Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Academic Use Cases for Social Media

Note: The slides for my talk are available here (PDF format with annotations). To view the annotations, you'll need to download the file to your computer (your browser PDF plugin may not render the comment annotations).

I recently gave a talk on the use of social media in academia. Most of the audience comprised colleagues from various faculties across the University of Ottawa and their extent of use of various social media applications varied considerably (I conducted a quick online survey a couple of days before the day of the talk). While I had a few colleagues who were very well-versed in the use of social media in various settings such as classroom communication and course delivery, others had never even used Twitter. This, of course, made my task as a presenter a little more difficult to be able to cater to all skill levels, but I was kind of expecting this to begin with.

Note: I have an earlier blog post on Twitter Basics which may be of use to some of you who're just getting started with Twitter.

I had structured my presentation around the use-cases for social media in an academic context, primarily drawing upon my own experience as well as what I’ve seen through other colleagues. I figured this would be a much better approach to talk about social media rather than to give a demonstration of different tools individually. I think it worked well overall, and many colleagues provided positive feedback on the talk through email as well as in-person.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the presentation.

Five Primary Use Cases

I listed the main use cases of social media as pertaining to one of five areas described below:

1. Monitor Conversations & Content:

This is, by far, my personal most common use case for social media. I use Twitter and Google+ to keep track of news, events, activities, and publications relevant to my areas of research. While talking about this use case, I touched upon tools such as Google Alerts and TweetDeck that can streamline the monitoring process through customized content feeds and activity streams.

2. Generate Content: 

In this use case, I talked about the potential of blogging and microblogging, and also described the various ways that we as academics can provide value-added content through chiming in with ongoing conversations and curating interesting and relevant content for our online associates.

While the applications in this use case pertained to the use of standard content generation tools like blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, we had a good discussion about the significance of content curation within the user-generated content paradigm.

3. Share Information:

Continuing with the theme of content curation, I also demonstrated my use of social bookmarking and collaborative tagging tools such as Diigo, and also highlighted the use of twitter based curation tools such as paper.li and storify.

4. Connect & Interact with Others:

I didn’t really need to say much about this use case since my audience survey before the talk had indicated this to be the most common use-case for social media for my colleagues. Whether it is interacting with colleagues through LinkedIn, or keeping in touch with family and friends through Facebook, most people get started with social media for networking and relationship management.

I did, however, mention the importance of establishing and participating in communities of interest and communities of practice through the use of tools such as LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Sparks and Google+ Hangouts. There are numerous opportunities in academic settings where these tools ican prove to be very beneficial.

5. Manage Profile & Identity: 

I deliberately positioned this as the last use case in my discussion to build upon the idea of profile, identity, and reputation online. With a relatively straight-forward recipe for managing profiles through LinkedIn and Google Profile, it’s somewhat more difficult to conceptualize identity and reputation. I attempted to explain this difference through some basic definitions. Also, this is where I drew upon my own research on member participation in online communities and I briefly highlighted the components that lead to building interpersonal trust in an online setting.

The discussion on identities and reputations also lent itself to our discussion about social media influence scoring tools, and I briefly highlighted the main features, and pros and cons of tools such as Klout, PeerIndex, and TweetLevel. A special mention went to Connect.me that I had only started using recently and was finding very useful.

Multiple Use Case Contexts & Special Mentions

In addition to the use-cases identified above, and the various tools that exemplified them, I also talked about a couple of my favorite tools that span multiple use-cases.

I shared my use of Yammer as the primary course delivery platform for two of my courses. I shared my opinion about Yammer as a social learning platform and compared it to other platforms that I’ve used previously – including blogs, wikis, LMS platforms etc.  Perhaps, I’ll do a separate blog post reflecting on my experience with Yammer as a social learning platform.

I also spoke about the usefulness of Mendeley as a cross between a reference management tool and a social network that fosters collaboration among researchers working in a research areas or those working on specific projects. There seemed to be a lot of interest in this tool and I’m thinking about writing a blog post on how I’ve started using Mendeley & Google Cloud Connect to help me with collaborative writing projects.

So that’s about it for a summary of my talk. Thanks to everyone who attended, and those who encouraged and waited for me to post this summary online. The annotated slides for my talk are available here.Please feel free to provide additional comments and feedback.

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