It is difficult to miss that social media and the digital sphere are playing increasingly instrumental roles in academia. Debate pieces regularly appear on The Guardian HE Network Blog deliberating the teaching potential of tweeting, assessing our reasons for fearing or avoiding blogging, and even, as Ernesto Priego recently wrote, announcing a shift marked by Twitter ‘towards more fluid rules of academic engagement’.
With the role of social media increasing daily, academic departments are starting to pay attention. A recent online piece from the SAS, ‘Academic Guide to Social Media and Blogging’, stands in a long line of departmental acknowledgement of the centrality of tools such a tweeting and blogging.
Of course, putting an attractive window display on the shop-front of your research has become an unavoidable task for researchers. The ‘impact’ clause of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) has been met with groans from academics, making demands that pull you away from the library and lecture hall into the spotlight of ‘public engagement’. As Steve Joy scathingly wrote for the Guardian, it’s what’s expected from all corners of the academic and media establishments.
No doubt the REF will contain a ‘twitter’ clause by 2015: thou shalt tweet 6 times a day… Thou shalt not have less than 100 followers…
Yet, in the process of devising the upcoming PGR training programme Research with Reach, we have realised that tweeting and ‘Harnessing the Digital’ are about far more than token gestures of public engagement or ‘impact’. Tweeting connects you with those that matter within your field: your future employers, your future readership, and your potential funders. It gets you heard, and it gets you known, with both the general public andacademic circles.
Academics like @melissaterrass and @DrKFenbyHulse have made it clear there’s no opposition between rigorous research and a lively Twitter handle, and hashtags like #engagedacademics are the signs of a new digisphere that values ideas beyond the academe.