GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

Who Am I, Digitally and IRL?

In Lee's Posts on 2012/07/25 at 22:03
Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

Before I start my post, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who read, commented, and reached out to me after my last post. I have sought help and that blog post was the first step in opening up and being honest about myself both to myself and to the people around me. I still have trouble admitting what I perceive is weakness and asking for help, but that’s getting better, as is the depression; the good days are beginning to outnumber the bad days, even if it is only by a small margin. Again, thank-you for sharing your own stories with me and the other readers. Hopefully, this will inspire others to open up and seek help. 

The rush of the end-of-semester, then the let-down, then the onset of the summer months can often inspire reflection in academics on our classroom practices, our research, and our other responsibilities. Have I achieved a manageable work-life balance this year? (Haha, surely you jest.) How can I make this class work better next semester? What can I hope to accomplish this summer in terms of my research? How am I going to pay the bills (those off the tenure track and/or have 9-month contracts paid over 9-months understand)?

Those of us who blog can also face an existential crisis at this time of the year, especially if the demands of the past semester meant that the blogging output went down. Given the demands of our jobs as academics, why we blog is an important consideration when deciding how and what to prioritize in our lives. Summers are particularly hard for me to blog regularly, in part because I’m not teaching and in part because I concentrate more fully on my research. And, honestly, I get burnt out from 8 months of non-stop teaching/writing/blogging/childcare/etc. My summers are nice because it becomes about my family first and my research, so blogging, while still important to me, can take a secondary role.

This also leads me to re-examine my digital identity more generally. I was playing with this idea of who I am digitally when fellow UVenus blogger Bonnie Stewart led her #Change11 section on Digital Selves. I participated in her online seminar/discussion and it really pushed me to think more about the different performances of myself in my various virtual guises. Initially, I started blogging and tweeting in large part so I could be more like myself professionally than I felt I was allowed to be in real life (IRL) as an academic. My Facebook self, on the other hand, was entirely deprofessionalized; this was where I would keep old friends and family appraised of how the kids were doing, how the banalities of life were moving forward in our small town, away from them.

But a funny thing started happening this year. More and more people who I would consider “professional friends” from Twitter and elsewhere began friending me on Facebook. I started getting to know their kids and families, their banalities, while they got to know mine. On top of that, because of the professional support I received through Twitter and through blogging, and also because of a favorable professional situation, I started to allow myself to be more like my digital self IRL; rather than there existing two halves of my professional self (digital and IRL), I became more like myself regardless of the (professional) situation.

My digital identities, both personal and professional, were initially safe spaces where I could be myself in a way that I internalized I couldn’t be as an academic in higher education. Apparently, I don’t need to divide myself in these ways anymore, at least not to the extreme that I was practicing it previously. So, then, who am I online, and, more provocatively, why do I even need a digital persona at all? Clearly, I blog and tweet (and share pictures of my kids) for more reasons than simply because it’s a policed and politicized part of myself and I am offering resistance; I value the communities I have become a part of, the connections I have made, and the support they provide me, not to mention all of the things I have learned. But the question still lingers in the back of my mind: who am I?

All of this to say, I think I just need to relax, stop over-thinking things, and enjoy the ride.


This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Who Gives a Tweet? Who is to Decide?

In Ernesto's Posts on 2012/04/28 at 00:36

Ernesto Priego, writing from London, England in the UK

Recently, there’s been considerable interest in how academics can evaluate the impact of social media outputs. A recent article, titled “Who Gives A Tweet? Evaluating Microblog Content Value” [PDF] and signed by Paul André, Michael S. Bernstein and Kurt Luther, shares the results of a study which involved the creation of an online tool, titled “Who Gives ATweet?” (WGAT). This online tool encouraged and enabled users to voluntarily rate the “value” of tweets. Using a corpus of approximately 43,000 ratings, the authors asked: “What content do Twitter users value? For example, do users value personal updates while disliking opinions?” and “Why are some tweets valued more than others?”

Though the tool was developed by academic researchers within higher education institutions (WGAT is hosted at the MIT), the study involved general users (not only academics) and therefore discusses all types of tweets, not only what could be called “academic tweets” (as stated on the title of this post). I am interested in making this distinction because in order to discuss how to evaluate (or “measure”) the impact of academic content shared on social media (or academic activity on social media), we would need to focus specifically on how academics make sense of social media content. My gut feeling is that as academics we evaluate the quality of academic social media content through the same set of basic interpretive skills we employ to evaluate anything else we read.

Not everyone agrees on what an academic tweet is, but I would like to suggest it means something more specific than a tweet posted by someone who happens to work in an educational institution. Academics have all types of conversations online and offline; even those conversations that could be labeled as “academic” take place under different contexts; they have different themes and approaches, nuances, agendas, etc. These different types of conversation fulfill different functions and interpreters evaluate them accordingly. Though it could be said some of these functions are essentially social, they do contribute as catalysts of academic work (phatic communication, if you will). Therefore, it would be difficult to agree on what could or should be considered of strict academic value, but we might need to say that words, conversations or data should be evaluated in specific contexts, and therefore qualitatively. WGAT focuses on individual tweets as decontextualised units, asks users to categorise them according to pre-established value judgements, and makes generalisations from these individual qualifications. I find this troublesome for the academic evaluation of social media content, and I will try to explain why.

Twitter is a public and asynchronous medium. Because it is non-linear and distributed, pieces of information are received by very different people in very different times and places. Twitter de facto decontextualises information in the shape of the individual tweet, and though the individual tweet is Twitter’s most basic technical unit, meaning and interpretation, and indeed Twitter’s full capabilities, are only actualised when connections are made between these single units (a tweet is always part of a bigger conversation a specific user may or may not be aware of). A the same time, Twitter enables re-contextualisation by encouraging further research so users can get the complete picture. This means that when taken on themselves, tweets as isolated units offer a particular “value” that often (if not always) require recontextualisation in order to be fully appreciated. I consider this distinction important, not the least because academics, when in “strictly professional mode”, often appreciate very different types of information (or appreciate differently) what the general public would generally prefer, or what the general public version of their academic selves would publicly accept preferring.

I am unavoidably attracted to tools developed using the Twitter API, and I am convinced that very interesting conclusions can be drawn from their development, use and data they provide. Nevertheless I have serious doubts that we would need, as the authors write, “technological intervention: design implications to make the most of what is valued, or reduce or repurpose what is not”, especially when the judgement criteria is so inherently subjective and context-specific. When is critique “whining”? When is geolocation data useful, and when is it “boring”? Maybe millions of users have already read that link, but what about the other potential timelines with users who are not connected all the time?

The concern I have with these “approaches [with] the potential to address issues of value and audience reaction” (here we can include Topsy, the service used by the altmetrics tool) is that they resemble too much what is done in market sentiment research. When I worked on the market sentiment research sector, I discovered that the ways to classify audience reaction avoided the complex qualitative analysis one expects from university research. In my experience, the categories used to classify reactions to content did not always enable nuance, and aimed for pragmatic, market-driven graphic presentation, rather than the reasoned argumentation traditionally used in academic field studies or literature review.

Sentiment research might be well-suited to survey public opinions about, say, a new soda, but if we are interested in discussing academic or scholarly uses of social media, a similar conceptual framework, based on the surveying and generalisation of public opinion, seems to me constraining and even counter-productive. A given user (or millions of them if you will) may think a certain tweet is boring or devoid of value, but that same tweet may be of great interest for a different type of user: one who cares precisely about that which others find uninteresting.

Social media services like Twitter and Facebook tend to have a way of self-regulating. Eventually, most semi-capable users can become fluent in new social networking platforms and can even learn good practices by mere trial and error. Without a doubt, there is at the same time a real need to discuss and establish guidelines and policies for institutional social media good practice, and for the inclusion of social media literacy education in school curricula.

And yet I am troubled by the suggestion that an automated crowdsourced rating system would be necessary to perform a basic interpretive task. What kind of collections would academic libraries have if only those books the crowd thinks to be the most popular were considered of any value? I love technology, but I also want to believe academics are still perfectly prepared to decide, without the need of “technological intervention”, who gives a tweet about what, and, most importantly, why.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

How Do You Use Social Media?

In Announcements on 2012/03/17 at 04:58

Each month, the writers at University of Venus share their answers to a question we pose for the higher education sector.

This month’s question comes to us from Janni Aragon.

Janni asks: “Do you find that social media platforms help you with your teaching, research or advising?”.

Ana Dinescu (Germany)The main objection against social media may be that it is time consuming and encourages procrastination. But used wisely, it may provide valuable resources for academics: you may be notified about conferences, new research tools, latest news in the world of academia or valuable articles. All you need is to define your target groups and goals and to focus your social media activity on exploring such resources.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe (US)I am tempted to leave it at a one word answer, “Yes!”  I use social media to keep in touch with alumni advisees, students on study abroad, and funding bodies.  I’ve found out about stellar students from their online profiles and been able to give stern lectures to others.  Funding bodies review our student’s profiles.  I want to see them first!

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten (Sweden) I totally embrace social media for academic purposes. It’s piggybacking on some existing habits that students/young people have developed for their private information consumption. If they are online on Facebook or Twitter anyway, why not meet them there, give them a reason to visit academic websites as well, not just entertainment sites. I believe the integration of social media with academic communication to be a success.

Meg Palladino (US)My main use of social media has been as an administrator.  I use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with current and prospective students, as well as colleagues across the world.   I am using LinkedIn to create alumni groups.  These platforms seem to be more effective than email or newsletters much of the time.

Sarah Emily Duff (South Africa) I think we need to specify what we mean by social media: Facebook is useful for keeping up with fellow academics, but I avoid contacting students on it. Twitter is great for networking, although I’ve yet to use it for teaching. Social networking shrinks the academic world: it facilitates faster and more frequent communication. It helps me to feel more in touch with what’s going on abroad.

Melonie Fullick (Canada) I always hate to be an evangelist, but I’ve found that social media have been so useful for so many professional purposes–I recommend their use to everyone. Of course use is context-dependent, but I think academics from very different disciplines are taking up these tools, adapting them to their purposes. I’ve found Twitter invaluable for “networking”, connecting with others who share my interests (higher education policy and theory, and organizational change); it’s also a great way to share news and other relevant items, and start conversations. I have a blog that helps me to make a contribution to the public discussion of  issues relevant to my research.

Liana Silva (US) Social media has been invaluable for me. When I moved away from my home institution to a new city with my family, I had half of a dissertation chapter. Also, I knew almost no one in this new place. Through social media I have found readers for my work but I have also found support and motivation. Social media has provided me with a sense of academic community I had lost when I moved.

Itır Toksöz (Turkey) The best use I have gotten out of social media so far is to connect with academic friends and to share their experiences.  Social media as a place where I get informed about peers’ perspectives on different issues in higher education or in international politics is an alternative resource for me,  which is often highly interesting and original.

Lee Skallerup Bessette (US) How don’t I use social media! I primarily use it to connect with fellow teachers and academics, like with #FYCchat, a weekly chat for those of us who teach Freshman Writing. I’ve been slowly integrating Social Media use in my classes, with varying degrees of success. My students are quite resistant to technology and I am still trying to find ways to make things like Twitter and blogging more relevant. However, my students have readily embraced Facebook as a teaching tool, creating their own course pages, interactive group projects, and other uses as well. This is what they came up with.

Bonnie Stewart (Canada) Social media is the subject of my research, but it’s also the means by which a great deal of it happens. It’s a constant, reflexive chorus for me: research links, new connections, conversations and new perspectives, input on what I share of my emerging work. It’s also a venue for me to mentor students: increasingly, I encourage my B.Ed students to get Twitter accounts so as to participate in the ongoing professional development and networking available to educators there.

Rosalie Arcala Hall (Philippines)- I haven’t been using social media for my classes that extensively. For communicating with them and posting class announcements, I still use good old fashioned email (list generated from addresses gathered at the start of classes). As an administrator, I find social media more effective in disseminating news and gathering quick responses to surveys but not for academic content sharing and opinion expression.


What about you, how do you use social media?

Read Me

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/12/07 at 04:22

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

For several years during my early 20’s, I kept a journal that I called the “Read Me Journal.” There are three volumes, all written in floral hardbound notebooks, with the words “Read Me” scrawled across the front in black nail polish. They are all fat and include various newspaper and magazine clippings, drawings and a few dashes of perfume to supplement the handwritten account of my life. Each has a detailed table of contents, written in A.A. Milne style, beginning with the words “In which…” They also include handwritten comments from my friends on whatever I had written.

I wrote in the journal daily, capturing snippets of my life. I left the journal out on the coffee table, in a house where I lived with four roommates, and invited them to read my journal and comment on what I had written, or to even write their own journal entries there for others to read. I brought it with me when I visited other friends, and left it on their coffee tables. Surprisingly, my friends did read the journal, and even wrote their own entries in the journal for me and others to read.

Although I no longer keep a Read Me Journal, the three volumes on my shelf hold the record of a funny, strange time in my life and in the lives of my friends. At the time that I was writing it, I wondered if it would ever become a public memoir.

I tried to be as honest and open as I could in my Read Me Journal. However, as an open diary, there are many things I did not write about: deep insecurities, negative thoughts about my peers, or anything too controversial. I tried to write things that would entertain my friends, teach them more about me, or to get some kind of feedback from them on things I was thinking.

I remember when I first heard the term “blog,” I asked a fried what it meant. She replied, “It’s like your Read Me Journal, but it is online.” There is an entry in my last Read Me Journal titled, “In which Meg considers putting the Read Me Journal online.” I nixed the idea, preferring the physical journal that I could carry with me everywhere and leave on coffee tables. Besides, I reasoned, I couldn’t include scents in an online journal.

The Read Me Journal never made it online, but when I am writing blog posts, I often think about the Read Me Journals. I sometimes struggle to find things to write about that are related to my work in academia, but that won’t get me into difficult situations with my colleagues or institution.

What do you censor when your diary is open?


Academia 2.0

In Guest Blogger on 2010/12/02 at 00:26

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin in Germany

How much time per day do I spend on social media? And how does it compare with, for example, the time I spend writing an academic article or reading a scientific book or preparing a research project? It is worthy to dedicate so much time networking on Twitter, Facebook or other social networks, exchanging e-mails or making comments instead of silently worshiping the silence of the libraries and the quiet lonely meditation about the last book I’ve read followed by a sophisticated writing account?

I often ask myself these questions, and many more, regarding the impact of these online activities on my career. Unvaryingly, the answer is that I must continue to keep my virtual life alive.

At the same time, I am aware that one could survive nowadays completely in 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever other number .0 worlds, without disturbing your “reveries of a solitary walker”. I know a couple of well-respected academics who do not have an e-mail account, or even a cell phone, and they still continue to keep their scientific record. As in so many other kinds of activities, it is a matter of your own choice and fully assumed decision.

A couple of years ago, when social media was at its very beginning, I was wondering myself as well how I should keep the right balance between the need to consolidate my knowledge through a serious academic education and the curiosity towards what this new (virtual) world is all about. But, I must recognize that my overall interest for new and challenging situations won over my reluctance and skepticism.

And, at the end of more than five years of constant involvement and amazingly rapid development of social networks, I have some positive and encouraging conclusions:

● The chances of finding people with whom to share the same interests are increasing. The dedicated academic/research networks – such as, or Mendeley or MyNetResearch – offer extraordinary opportunities to find new projects, share articles and academic preoccupations. The language learning resources – as, for example, LiveMocha – are convenient opportunities to improve a foreign language, a key to accessing new resources for your studies.

● If you have something to share – ideas, articles, projects – it is more likely that you will be able to get a wider – global – audience online, than if you keep discussing it in a small and geographically limited environment.

● By getting more social-networking friendly, the academic world does not have anything to fear. Rather the opposite is true: however narrow your area of study, the scientist is part of an environment that she or he has to acknowledge and understand. However limited the immediate social relevance might be, this connection cannot be eliminated or denied.

Are there negative outcomes? It true that in many cases you might have the sensation of wasting your time, missing deadlines or encouraging procrastination – for example, you could chose to read new articles instead of putting your own thoughts on (virtual) paper.

But, in fact, you behave online as you are in offline, and as long as you know what your objectives and targets are, it is nothing to complain about. There are thousands of resources waiting for you; all you need is to have your priority list always in your mind. Keep it on a piece of paper or on your BlackBerry; the choice is always yours.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science. She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

Dear Professor, I Want To Be Your Friend

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/09/13 at 23:19

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

In the six years of teaching at my university, I’ve gotten to know my students on a variety of levels—the rather impersonal environment of the classroom, the closeness of international travel, and now, in a completely unexpected way, as future colleagues, as a mentor and, yes, as friends.

Much has been written about the usefulness—or not—of applications like Facebook or Twitter. Often derided as a waste of time or invasion of privacy by some of my colleagues, I have found that Facebook, particularly, allows me to maintain relationships with students and former students on all these levels. As a public forum, I can post interesting articles related to my research or class discussions.  Pictures from travels abroad with students keep us in touch while also attracting possible applicants to my programs. And in my more “private” settings, former students are new friends; I keep up with the new developments in their lives and careers.

Too many of my colleagues, however, are afraid of Facebook. They are worried about their own privacy or possible repercussions from their employers. My advice: Facebook is public on so many levels, so evaluate what you want to share, and of course, untag any embarrassing photo. Keep your distance where appropriate. Never friend a student—let them “friend request” you and then keep them on a limited profile. This is all common sense, of course.

Despite these cautions, however, there are those who simply do not understand the intrinsic value of these public friendships. I once attempted to share my positive experiences with Facebook with a group of colleagues who were also leading international trips. I noted that Facebook groups helped me pass on vital information, and Facebook statuses from my students were sometimes good indicators of student activities when I wasn’t around, or alerted me to possible homesickness or other emotional issues. An older colleague—who, ironically, studied social networking—publicly berated me for “stalking” students. He also asked why any of “us”—meaning faculty—would want to have any kind of personal relationship with students.

Needless to say, I was embarrassed and appalled by his reaction. Why, I asked myself, would we not avail ourselves of the friendship of some of the wonderfully talented young people we meet? While I had always imagined the satisfaction of being the “Tuesdays with Morrie” kind of professor, I didn’t expect that I would meet young people who would become some of my dearest friends after their graduations. Over the years, however, I have been fortunate to work abroad with competent, talented and smart assistants, and now they number among my closest friends. We have shared some of the most difficult and most wonderful moments of our lives together—breakups, divorce, new love, engagements, new jobs, and new adventures. I have given them advice on careers, on life, on being a young professional woman…and they have given me advice on fashion, on self-confidence and even on my work and research.

Despite the difference in our ages, these young friends of mine make life richer. Often times in our efforts to establish ourselves as authority figures in the classroom and in the academy, we forget that we are making all sorts of impressions on our students that we may underestimate. But they make impressions on us, too. They can be potential friends and allies. They can hold up a mirror to our self-importance and the self-insulating nature of academia. And they can connect us to the world of young, exciting, bold ideas to keep our work fresh and relevant.

This post also appeared on Inside Higher Ed.

How Higher Ed Makes Most Things Meaningless

In Uncategorized on 2010/07/23 at 15:48

Guest writer, Lee Skallerup, blogging from Kentucky in the USA.

My academic research will not change the world. Don’t get me wrong; I love the authors I am currently studying and I found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.

Recently, however, I began blogging and Tweeting, not about my current academic research interests, but more largely about education and the direction of higher education. This work has the potential, if not to change the world, then at least to play an active role in changing academia. Through social media, I have reached a broad audience of academics, teachers, parents, professionals, non-profits and other people who are interested in and care about education.  I have been invited to contribute blog posts for a number of different sites. My writing has been featured on other sites, UVenus included. Suddenly, not only am I working on a topic I am passionate about, but it also seems to matter.

With a foot in both worlds, there are a number of questions about what academia really values from its (theoretically) most important employees, the professors.

Are Academics really interested in “sharing”?

We, as academics, are not really encouraged to share our research and our knowledge. We are encouraged to “share” our findings in limited environments: the conference or specialized journal. If you miss a conference, you must typically wait years for the presentations to appear as either journal articles or chapters in books. These forums (conference, specialized journal, academic book) are highly priced (for the consumer) and highly valued (by the academy), giving the research meaning. We are taught to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more “prestige.”

Why can’t a professor be rewarded for sharing her research through sites like or SlideShare? Why can’t a professor receive credit for creating or participating in Twitter Chats related to her discipline or sub-field (for an example of the power of Twitter Chats, browse the number of weekly discussion focused on education-link)? These means of communicating our research are “crowdsourced” instead of peer-reviewed. Hiring committees and tenure committees wouldn’t care, making the work meaningless, even if the reach, influence and impact of the research could be greatly expanded by using social media and the Web 2.0.

Are we allowed to be ourselves?

When I first decided that I was going to be an academic, I was told that I had to give up my online life (I blogged before it was even known as blogging) if I ever wanted to be taken seriously as an academic. I was encouraged by my professors and more senior grad student colleagues to give up every part of my life that didn’t have to do with my research. A professor is expected to be nothing more than the talking head in front of the classroom or a by-line on a book or article. Outside of those two functions of teaching and research, the person behind the professor would appear to be meaningless.

Deciding that I didn’t care about any of that was freeing in many ways. It allowed me to to engage with a larger peer group as my whole self, with all of my interests intact. And perhaps the most liberating part of no longer trying to be someone I wasn’t in order to be valued was that my research improved. I am no longer desperate to make my research sound like it will change the world in order to fit myself into a job or funding opportunity. I continue to publish and present at conferences, but I choose the opportunities that fit with the research, with me, and not the other way around.

Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher education thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting).

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.


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