I started this post before reading I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer in the Guardian. I have since adapted this post to reflect some of the points raised by the now infamous ‘Serious Academic’.
My original post began with the following:
Are you an avid user or ardent refuser? Do you see the value in building networks and sharing? Do you worry about balancing your personal and professional life? I was, but I realised you can take advantage of social media without having to give all of yourself away.
From conversations I have had with academics, some are reticent to use social media because they fear misuse, don’t see how they can use it, or they don’t wish to share their personal lives online. However, whilst I disagree with everything said about social media in the article, Serious Academic (SA) raises an issue I had not considered. Perhaps the resistance arises from the behaviour of other users and the negative press social media regularly gets. SA describes academics who use social media as “using social media to impress people that you know – as well as those that you have never met – has now become a professional concern for many academics”.
(I have filled this post with memes because I can imagine it’s the kind of new age, bohemian, hipster-ish nonsense that really annoys Serious Academic.)
“We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic.”
Here is the one point where I slightly agree with SA. Unfortunately, there are people on the internet who like to ruin it for the rest of us. Through TMI (too much information), over-sharing and endless selfies. Oh right, that’s what you’re having for dinner. Oh, you’ve had a bad day and are fishing for attention. You want to lord your latest achievement (however minor) over everyone. You’ve put some lipstick on and thought everyone would like to see. Please allow me to assure you that these people are the minority of social media users, not the majority.
Do not let these people mislead you. This is not the behaviour you have to aspire to replicate. Social media is not about telling people what you had for dinner or every minute detail of your lives. There are sooo many benefits to learning and teaching.
(I realise the irony of this statement given this tweet)
That is not a pie. That is stew with a blanket.
— Kerry Pinny (@KerryPinny) July 30, 2016
Mute is your friend
In my opinion, SAs problem is following the wrong people. If you don’t like what people are sharing mute them or unfollow them. You are in control of what you see. Don’t whine when someone posts something you aren’t interested in. Just switch ’em off. Choose your followers carefully and you won’t have that problem.
Serious academics don’t use social media
The implication of SA’s article is that those academics who use social media are not ‘serious academics’. Now I think it’s worth noting that this ‘academic’ seems to be a researcher and there is no reference to teaching at all in the article. So it raises the debate what exactly is a serious academic? That’s a debate for many blog posts, I don’t think we have room to analyse teaching vs research and the hierarchy of education. According to SA
the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?
Yes you can. Carry on mate. But using social media to promote your work, share your work and connect with peers is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not make you less serious as an academic. What it makes you is someone who is open to trying new things and exploring new ways to disseminate your work. I liked SA’s caveat early in the article “I am speaking from the perspective of a young PhD student, not some cranky old professor harking back to the Good Old Days”. Regardless of your age SA your close mindedness and the bile and vitriol with which you describe your peers is the real concern.
I am not a serious anything. The day I become a serious anything will be the day hell freezes over.
“I see more and more of them live tweeting and hashtagging their way through events”
And? If you weren’t aware a lot of event organisers and speakers actively encourage this behaviour from participants. I always provide my Twitter handle or a hashtag when I speak at events. I really enjoy reading the debate and comments after the event and I don’t have a problem with people using their devices while I speak. Shock horror I have even live blogged from events. I know, I can’t be a serious academic.
But it appears that the majority perform this ritual as proof of their dedication to the profession, as if posting a picture marks them out as more enthusiastic than their peers.
This comment smacks of bitterness if nothing else. I would suggest that their presence at a conference, clear engagement with their peers and community is a sign of their enthusiasm for their profession not that they posted a photo whilst there.
I have had countless opportunities and conversations happen as a direct result of tweeting from events and I’m going to carry on doing it. Sorry SA but the fact that it annoys you only serves to make me want to do it more.
Personal vs. Professional
There is a balance to this and only you can decide how much you are willing to share. It is entirely your decision. There is no magic formula. My colleague shares pictures of his family whilst another colleague says they will never post that detail online. That is their decision and depends on what you feel comfortable with. My only suggestion to you is to share as much or as little as you like but always make sure people can see your personality in your posts. Try not to be too formal. The accounts I most enjoy are those who you feel are using their own voice.
Is Social media use with students risky? Perhaps. I will talk about some strategies to mitigate that in a moment. Is the risk a good reason to not try? Of course not. There is a lot of scaremongering about social media bullying or trolling as it’s commonly called. It happens for sure but much like bad behaviour in the classroom we simply have to deal with it.
The social media environment is no different to the physical. In a classroom, we manage behaviour by setting ground rules. These rules give students clear instruction as to the behaviours that will be expected of them. Setting them before the task begins will mean there is no ambiguity and making clear the repercussions of breaking these rules will also help. If a student behaves inappropriately just tell them they need to modify their behaviour.
Do I have to?
It has got to the point where those of us who wish to keep our social media accounts private, or for personal use only, face being frowned upon for somehow being less enthusiastic about what we do.
No, you don’t. But this is the world we live in. If you don’t want to do it then that is your choice but do not try to make other people feel inferior for doing so.
Perhaps I’m naive, but I need to believe that employability is not directly correlated to how many likes you get on your Instagram posts. I appear to be in the minority, however.
You’re right it’s not. What is based on is your engagement with your peers, your activity in the community and your ability to disseminate your work? Let’s face it, research is as much about prestige for the University as it is for you. Perhaps SA has failed to get a job because someone else is an active social media user, perhaps that is the source of the bitterness? If not they will simply have to get used to the fact that our engagement outside of the ‘lab’ is as important now as the work we do in it. Activities such as social media use can help to set you apart. If you don’t want to that’s your choice, but seriously, don’t insult those who do.
I spoke to a lecturer in Film who told me about his use of Snapchat to share his work with his students. He goes to a lot of film sets and felt they would be interested to see what a real film set looks like and what is involved in working on such a production.
To address the matter of relevance I have included links to some examples of social media use in teaching. My personal favourite is Andrew Westerside’s use of Twitter as a space for performance.