A call for curriculum update: Caltech offers course on using social media to communicate research

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education talks about a course offered at Caltech that teaches STEM students how to use digital platforms to communicate research to both scientists and non-scientists.

Article can be found here: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Science-Students-Learn-to-Use/237158

The course is the result of the collaboration between a chemical engineering professor and a communications program manager. What’s unique is that it is geared towards the specific needs of STEM students. Using case studies, topics include online reputation, effective presentation, the law, and crisis management.

My first reaction was a definite positive, followed by, I wish we had a similar course here at VT. Something that goes beyond the familiar written report and PowerPoint. As an engineering student, I have not been required to use social media in any of my academic work. In fact, this blog was foreign territory until very recently.

But the truth is that social media has become firmly embedded in our everyday life, whether we like it or not. Might as well take advantage of it and optimize the way it’s used. STEM students, so used to whispering among their exclusive conclaves, could further promote their research and accomplishments, especially if their funding comes from public sources. Not to mention, these are the same people who have the knowledge to combat alternative facts.

In that sense, use of social media comes with responsibilities and repercussions. The speed at which “facts” spread calls for the need to present research in the right context, lest it becomes skewed through inference. Students and faculty alike should be aware of the impact the presentation of their research could have. The online reputation and legal aspects covered in the Caltech course also seems (incredibly) useful and supplementary.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle, as the article mentions, is reaching the desired audience. It makes sense then that such a course should evolve along with the capabilities of the technologies, integrating tips into the curriculum on overcoming these network barriers.

An extension to that last thought is that the school curriculum in general should evolve. Like the television that found ubiquity in almost every household, social media, as a form of communication, has gained traction and widespread use. And its tremendous power is now in the palm of your hand, literally, but only if we know how to use it.