Social Networking for the Academic

Anyone who has been involved in academia for longer than a drop/add period will know that there are only three things in the life of an academic: teaching, service, and research. How those three balance will depend on the institution, but all three exist and are at the core of everything that is done throughout the course of the week, month, and term. At least with research and teaching, social networking and other Web 2.0 resources can be extremely valuable.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have your service be as a webmaster (like me), most of the time it involves conferences rooms and reheated-one-too-many-times Chick-fil-a (this may be a phenomenon isolated to Georgia). For teaching and research however, there is a fair amount of human interaction that does not involve high-gloss large tables.

As for research, at least in my field, I think it is safe to say that I am by no means confined to one location. My “lab” is anywhere with a good Wi-Fi signal and my notebook computer equipped with J-STOR, SPSS, Mendeley, and Microsoft Word. So, if I’m collaborating with someone on another part of campus it is quite easy for me to pack up and go have a face-to-face meeting with them. But, what should be done when faced with a collaborator who– instead of being down the hall or across campus (I’m one of 3 political science instructors at GMC Milledgeville right now and the only one with a focus in policy) – is in another city or even another state?

Of course, you use technology. You talk via GTalk or Skype. You edit your documents in the cloud or make use of a research wiki. You use Dropbox to share data files. The research goes on unimpeded by the distance and the sphere of knowledge is expanded.

I would estimate about 90% of “teaching” is done in the classroom. But it would be absurd to even consider the idea that 90% of learning took place in the same location. Today’s students live online, mainly through social media. I draw heavily from outside readings and historical documents for my different classes. Why would I use paper to give out hardcopies of 10 page articles to 50 students in my classes when I can post a link on a Facebook group? Yes, I could post that same link on Blackboard, which I normally do. But, students – in my experience – spend far more time on Facebook than they do on whatever course management system is used by your institution.

I will be the first to say that clear guidelines need to be developed for professionalism in media. Sometimes there are institution wide policies governing faculty and staff conduct. And even if there is not, a wise instructor would still govern himself or herself with the highest sense of decorum. How to do that is up to the individual. But, my next post will discuss how I use each individual platform and how I use them to interact with students. It may not work for everyone, but it has – at least so far – worked well for me.

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