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Social Media: For Research or Retweets?

  • November 28, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solution Architect

Does social media have a legitimate role to play in education? Not everyone thinks so, as a recent anonymous article suggests, although the sentiment appears to sway to the positive side. How can social media be utilized by “serious academics”?

How Is Social Media Being Used?

We’ve written about how social media is being used in the classroom at the K-12 level. Most notably, these teachers are not widely using social media to communicate with students or parents, and usage varies significantly depending on geography. In some forward-thinking districts, curricula are now being designed to integrate social media.

However, in higher education, the use of websites and social media for branding and recruitment go hand in hand. One survey of college-bound high school students found that nearly 67 percent of students use social media to research colleges during the enrollment process, and nearly 75 percent find it influential.

Social media use is increasing in higher ed, and that use is becoming more refined, according to an annual report based on responses from members of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). University accounts are increasingly “paying to play” or boosting posts. This is because universities have also moved toward a focus on engagement and using social media platforms as a way to connect with new students and young alumni.

Opposition to the Rise of Social Media

While all this has been occurring, an anonymous article posted to the Higher Education Network drew more response than the author may have intended and has created a discussion around the use of social media in higher education. “I’m a Serious Academic, Not a Professional Instagrammer” has generated a great deal of criticism—and some support. What do the “serious academics” find troubling about social media?

Some simply don’t like the exposure, which can feel “forced” in some cases. As this anonymous author, a young Ph.D. student, says, “I do not—and should not—have to parade myself online to please my employer.” This author feels that his own doctoral research speaks for his achievements more than his presence online and that he should not have to post on social media platforms to make it seem as though he is engaged in the real world scientific community.

He cites an example of students attending conferences. Instead of them actively listening and participating, they are on their phones during the conference, tweeting and using the conference hashtag in order to appear impressive to fellow students or future employers. The author argues that this online engagement is superficial and does not promote learning.

Other critics worry about the added time that engagement in social media requires of instructors. A read through the many responses that this article generated provides some interesting—and valid—perspectives suggesting that social media might not have a place in academia.

Support for Social Media Use in Higher Ed

Responses to this post also point to a wide range of benefits that social media engagement can provide for academics. Some responders argued that social media provides the ability to more widely share the results of research with a vast audience. It also offers the opportunity for online collaboration that can occur through social media platforms. Others note that personal engagement in social media keeps educators up to date and offers insights into how these tools can be incorporated in the classroom.

Best Practice Insights

Communicating in social media can be risky, as some educators have found. At the same time, the sheer pervasiveness and adoption of social media can make those unwilling to engage appear to be stubborn and close-minded.

It’s important to use these tools wisely and within school guidelines. Know and follow your school’s policies on social media use. Have a clear strategy in place for how you will use social media, which audiences you will engage with, and what your overall objectives are. Doing so can result in the benefits of new audiences and collaboration, without requiring too much additional energy on your part.

Another tip for addressing one of the many concerns highlighted by the anonymous author: Keep personal and professional posting and engagement separate. If you choose to dedicate an account to professional purposes, you can do so without sharing other personal posts with the educational community.

Takeaway: Social media is not going away and really can’t be ignored. It may be impossible to avoid the movement of schools at all levels to be more active online. Participation should then be based on sound strategy and aligned with schools’ and instructors’ objectives and policies.


1. “I’m a Serious Academic, Not a Professional Instagrammer” The Guardian. August 5, 2016.
2. “Social Media Comes of Ages in the K-12 Classroom” Lenovo Education. August 22, 2016.
3. “14 Surprising Facts About Educators’ Social Media Use” eSchool News. July 29, 2016.
4. “Your .edu Site for 2016 Looks Like This” eCampus News. November 6, 2015.
5. “5 Ways Higher Ed’s Social Media Use Has Changed from 2015 to 2016” eCampus News. July 28, 2016.
6. “How Should Educators Act on Social Media?” eSchool News. February 17, 2016.
7. “14 Surprising Facts About Educators’ Social Media Use” eSchool News. July 29, 2016.