Professors and Social Media

There is an interesting “infographic” floating around the internet about how professors are using Facebook and other social media (SM). I’m not a huge fan of infographics because I think that they don’t quite tell the whole story. They are often missing details and lack context. I think that this infographic has these problems.

The graphic reports the results of a survey of college professors and their use of SM, but I don’t think it quite tells the whole story. For example, in the American context, many universities require that every class use a Learning Management System (LMS) e.g. Moodle or Blackboard. LMS systems are essentially blogs, wikis and asynchronous message boards, in other words, social media. If universities are requiring professors to use LMS, it’s not that big of a leap for them to start using other social media like Facebook.

Several commentators on the infographic have said something to the effect that if professors see the usefulness of SM, then secondary teachers should be using it as well. I don’t disagree with that, but in my opinion this overlooks a huge difference between secondary and tertiary education. Namely that college students (and professors) are not on campus everyday. High school students are (or should be). If a university student has a question, it might be several days to a week before he/she sees their professor. This is the reason why many institutes of higher learning require their instructors to use LMS and why professors are more likely to use social media. It’s not that they are more technologically savvy or that they are ahead of the curve, it’s simply that they have a huge need that is easily filled by technology. Other kinds of teachers don’t necessarily have that need.

Also in the middle of the graphic there is a chart showing various kinds of SM and the percentage of professional use vs. personal use. The problem that I have with this is that professors do two things: 1) they teach and 2) they research. So what does ‘professional’ mean? Does it mean teaching? Or does it mean research? We don’t know. As for myself, I don’t use SM much for teaching (more on that below), but I use it quite a lot to keep up-to-date with the latest trends in my field.

To put this into a Japanese context, I would be surprised if this survey would have similar results. For example, my university has just started using LMS in a very limited way and is far from requiring it for all classes. In terms of other social media, it’s my experience that students don’t like it. I’ve thought a lot about this and I believe that one of the reasons why students don’t want to use SM for learning, even though it is hugely popular here, is because they don’t want to use their real names. Most of my students have at least one SM account and 99% of them use an alias. If their professor starts using social media as part of the class then they will either have to use their real name or reveal what their alias is and that makes them uncomfortable.

It was interesting to see this infographic and even though I have some criticisms, it has made me think about using social media with my students again. I think that I might give it try once again and see what happens. Here is the infographic:

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