The "Ivory Tower" Appears Reluctant to Use Social Media

Why is there so little Tweeting coming from the "Ivory Tower"?

Posted Mar 31, 2014

Why are the gatekeepers of the so-called “Ivory Tower” reluctant to adapt their scholarly practices to include social media? A new study lead by researcher, Christine Greenhow, at Michigan State University found that many scholars are resisting the use of social media.

In a survey of 1,600 university researchers, Greenhow found that only 15 percent use Twitter, 28 percent use YouTube and 39 percent use Facebook for professional purposes.  Greenhow said, “Simply put, there’s not much tweeting from the ivory tower.”

Christine Greenhow, is an assistant professor in Education Psychology and Education Technology at MSU. She studies various forms of learning with social media, the design of social-mediated environments for learning and changes in scholarship practices.

The March 2014 study titled, “Social scholarship: Reconsidering scholarly practices in the age of social media,” appears online in the British Journal of Educational Technology. It was co-authored by Benjamin Gleason, MSU doctoral student of education.

Greenhow, believes that broader social media practices can lead to decentralization and more access to knowledge, which could benefit the exchange of ideas and lead to more Social Scholarship. I had a chance to catch up with Christine Greenhow this afternoon. In summing up her study, Christine told me:

I'm arguing that we need more “social scholars.” Social scholars use social media to publish and interact with scholarly output and to join an online community around their topic. Social scholarship is characterized by openness, conversation, collaboration, access, sharing and transparent revision... engaging an informal, social review process may help surface inaccuracies and engage a wider, nonspecialist audience.

The paper provides specific examples that can help scholars—especially those that study technology enhanced learning—to better understand how to practice social scholarship. It also offers suggestions for policies and programs that can support graduate students and any faculty seeking to integrate social scholarship into their work practices.

Social Media vs. The Ivory Tower

Greenhow argues that while social media is widely used in fields such as journalism and business it has failed to take hold in mainstream academia. What is preventing the powers in academic institutions from embracing social media and engaging in an open dialogue?

“Only a minority of university researchers are using free and widely available social media to get their results and published insights out and into the hands of the public, even though the mission of public universities is to create knowledge that makes a difference in people’s lives,” Greenhow said.

“While there is some evidence that faculty members are starting to share their work through social media, it’s unlikely to become widespread unless universities adopt policies for promotion and tenure that reward these practices,” Greenhow said.

Classic representation of an "Ivory Tower."

Most universities are scrambling to increase a revenue stream for research using taxpayer dollars. It seems like a double standard to have publicly funded research dollars funneled into ivory tower laboratories, without the research findings from these studies openly streaming back out to the masses via social media.  

Greenhow points out that this old-school and anachronistic model is due for a 2.0 upgrade. If scholars don’t learn how to use social media effectively they are denying an education to their students on ways  to optimize the powers of social scholarship in their future careers.

“Academia is not serving as a model of social media use or preparing future faculty to do this,” Greenhow said. Adding, “The issue is at the heart of larger discussions regarding accessibility, equal rights to higher education, transparency and accountability.”

Conclusion: Psychology Today Advances Social Scholarship

As a Psychology Today blogger, I know that I might be slightly biased... But, I believe that Psychology Today creates connectivism between the ivory tower and a mainstream audience.

When I read the Greenhow report earlier today, I was immediately struck by the fact that Psychology Today is in many ways a perfect model for advancing social scholarship. In fact, I can’t think of any other social media platform that has so many scholars willing to share their ideas collectively using: open data, open publishing, open education, and open boundaries.

For more information on Christine Greenhow and her research please visit: and @chrisgreenhow on Twitter

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