Thursday, December 15, 2011

Social Media and Microbiology Education

I'm off to the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology meeting in April, and I've just sent in my abstract.
What do you think?

Social Media and Microbiology Education

Social media is the part of the Internet where the content is generated by users of the service rather than conventional publishers. Such content ranges in scope from short comments on blogs, status updates on social networks and 140 character "tweets", to lengthy blog posts sometimes even containing original research. In comparison to conventional academic publishing, the social media landscape is extremely varied. Although the age demographic of social media users is becoming older and more inclusive, the typical social media user is aged 18-30, spends more time online and gaming than watching television, and gains a much higher proportion of their information by searching and social recommendations than through traditional publishing channels. Social media is the backbone of their information infrastructure. This talk will address the following questions:

What does the current generation of students want?
Their problem is not shortage of information but overabundance. They intuitively expect academics to compete for their attention with professional media such as the games industry and that offered by Hollywood. In an educational context, they want guidance and leadership through the information maze - academic mentors. In the current environment, they also want value for money and a return on their investment, both financial and of their time.

What do we give them?
By and large, we give them what we ourselves experienced in education. Where technology makes it easy for us to increase the pressure on them (by email, online assessment), we do so. When we venture online, we expect them to use information on our terms, not theirs. We wedge them into virtual learning environments planned and built when the Internet was young, when they were still infants and before social media existed.

What do we (academics) want?
We want highly engaged, enthusiastic, self-motivated, lifelong learners who will go on to successful and profitable careers. We want the satisfaction of seeing students gradually awake to an understanding of the subject we love and have spent our careers working on. We want students to look to us for help, support advice and guidance.

So how do we get there?
We need to invest much more time and effort in understanding how new media work rather than putting our PowerPoint slides online. We need to manage expectations - in particular that education is an active process, not passive spoon-feeding of information. We need to give students clear targets and something to aim for. And we need to engage with student attention in social media to achieve these aims.

Junco, R. (2012) The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement. Computers & Education 58(1): 162-171.
Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Roylance, R., & Rees G. (2011) Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences
Mollett, A., Moran, D. & Dunleavy, P. (2011) Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers. LSE Public Policy Group.
Racaniello, V. (2010) Social Media and Microbiology Education. PLoS Pathogens 6, 10, e1001095.
Rainie, L. (2011) The internet as a diversion and destination. Pew Internet.


  1. Great! Except you might want to clarify one sentence like this:
    "They intuitively expect academics to compete for their attention with professional media such as IS OFFERED BY the games industry and Hollywood."
    Otherwise - hits the spot perfectly.
    You wannt to write a review on "Teaching virology via social media" for Archives of Virology??

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    Sharing news, updated knowledge, soft-copies of various documents would be possible.
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