Conference – “Academic Identity in the Digital University”

flickr photo by mkhmarketing shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I attended my first conference as a PhD student yesterday. Since my research is more likely to focus on educators in the stages before HE and as this was organised by the Society for Research into Higher Education, it initially didn’t seem a close fit. That is until you saw that theme was n the use of social media. There were two reasons then for my choice to stump up the conference fee: to learn more about the ways in which social media are being appropriated, but more importantly, to see how other researchers have approached their studies into social media.

In the first seminar, Dr Antonella Esposito discussed how PhD students use social media, what their practices are and how we conceptualise their engagement with SM. There was a lot in here to absorb, some of which will be applicable to my research – students use SM for updating their knowledge, networking, disseminating and discussing, all of which could be considered aspects of professional learning. These practices were viewed across a number of criteria, which though presented as binaries (Disclosure vs non-disclosure, weaving vs splitting (identity)), I suspect are more likely to be continua upon which an individual can be located. These doubtless also change with time and circumstances. I have to say that I struggled to stay with the pace and await the posting of the presentation so I can reflect on the slides at my leisure. There was a lot of content covered in the twenty minutes, both verbally and visually and I struggled to process both channels adequately, let alone make notes … or tweet! Perhaps those who decry the use of PowerPoint in lectures have a point? Or perhaps I just need to develop my information processing skills?

(Antonella’s presentation can be found here)

After lunch, Dr Mark Carrigan talked (no presentation) about ‘Life in the accelerated academy’ in which colleagues in higher education are under increasing pressure from workload, extension of the duties expected of them, the performativity agenda, the pace of change and the negative consequences this has had for life as an academic. Mark linked this with the social media theme by suggesting that SM might in some ways begin to alleviate some of this pressure by offering new channels of opportunity. However he urges caution for a number of reasons: the rewards, such as they are, sit outside the prevailing system and whilst some people find SM provides a release for some, others feel a burden of expectation to participate and for them, it simply becomes ‘one more thing.’

(You can read more detail in this post Mark wrote).

In the final session Katy Jordan presented her progress towards her PhD researching structure and significance of academics’ social networks online. Her approach took a network perspective and using social network analysis followed by semi-structured interviews, she compared how people connected with others through an ostensibly academic SNS ( and a mainstream platform (Twitter).

The first and especially the last seminars certainly linked closely with my area of interest. It was interesting to see Kate using methods similar to the ones I’m proposing and I have to say, somewhat reassuring that perhaps I am on the right lines. I also appreciated the opportunity to see the progress a student might make after two years of PhD study and, albeit it only an overview, the level at which she was working. (One of the ‘up’ moments when you think ‘hey, I have a shot at this’!). Surprisingly though, it was Mark’s talk that had the biggest impact. When I first started considering this as an area I’d like to explore (a few years ago now), I was quite committed to Twitter and the positive benefits it can provide, as this series of posts illustrates. I felt that there was an opportunity there for everyone; one which required minimum commitment and could be personalised to your own needs. With the increasing likelihood of me being able to explore this more rigorously through academic study, I was obliged to confront my own bias. Recently as I’ve been reading more, it’s becoming clear that there are other perspectives and as Mark highlighted, some of them potentially quite dark. What Mark’s talk achieved then was provide the last straw which helped me walk away from the Kool-Aid fountain.


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