Monday, March 22, 2010

a few views about social media in academia


this month (march 16, 2010) i was interviewed by Karla Wobito of the university of toronto Bulletin magazine about social media. below is the full interview from which the Bulletin piece was taken.

Q: What type of social media do you use on a regular basis (personal use)? (ex. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc.)

rm: IM, Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, blog, SMS, World of Warcraft, and Linked In.

Q: And, What ones do you use in relation to your role as a staff member at UofT? How do you use it?

rm: Blog and Linked In for academic idea sharing and networking. I blog ideas that I raise in my classes and about academic readings. I use Linked In to connect students to my former colleagues in management consulting for job opportunities. I also interact with information professionals in Second Life fairly often. The American Library Association, Alliance Library System and several Information Schools like ours have academic events, talks and social events in this extended reality environment. I currently teach a course on avatar identity and community using Second Life.

Q: Do you think more faculty and staff should be using blogs to help teach students or to keep them updated on the latest news in their departments? If so, what do you think is any easy way to get started?

rm: I do not think that social media is for everyone. I believe for some faculty social media will be viewed as useful and for others it will be viewed as a burden. For those comfortable with managing these interfaces with broad and imagined audiences, a good start may be to blog about class readings/issues arising from discussions at conferences, etc as appropriate. For persons comfortable with maintaining a journal, blogs may come easier. For those who like reporting events as they happen (e.g. journalist style) Twitter may be the better start and they might try joining in the discussions in a backchannel at a conference presentation. For others who have limited time or confidence in social media, a Linked In presence may be a sufficient start.

Q: Do you think that the use of social media can ever have any negative effects?

rm: As is the case with using almost any media, there are opportunities to using social media and concequences to over reliance and inexperience. While I have many examples of positive experiences, since you have asked about negative effects I will address this. 'Negative effects' suggests that the social medium had done or caused something rather unfortunate to happen to the user. I do not think of our interrelationships with media in this way. When we use devices or software (media) in our relationships with other people, these media become inextricable components of the interactions, and we are affected by media as much as we affect media.
For example, if I regularly use text messaging (SMS) to communicate with a colleague, part of the way that I begin to think of this person is tied to the immediacy of response, the tone, and the short bursts of rapid information exchange that are conditioned by the medium itself. My colleague and I may create a system of using a missed call followed by a 20 message exchange that uses the mobile phone in ways unintended by the service provider. And I may out of habit first use text to connect with this colleague even when a voice call may be more effective. These mediated interaction rituals can hamper efficient information exchange or even, as I found in recent research, hamper the development of new relationships in the short term. But such concequences must be viewed as one aspect of a complex set of interactions in contemporary societies.
Do people spend too much time using social media? Do they make faux pas and send rather personal missives into the ether? Do we use our thumbs more than our voices? Answers to these questions should consider both the individual user and the social, political and cultural context from which they are a product. What is clear is that community and our propensity to remain connected to others is undiminished. These are some of the things that we study at the iSchool.


Q: For you personally, what are all of the benefits of using social media?

rm: I enjoy having multiple ways of expressing my views, my interests and my personality. I know that one size does not fit all and having options to communicate with specific individuals and groups works for me. I also research youth so participating in the spaces that they inhabit (on and offline) deepens my understanding of their interactions and gives me credibility with younger people.

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