse than that. The curse of the memory of the thing, where you spouted some half baked shite while still green behind the ears.
    At the moment there is an edit function. And better a Delete. In social media of the WWW in general you’d better get it correct first time.

  2. Ernie Ball Says:

    “For him, the social media represent a flight from intellectual discourse to ephemeral trivia; a whole generation of young people turning their backs on scholarship in favour of gossip.”

    +1 (as they “say” in the social media world)

  3. Ruth Taylor Says:

    As a late developer in terms of social media I am just beginning to reap the rewards of the extended connections that can be created through Twitter and blogging in particular. Being able to converse virtually with colleagues that I might never have met, and having to think through my ideas (for my blog) has been beneficial to my thinking, my networking and my professional opportunities (for example I am now peer reviewing for another journal). Harnessing the power of social media for education is a challenge but one which I think we need to embrace. One of my modules starts in November – I’ll be encouraging Twitter use.

  4. no-name Says:

    Should university presidents with the affection for social media described here also be willing to grant permanence/tenure to somebody who has only published tweets or measures impact only in terms of their tweet audience and number of friends on facebook?

    Given that academics are paid to record their scholarship in peer reviewed articles, is it really beneficial to encourage them to instead publish their thoughts in social media? If it is not their scholarship which is to be communicated in this way what exactly are you suggesting that they tweet? The contents of their breakfast? Does anybody care? Should they do this during working hours? Should employment contracts insist on a minimum number of tweets per day? How would you react to an academic who spent four hours of the working day tweeting?

    Does anybody really read the tweets of others, anyway?

    You won’t find my family photos being sold on the stock exchange (as the product facebook is selling).


    • I recognise that many academics are ambivalent about the use of social media in education. However, publishing one’s work in academic journals and using social media to connect with and learn from others are not mutually exclusive activities. While many people may use Twitter to record and share the contents of their breakfast, I do not — nor (generally) do those whom I follow on Twitter. Using new forms of social media such as Twitter and blogging can enhance learning in many ways, but they are not for everyone. You might enjoy reading Martin Weller’s blog post on the subject: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Virtues-of-Blogging-as/131666/


  5. I enjoyed your post, Ferdinand — and I agree. You might like to know that my 2nd year IT students at NUI Galway participated in a Twitter chat yesterday with academic staff taught by Sharon Flynn in the CELT Learning Technologies module — discussing just this topic! Sharon created a Storify of our chat: http://storify.com/sharonlflynn/twitter-chat-how-can-he-use-social-media-to-enhanc

    Our use of Twitter in our 2nd year module is described here: http://ct231.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/week-6/

    I look forward to future discussions :) @catherinecronin

  6. Lesley Diack Says:

    We have facebook, twitter, linkedIn etc routinely for the last few years – I have a closed study group with a PhD student on facebook that only the student and her supervisors see and use. We use facebook to welcome new students and to maintain contact with our alumni and it all seeks to establish and ,maintain communication. Twitter we use in some lectures and also to inform students about things that are happening. There are lots of opportunities with social media we should use them but wisely.

    • no-name Says:

      Would an alternative solution have been found if the student or one of the supervisors preferred not to have a facebook presence, or did not trust the privacy maintenance facilities provided? (Is it absolutely certain that privacy within the group is not inadvertently compromised?) Or was participation in the study group it the way described obligatory?

  7. Dan Says:

    I remember when my teacher first tried to make us communicate over social media as a class, it was a bit hard, since we knew that everything was monitored by the teacher,but now I say to myself that I wish I could’ve benefited more from social media during our education.

  8. comberchats Says:

    No one loves the man whom he fears. — Aristotle. Social media platforms represent a fundamental shift for many, not just those in academia.
    http://comberchats.wordpress.com/


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