The Online Academic Identity Crisis

The popularity of Twitter and other social media platforms has created something of a crisis for professors and schools that have multiple interests. Regarding Twitter, many professors have responded by setting up two accounts, one for personal observations and another for professional concerns. In response to the proliferation of social media accounts that results, professors and schools have a loose set of rules they follow to ensure that information is appropriate and relevant.

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Multiple Accounts

Christian Brady, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, has two public Twitter accounts. One is designed for personal observations, while the other concerns his professional life as dean of the university's honor college. For Mr. Brady, the separation allows his audience to focus their attentions on only the things that interest them. Students in the honors college, for example, may not have any interest in hearing about the professor's personal collection of comic books or his research on Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.

The Etiquette of Connecting and Sharing

Professors who have a Facebook page have a simple rule when it comes to connecting with students. Let the student make the first move. The reason being that it may seem a little strange if a professor 'friends' his or her students. Professors then regulate the type of content that a student can see. Kirsten A. Johnson, a professor at Elizabethtown College, lets students have access to information about her that they otherwise might not have known. For example, her Facebook friends can see that she is a member of a Christian rock band, something that she has not spoken about in class.

Surveys have shown that this type of sharing, in which a student gets to see something of a professor's personal life and interests, leads to higher measures of trustworthiness and competence. Furthermore, students are more likely to want to connect with their professors in and after class. Not everything is an open book, however. Educators are careful not to use Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform as a place to air political or controversial views.

A Relaxed Approach

It would seem as though the tendency of universities and colleges to react to so many social medial accounts would be to overregulate them. However, many schools have a loose set of guidelines and only ask professors with social media accounts to consider the appropriateness of the information they release to followers and friends. The library at the University of Virginia has 14 different social media accounts to represent individual divisions.

The policy for moderating these accounts is brief and only asks users to acknowledge some basic legal issues and not be reckless. The goal for UVA and other educational institutions is not to restrict professors from having a voice and connecting with students. They want educators to have fun and enjoy using these platforms, because the personal conversations generated are immediate and carry more weight than scripted press releases.

Dead Air

Typically, a student worker updates university Facebook and Twitter accounts. When that student graduates and moves onto another job, the account can stand lifeless for a long period of time. Of course, this is detrimental to the university and its image. Erin Dougherty, a digital marketing coordinator at Endicott College, is on the hunt for accounts that have not been constantly updated or are forgotten about. She recommends that the college find a point person to ensure they are regularly updated.

Real-Time Action

The benefit of having a social media account for a university is that it can react immediately to an issue that arises. Case in point, recently at Vanderbilt University there was a rumor that a $3,000 reward would be paid by the school to anyone who could find a rare blue-eyed cicada. The rumor was immediately dismissed by using the university's official Twitter feed @vanderbiltu. The school also filed a post about the hoax on the university's research bog. Vanderbilt's two-pronged approach immediately dealt with the issue in a swift and efficient way.

Can social media impact a student's performance? Learn how the use of Twitter in the classroom improved the quality of student work.

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