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Social Media in Academia

It's not just college students who are enthralled with social media. Their professors are now using these tools, from YouTube to Twitter, in increasing numbers. They use social media for everything from facilitating class discussions to crowdsourcing academic research.

crowdsourcing

Social Media in the Classroom

Many professors are turning to social media to improve their teaching. For example, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently profiled Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau, who uses both Twitter and crowdsourcing in his classes. Littau teaches journalism, media literacy and multimedia reporting, among other classes.

With Twitter, he encourages students to post questions they may have during a class. This allows him to expand discussions outside the classroom. Beyond using social media as a device, he teaches his students to properly use these tools through modeling and engaged instruction. In his view, this prepares his students to use the tools they were already using more effectively and for academic pursuits.

Professors like Littau are recognizing that their students are highly engaged in social media such as Facebook. They can make their classes more relevant by incorporating this online community wherever possible. In addition to Littau's use of Twitter, professors may use document sharing tools like Google Docs for online collaboration. Also, Skype can enable professors to bring guest voices into the classroom with minimal effort and cost.

Twitter

Academic Research Goes Online

Outside of the classroom, social media serves a valuable purpose in academic research. The Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (Ciber), a London-based interdisciplinary research organization, recently published a study on this topic. They found that social media is useful at all stages of research. This includes collaborative writing, seeking resources and disseminating findings.

Ciber noted that the most popular forms of social media are the ones that are widely used by the general population, rather than those designed specifically for academic uses. These include Skype, Twitter and YouTube. It may be that researchers can most easily use the tools they're familiar with from personal use for professional purposes. It may also mean that there is a dearth of highly specific, targeted academic media tools available.

In terms of who uses these tools most, age is a factor, but less of one than might be expected. Approximately 83% of those younger than 35 use social media, compared to 76% for those who are older. The age discrepancy widens by media type. Microblogging sites like Twitter are most heavily weighted towards younger users. Image and video sharing sites, like Flickr and YouTube, and conferencing tools, like Skype, are more widely used across all age groups.

Skype is serving a wide variety of roles in the classroom, including use as an emergency distance learning tool.