The New Media Academic
Coming across an article in the Times Higher this week titled ‘Inside Higher Ed: An open, digital professoriat‘ got me thinking about the role of the academic researcher, and educator, in these times and how this might impact on my own institutional context – following on from my most recent blogs about Delivering Multi-Campus Learning and Social Media in Learning and Teaching. The THE article basically describes the shifting academic world in which conferences (or unconferences) and publications are freed from the shackles of convention to embrace the vast possibilities brought about by new media technologies and their associated everyday practices. Conferences now move well beyond the confines of the (often dull) content presented in musty conference venues, providing ample opportunity for ongoing debate in a much more interactive and, I would argue, interesting, space. Next time you are refused the money to attend a conference in a far-flung location, check out Twitter and you’ll invariably be able to follow the main debates taking place and, more importantly, contribute to those debates from afar. Recently, at an ‘industry’ event I attended, the # provided the most engaging aspect of the conference, creating a space for the official narrative to be queried and for attendees to contribute more effectively to the discussions.
Academic publication is moving in the same direction. I frequently come across interesting work because of my participation in Twitter, Linked In or even Facebook. I know the content is worthwhile because I receive ‘recommendations’ from people I respect and trust. Social media channels are also becoming powerful tools in the dissemination of research outcomes, enabling academics to reach a wider range of ‘audiences’ (fellow academics, practitioners, students?) than they previously could. In the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise, might we make a stronger case for the ‘impact’ of our research outcomes by publishing social media metrics? How do we ensure that we’re reaching the ‘right’ people and that the impact is more meaningful than a quick click on a hyperlink?
I want to finish this blog post by bringing the discussion back to learning and teaching. Whereas the article that caught my attention talked extensively about the dilemmas facing conference organisers and academic publishers, there was no mention of the impact the digital professoriat could have on the student experience in our universities. I think students may indeed be the main beneficiaries from the emergence of new media academics as they see their tutors being recognised in the public domain, breaking down barriers erected in institutional settings and seeing an opportunity to contribute to their own learning in a more interactive way than was previously possible. The classroom need no longer be the start and end of discussions. Instead, it needs to be seen as only one space amongst many where learning takes place. It might remain the most important space for some time yet, but that must not prevent the academic community from embracing the new media environment as an important part of the solution to the problems of disengagement.