Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't be afraid to share

Logo The Times Higher today has a feature by Sarah Cunnane on social media in the academy. A few selected quotes:

Alan Cann, senior lecturer in biology at the University of Leicester, says it is very difficult to change the minds of people who disparage social media and dismiss them as useless - partly because it is hard to convey the nature of the experience to those with no familiarity with it. "It's frustrating because all of this is experiential," he says. "When you have someone who doesn't use Twitter, it's very difficult to explain the value of it." However, Cann admits that he can sympathise with those who do not see the point of social media. "When I first saw Twitter, I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen. It took me a year to understand it and figure it out."
It is not just academics and institutions that struggle to integrate social media into their work. It can prove difficult to encourage students to extend their use into the classroom, too. Cann weaves FriendFeed, a social-media aggregator, into assessment for one of his modules, but says he did so "reluctantly". "Students are used to being heavily guided and focused on assessment - they're told that if you write this sentence you'll get these marks. Consequently, if you wave something in front of them and tell them that it's good but that they won't get any marks for using it, we know that the take-up is very low."
"I'm pissed off that I can't get a grant for my work," says Cann, whose research has moved beyond his field of biology to social media and technology in the classroom. The difficulty, he has found, is that research councils are much more willing to fund a project with a tangible outcome, such as building a new social-networking tool, than they are to fund someone using existing networks to collect data. "It's reinventing the wheel: if I build something similar to Facebook, it won't be as good as Facebook because I wouldn't have access to the level of resources it has," he says. "I don't want to be building some ghetto destination that students have to go to in order to get marks. If we want our students to build social networks that they will use, we need to use public destinations and online resources that people already have confidence in."
Although social media will no doubt evolve, they are here to stay. And as their use increases, the sector is increasingly becoming an academy of enthusiastic Twitterers. Or, as David Cameron might put it, an academy of enthusiastic twats.

You get the idea :-)