How Academics are Using Social Media

11 June 2014 by Paige Brown Jarreau, posted in Education, Technology

Screenshot - Pearson survey of academic use of social media. Full report accessed at http://www.pearsonlearningsolutions.com/assets/downloads/reports/social-media-for-teaching-and-learning-2013-report.pdf

Screenshot - Pearson survey of academic use of social media (Seaman & Tinti-Kane 2013). Graph from Page 12. Full report accessed at http://www.pearsonlearningsolutions.com/assets/downloads/reports/social-media-for-teaching-and-learning-2013-report.pdf. Included here for commentary.

I came across this report today through Twitter that details a survey conducted by Deborah Lupton at the University of Canberra on how academics are using social media.

Lupton conducted an interesting online survey of academics’ use of social media earlier this year. She found that 97% of academics responding to her (non-representative*) survey are currently using social media in a professional capacity. A previous representative survey of American faculty found that 70% use social media at least monthly, while 55% use social media specifically for professional use at least monthly.

[*It’s important to note that this survey is not representative, but rather makes use of convenience and “opt-in” sampling. Also, the survey was publicized ON social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and listservs), meaning that the percentage of academics surveyed who indicate using social media is most likely biased toward greater use of social media than is typical among all academics. The author does acknowledge this: “is it highly likely that the academics who responded were more likely to use social media for professional purposes compared with the general population of academics.”]

Lupton’s survey follows up on previous studies suggesting that academics are increasingly finding social media useful and important in a professional sense. In interviews by Gruzd and colleagues (2012), academics mentioned benefits of using social media including “establishing new connections and strengthening existing ones, keeping up to date with topics in their field of research and promoting one’s own scholarly work.”

Lupton’s final survey analysis details the social media habits and perceptions of 711 academics. The survey respondents are mostly in early career stages within academia: 34% are early career academics and 26% are postgraduate students. While the survey is non-representative, it’s interesting that Lupton got more responses from early career academics and postgraduate students than senior faculty. Perhaps indicative of a social media movement among younger academics?

Of interest to me personally, only 13% of Lupton’s respondents were in science, technology or engineering fields, while a majority (49%) were from the social sciences. Is this a bias in the convenience sampling based on Lupton’s own social networks? Or are STEM academics using social media less than social scientists? A representative survey of American faculty published in 2013 by Pearson also revealed faculty in natural sciences using social media in a professional capacity less than faculty in social sciences and humanities. However, it seems that with time, greater numbers of faculty in the natural sciences and mathematics & computer science are using social media professionally. (Maybe creating science blogs?!)

The social networks that respondents of Lupton’s survey indicated being most useful for their academic work were (1) Twitter, (2) Academia.edu, and (3) a personal blog.

Uses of Twitter

Lupton’s survey found that many academics tweet at conferences to ask questions, take notes, share resources, engage in conversations and establish a professional online presence. Academics are also using Twitter to network with colleagues and individuals outside of their field.

According to one respondent: “[I use] Twitter - useful to follow people doing similar work, connect at conferences, enables me to discover articles, resources, organisations, ongoing projects. I use Twitter to tell others about ongoing work or resources and to have conversations, throw ideas around etc.

Other respondents said of Twitter: “[it] allows me to make connections to folks that I would not otherwise have - journalists, policy professionals.” And: “[I] Come across ideas [I] would normally not encounter.

These descriptions coincide with descriptions of Twitter that I’ve heard as well. One senior academic I interviewed last year described his Twitter experience as ‘serendipitous’ – he comes across many people and ideas on Twitter he doesn’t think he would otherwise.

Uses of Blogging

Among respondents of Lupton’s survey, 32% maintain a blog.

Those who maintained a blog described it as a great way to share research and “more generally comment on happenings in my field.” Another respondent described his/her personal blog as an ideal venue for discussing and exploring policy issues. The academic blog “allows me to craft ideas & receive feedback.” It seems many academics are actually using blogs as means of fleshing out research questions and getting feedback on preliminary research directions and findings.

According to another respondent: “I find blogging great for slightly longer pieces about projects or activities (which I can then tweet link to) and I also follow quite a few blogs to keep up to date with work in other institutions or work of individuals.

If you are a student or if you work in academia, how do YOU use your blog? How useful are other academics' blogs to you? If you write a science blog, Tweet about your blogging practices using #MySciBlog hashtag.

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