I first came to social media approximately eight years ago, after many years of being involved in a publishing environment including magazines, books and newspapers as well as the ‘dot com boom’. It therefore felt to me a very natural evolution in the sharing of information and stories. I therefore embraced it and my observations on the day come from that perspective.
I was therefore staggered when I entered academia to encounter such animosity toward these highly powerful tools in aiding the dissemination of knowledge. Tools that could aid research, networking, visibility of work and provide students with essential employability skills on graduation.
I have previously written on this subject and don’t wish to go into more detail here but suffice to say that I was intrigued by the potential discussions that could be had at the University of Gloucestershire Learning and Teaching Symposium 2016 focusing on the use of social media within academia.
The day started well with a keynote address titled Why AcademicsMust Use Social Media from self-confessed social media/digital geek Eric Stoller (@EricStoller) outlining the various platforms that exist and their international adoption. He spoke of online attitude, social and professional use of social media, digital identity, building community, listening is learning and #LTHEchat. His approach was upbeat and positive and I understand why he adopted the approach he did when faced with an audience ranging from determined sceptic to fully engaged social media evangelists.
However, I do believe that every time that social media is associated with fun memes and pictures of cats its potential importance to academia is undermined and those disbelievers are given another ‘puerile stick’ to beat the believers with. In addition to this observation I believe that a lack of specific academic context given for the platforms mentioned can lead to the skeptic remaining as bewildered by the options open to them as they were before they knew they existed and as a result no further forward in seeing the relevance of social media to their teaching. We often complain that students have to be ‘spoon fed’ to encourage engagement, perhaps this is the same with teachers and social media.
After the key note and coffee three one-hour sessions were held at the same time with attendees given the option as to which they wanted to attend. One covered the basics of using social media, the other was outlining the experience of constructing and delivering a module remotely. And the third was mine dealing with my research with #ConnectedClasses and its use in addressing anxiety and student failure within student cohorts.
I obviously cannot speak concerning the other two sessions but I can certainly give a detailed observation on the comments made during the question and answer session at its completion. The general response was positive as attendees saw a clear way in which they could embed social media into their teaching with an outcome that could then foster further conversation. Concern was expressed about how personal experience could be adapted and incorporated when using social media but these concerns where overcome when it was explained that experience/failure and not confidence/success could used as a replacement or supplementary aspect of using Twitter as a teaching tool.
Fear of technology was a factor for some but in reality accepted as a barrier that could be easily overcome if a pedagogic structure was in place to encourage the teacher to overcome initial fears.
After lunch there was a choice of two separate sessions to attend. One concerning augmented reality teaching and another presented by the day’s organiser Dr. David Webster titled Social Media, Ethics and Engagement. I opted for the latter, an informal and enjoyable presentation filled with humour and interesting observations that sparked considerable debate and conversation.
This ranged from online trolling and abuse to the rise of the non-expert twitter ‘expert’ and the influence such ‘experts’ have with official education bodies based upon the size of their twitter following. This led to a discussion as to whether or not serious academics weaken their academic positions and weight by engaging with social media. All interesting stuff and common talking points whenever social media is discussed within an academic environment. But from my perspective these are secondary issues to the central discussion concerning the adoption of social media within academic practice and encouraging the dubious to explore how social media could extend, develop and progress their research, profile and pedagogy.
The end of the day Penary was considerably less well attended than the start of the day keynote (but that always seems to be the way) but to my ear some of the most pertinent and relevant comments concerning the reality of the relationship academia has with social media were made.
Professor Tom Barker, Dean of the Faculty of Art and Technology at the University of Gloucestershire began by questioning whether any HE institution were actually dealing with social media successfully or was it a common belief that someone was always doing it better than the institution you were associated with at the time. Eric Stoller felt that few were dealing with it well as an institution but that individuals within an institution were doing interesting work independently often under the university’s radar. I agree with this but offered that I believed that the work being done at DML (Digital Media Lab) at the University of California and Open Lab at Newcastle University were both doing interesting and there fore worth checking out.
A comment was made that engaging with social media costs hours and that is true but my belief is that this is where embedding its use within your research and pedagogy ensures that hours dedicated to both through the WAM for research, contact time and preparation goes some way to covering those hours. After that point it is up to the academic to decide the benefit to themselves and their students and their preferred level of engagement.
Professor Tom Barker summed up by stressing his belief that institution wide policies installing social media engagement as a non-negotiable implementation with set targets of usage did not seem appropriate and that the current environment of independent self-initiated engagement was perhaps more interesting.
That leaves me with just one more comment to respond to. During the plenary an attendee asked why do we have to use all of these easy apps to go into the students world? Why they continued could we not invite them int ours? Citing a number of academic websites that he felt were both good and perhaps more appropriate.
It was this comment that I believe lies at the very heart of the issue that academia has with accepting social media into its hallowed corridors. The suggestion that their are two worlds is in my eyes ridiculous but of course there is in the eyes of some academics. As long as this belief is allowed to exist the use of social media as a valuable pedagogic and research tool will seem like a management dictate to these people.
With so many academics now on Twitter and utilising Facebook groups, YouTube, Skype and online tools such as podcasts, webinars and live streaming to further their work it can only be a matter of time before those who believe that the academic world exists in a parallel universe to the real world will have to accept that we are in fact just one world and they will have to join the rest of us in it.