George Veletsianos

Royal Roads prof teaching academics to take advantage of social media

Free open online course open to anyone curious about subject

When it comes to sharing information and research findings, one might think people in the academic world would be at the forefront of the social media revolution.

That isn’t necessarily the case, especially with professors who haven’t grown up with the relatively recent online onslaught, says George Veletsianos, an associate professor in the Royal Roads University school of education and technology.

Having spent the past four or five years studying the use of social media by those in the academic world and the challenges they face in doing so, he is teaching an upcoming free, four-week open online course entitled Networked Scholars. The course, aimed at knowledge workers, academics and PhD students, is also open to anyone else with an interest in how social media use translates to academia.

Veletsianos, who will lecture on the topic this weekend in Toronto at the Social Media and Society annual conference, says the emergence of social media as a way to get messages across has not been fuelled solely by people sharing social experiences.

Serious academic theories and conversations have also been bouncing around the bandwidth for some time, mainly between peers. But having those conversations, whether via blogs or on more personal forms of social media, is not without its pitfalls, Veletsianos says.

“There’s the idea of digital permanence, for example. Just because you don’t see it on your Facebook or Twitter feed doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s searchable,” he says.

Posting initial thoughts on a topic or theories in their infancy can sometimes backfire, for example, if others pick that up and take it to be a more finished theory.

“It’s about understanding the idea that even though you are sharing something with your friends, or people in a group that follow you, that thing that you post could reach a scale more massive than you intended. It likely changes what you do online,” Veletsianos says.

“We have to be mindful of what things we are doing online and truly understanding that when there are these (larger) audiences, people might not understand what we are doing with the same lens.”

That said, the ability to use social media to advance knowledge and enhance the impact and reach of scholarship is an important development in the academic world, he adds. It has allowed people to share their identities along with their ideas and create a valuable support network.

“It’s become a space where people can find each other and find support and care that they are not finding in institutions. They can connect with people out there who are also interested in their study topics. On Twitter there’s a thing called #phdchat, which is a place for students to commiserate and chat. We see this culture of caring and sharing that has appeared in social media that a lot of people don’t expect for academics.”

The free course runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 16. Among other things, it features interactive forums, exploration of case studies on the challenges faced by scholars who use social media and panel discussions with experts linked up via live video conferencing.

Veletsianos, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology, expects the course to generate some lively discussion and debate amongst those participating.

To enrol in the free course or find more information, visit canvas.net/courses/networked-scholars.

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