Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The ideal university social media educator

I know that I know nothingImage via Wikipedia
This is the story of Andrea, a faculty member at a major public university. She isn't real. She's a hybrid that I created with the help of several other people. Very few faculty are expected to have an appointment that splits equally across the three major functions (though they do exist). What is described, however, are real examples that some progressive educators are doing every day. I was inspired to write this after attending a meeting where a real person doing many of these social media things was heaped with praise.
Andrea is an Associate Professor at a large public university who is totally engaged in her job. She's a model for using social media to connect with the people she touches every day. She was recently recognized for being the perfect example of a progressive educator. Her provost remarked at a national meeting, "I wish we had a thousand more just like her." Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

So what is it that Andrea does that makes her such a shining star? First, she has an interesting appointment. It is split between teaching, research, and outreach. This brings her in continuous contact with students, the scientific community, and the public who supports her research efforts. She has an active and vibrant social network.

Her students love that she is so very accessible. They can find her at most hours of the day or night via chat or SMS. She still uses email but nowhere near as much as she once did. She follows her students on Twitter and will often respond to their tweets. During class her students have an active Twitter back-channel where the sharing of questions and perspectives is encouraged. Some of her students collaboratively write course notes in real time using Google Wave. She sends out reminders about assignments and other learning opportunities via tweets. Her own version of her class notes are placed on Captured audio and video from her classes are made available to everyone on YouTube. She uses open-content text books that she helps to write on Wikibooks. She's concerned about the ever increasing cost of a university education, and doesn't want to add additional expenses to her students' debt loads. She believes in working in the open. Her content is made available through a Creative Commons 3.0 license so that others are free to use, remix, and otherwise extend it for other purposes. She has no problem with others using the content that she has participated in creating. She knows this is how learning happens.

Andrea is just as open when it comes to her research. She practices open notebook science with a totally transparent form of research where her design, data, notes, and results are open for all to see. Even her failed and seemingly insignificant experiments are available for deconstruction and discussion. She publishes her research through the open-access/open-content Public Library of Science (PLoS). She invites the aspiring next generation of scientists from high schools to share in her laboratory experience. They often will download her datasets and participate in analyzing data. She holds frequent web conferences with these students so they can learn from being actively engaged in the scientific process. The learning is a two-way street. They stretch her thinking in unanticipated ways.

Most people understand Andrea's teaching and research responsibilities. They are less familiar with her responsibilites related to outreach. Andrea works at a Land-grant university where part of her job entails working with citizens, organizations, and businesses to apply the university's research findings to everyday problems. She presents, consults, writes articles for publication by the university, and creates educational media on issues where she has unique expertise. In a nutshell, her official responsibilities address issues of life long learning. She engages with the public using many new media tools. She converses with them via Twitter, and writes regularly to her blog. She has been the primary author of several Wikipedia articles, and regularly contributes to a host of others.. She also puts her presentations on YouTube and Slideshare. She does everything she can to ensure that her educational efforts are shared as broadly as possible with the public.
Andrea sounds wonderful. Seriously, we could use thousands more just like her. So why does Andrea's department chair need to see her ASAP, and why has the Office of Legal Affairs taken such a keen interest in her work?

More after the jump...

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Peg Boyles said...

One reason we don't have too many Andreas:

Let's assume Andrea *doesn't* work in an open environment, and let's say her research involves work with a team of experts from many corners of her state university system.

In addition to Andrea's expertise in human nutrition, the team includes experts in fields as diverse as plant and human physiology, biochemistry, bioengineering, bio-optics, remote sensing, metabolomics, and geriatrics, among others.

Let's say the team has conducted animal trials of a proprietary blend of phytocompounds (extracted from three genetically engineered vegetable crops) which have demonstrated that the product prevents and even reverses the cognitive declines of aging in rats and hamsters (Oh, and the compound also prevents several forms of cancer in rodents.)

Currently, the head of Andrea's department and several other department heads, along with the intellectual property office of Andrea's university are deep into negotiations with a major international pharmaceutical firm.

The latest and best offer to date: the firm will fund human trials of the phytocompound blend, will fund a $750 million NutriAg research center at Andrea's university, and endow three chairs...

But hey, if Andrea professsed in the English Department... She wouldn't do much Extension work.

Kevin Gamble said...

Well, in this case Andrea wears a white hat:

>>>When Mike Hoffmann — the Cornell entomologist I startled by sharing Bush's proposed budget cuts — recovers from his shock, he offers his take on "what the devil" our universities should be. The principle that should guide Cornell, Berkeley, Missouri and our other land-grant institutions is simple, he says: public funding for the public good. The mission of America's centers of agricultural learning is, he concludes, "to produce new knowledge for the public benefit. That's why we have the land-grant system, and I think it's pretty important."

Unknown said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.
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