Social Work Scholarship in the Age of Social Media

BlogPost12.10.15_2It has been almost two months since the Council on Social Work Education’s Annual Program Meeting in Denver this past October (#APM2015), and I have been thinking a lot about one of the round table discussions I attended.  The topic was  “Blogs, Podcasts, and Tweets: Reconsidering Scholarship in the Age of Social Media” and the conversation was led by Jonathan Singer of the School of Social Work at Loyola University and Nancy  J. Smyth of School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.  Its purpose was to engage participants in a dialogue about the ways social media are changing how social work educators and scholars think about, produce, disseminate and measure the outcomes of scholarship in social work.  I recorded the discussion with Periscope, a video recording app for Twitter, and you can watch the video here.  Be warned – the discussion started at 7:30 AM, requiring me to juggle my mobile phone with a large cappuccino.

There were about twenty other people present, representing all areas of social work academia (tenured and nontenured;  administrators, researchers and teachers; large research institutions to small liberal arts colleges).  Here are just some of the questions or concerns mentioned during this discussion:

– How can digital content (blog posts, tweets, podcasts) be incorporated into the tenure and promotion process?
– What is the best way to share ideas about scholarship via social media? Will it get scooped?
– How do we ensure a level of quality with social work scholarship that is published via social media?

I am not sure any of us walked away from the discussion with the answers to all our questions, but I believe the consensus was that social and digital media are powerful tools for sharing and discussing social work scholarship. To be clear,  I’m not arguing that social and digital media will replace the traditional forms of social work scholarship such as journals, books and conference presentations.  I know that writing this blog will not get me tenure, but it does provide me with different ways to connect with other scholars, share ideas and write about topics that don’t fit into traditional publication avenues.  Social media provide vital and rich ways to share, curate and discuss practice and research in social work.  I am convinced that today’s social work faculty need to become savvy enough to share and discuss social work scholarship in digital environments.  Here are my three reasons for using social media as part of my scholarship:

1. It is faster and more collaborative than traditional publications such as journals and books, making it an ideal starting point for projects.  We can share ideas via blog posts or social networking platforms quickly and receive feedback through comments or responses just as quickly.  Two years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about use of Twitter in social work education.  Based on feedback and comments from peers, a colleague and I were able to write and publish a peer-reviewed article from those blog posts.  Another example is Jessie Daniel’s post From Tweet to Blog Post to Peer-Reviewed Article: How to be a Scholar Now, where she describes how she created a peer-reviewed article from a tweet.  One of my favorite examples of a scholar using social media to inform a research agenda is Nathan Hall, the person behind @AcademicsSay.

2. I can reach a larger audience via social media, including practitioners, community partners and academics in other disciplines.  As an example, in January I wrote a blog post How to participate in a Live Twitter Chat – Tips for Social Workers.  Since then, that post has received 311 unique views (a lot for my blog) and was recently re-published by the New Jersey Chapter of NASW in their Fall Newsletter.  A colleague and I are still waiting on to hear back about a peer-reviewed article on a similar topic.

3.  Using social media to share and discuss research is a  great equalizer.  Social work practitioners and students (even some of us in academics) may not have access to high-priced journals and databases or expensive conferences. By tweeting, blogging, podcasting, and posting about our own research and the research of others, we can share with other professionals and even the general public, who may have limited access to the scholarship due to cost or time.  If we take it a step further by provide context and explanation, we can help translate the process of scientific inquiry into practical and usable knowledge, especially the social work literature. This fits with our profession’s commitment to social justice and promoting competent practice.

If you are interested in using social media to share and discuss your own social work scholarship, here are some suggestions to get started:

1. Sign-up: Join a social networking sites.  Start with LinkedIn and/or some of the academically oriented social networking sites such as ResearchGate, Academia.edu or a Google Scholar profile.  Create a professional Twitter account as well. Develop your profile on each site by identifying your research interests and sharing your CV or/resume.  Follow other social workers, both researchers and practitioners,  and join groups within each site that represent your scholarship and professional interests.

2. Lurk: Learn how to share & discuss scholarship via social media by observing what other researchers are doing online.  Start by identifying role models for your research areas and follow them online with your preferred social networking site.  Mine is Twitter and I have several lists of scholars and groups that I follow around my interests.  Also, read about how others are using social and digital media to promote and enhance their scholarship. Keegan Rae Osinski’s post Twitter for Academics: Scholarly Communication offer a great example of how some academics are successfully tweeting about their research.

3. Put your big toe in the water.  Start sharing & discussing your scholarship via social media. Use your favorite social networking site to post hyperlinks to your work and ask for feedback.  Or if you prefer, share links to your colleagues’ work.  Review the scholarship of other scholars and practitioners, and comment on their work with the public commenting tools available in most social networking sites.  Respond to others’ comments and engage in public conversations about your areas of interest.  Make the commitment to share and comment thoughtfully.  Melissa Terras’ blog post Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict offers one approach.

To engage in this process professionally and ethically,  please consider the following resources:

– Learn about and use Creative Commons Licenses.
– Know how to cite and acknowledge content on social media platforms appropriately.
– Follow the NASW Code of Ethics and Netiquette guidelines when sharing and posting via social media.

I hope this post will lead to more conversation among social work academics and practitioners about how to leverage social media for the benefits of the profession.  What do you think? Can social media help social work academics promote the profession and the social work literature? I’m also interested in advice or practical tips from other social work scholars about how you are using social media to promote or engage in scholarship.  Please post a comment or send me a tweet.

Suggested reading:
Greenhow, C., & Gleason, B. (2014). Social scholarship: Reconsidering scholarly practices in the age of social media. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 392–402. http://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12150

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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