Can anyone imagine a world without Facebook on our fingertips and course materials on-line? Social media has penetrated our world via Facebook, Twitter, internet dating, chatting, and professional networking sites. It has become our front porch, cafe, and living room to converse with people in a setting we modify to match our personality and mood. What are some of the great and not-so-great aspects of these web-based tools?
Twitter goes through 500 million 140 character micro blogs or “Tweets” every day. The mission of Twitter Inc. is “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers”. This sounds great and has been used in university classes to activate students. Professionals use it to follow interesting news in their fields, and everyone can use it to have an online presence and personal channel for connection to friends and acquaintances. I have found it useful to keep up on cutting edge science publications, that cause public conversation among scientists.
This can be used in unkind ways too. Without realizing both students and faculty can be very offensive in an extremely public and immediate environment. Teachers of a Los Alamos high school read tweets about themselves to remind students what they share on the internet can be read by anyone. This January In university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, twitter comments on chancellor’s decision to keep classes in session, when cold weather hit the campus, got very offensive. This was reported in Inside Higher Ed news section. It seems university students also need a remainder on how the internet works.
Professional networking sites
LinkedIn® and many other sites have profiled themselves as professional Facebook. Indeed the mission statements of LinkedIn and Facebook are very similar.
The mission of LinkedIn is to connect the world’s professionals to enable them to be more productive and successful. To achieve our mission, we make services available through our websites, mobile applications, and developer platforms, to help you, your connections, and millions of other professionals meet, exchange ideas, learn, make deals, find opportunities or employees, work, and make decisions in a network of trusted relationships and groups.
Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.
Facebook offers more personal sharing environment and LinkedIn® concentrates on the professional advantages it can offer. This sort of networking could be more comfortable for the introverts in any field. Activity within the social media is still required for it to benefit you, but you can plan and form a strategy to best present yourself. And there is a lot to plan for; Summaries, CV items, and skills.
With today’s wide variety of social networks, this one can be forgotten easily when you are working. But as soon as you need to find a new job, you wish you were more active in the networking social media. If you don’t take this seriously and make it just another Facebook page, the benefits will be non-existent and the sloppy public profile can even hurt your professional image. When our students start using these networks, they really need to make a difference between the professional site and Facebook profile. Even if it is tempting to accept all invites to connect, one should be careful what kind of professional picture is presented by choice of contacts.
Both faculty and students can benefit from blogs. They can offer a creative outlet or be a professional front for anyone. The content posted can be visible to anyone or even just the class contributing to it. The benefits are usually connected to improvement in writing skills and sense of ownership for one’s work. The need to be careful in framing blogging as student activity cannot be emphasized too much. Requirement of certain number of blogs will give you exactly that. Number of posts to get it done. And words on screen that do not engage, written by someone not interested in writing them.
The best sort of blogging is engaging to the writer and audience. An example of that are the Harvard faculty blogs. What a great way to build an online presence of the whole university and bring it all together under the institution. It can lead to professional discussions as well as offer a source for future students looking for mentors. It can also harm one’s online reputation, if care is not used on what is shared.
In the end, the greatness and the pitfalls of any social media we use as faculty or students comes down to thinking what you post and do on-line. On twitter the best advice for students would probably be the Wheaton’s law: “Don’t be a dick”. It is simple and easily understood in many contexts. As future faculty, student, teacher, or a parent, one must consider the consequences. I find it helpful to think any writing I post as a presentation to a large group of people including your co-workers, relatives, and all minorities. You don’t want to needlessly offend anyone. And since your boss is listening, you don’t want to loose your job.
Telling people to use social media responsibly is like telling them to drink responsibly. Most will do it, but there can be temptation to go overboard. Having an internet troll tweeting offensively is like listening to an obnoxious drunk…