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    Unique insights from Ray Schroeder, senior fellow for UPCEA: the Association for Leaders in Online and Professional Education

Time to Consider Your Social Media Options

As higher ed professionals, this is a good time to rethink our social platforms.

November 28, 2022

As of this writing, the future of Twitter is unclear. Elon Musk has taken over the helm with policies and practices that are prompting massive layoffs and resignations that have threatened the regular operation of the social media tool. Some experts are even predicting the demise of Twitter. This has caused concern among a wide range of users from the casual news and entertainment fans to government agencies. Public agencies had come to rely on Twitter for information dissemination and exchange in the case of emergencies. The takeover of Twitter has left them seeking other, more credible, stable and secure, outlets for emergency communication.

I have lost only a few dozen of several thousand followers on Twitter; presumably they have dropped off the platform because of the recent changes. I have found at the same time that my network on LinkedIn has expanded. I have not investigated whether there is a direct cause and effect, but I suspect that Twitter flight is some of the cause. The changes have prompted me to include my LinkedIn and Mastodon addresses in my Twitter profile so that followers who are preparing to leave can find my daily UPCEA-curated reading postings on other social media.

I have found that higher education professionals seek opportunities to inform themselves about news, information and engage their community through social media. This is necessary in order to respond to the fire hose of changes that are triggered daily by technology advancements, as well as the economy and policy changes in impacting higher education. For our professional purposes, we are less interested in memes, animal tricks and music videos. We seek to build vibrant and customized personal learning networks (PLNs) of trusted sources who provide information and engage in discussions that are on relevant topics as they apply to us individually, our institution and our circumstances. These individualized PLNs are also the venues through which we learn about opportunities for career advancement and new career paths.

The most relevant platform for UPCEA, the association for professional, continuing and online education leaders (at which I am a senior fellow), and its members is CORe (Collaborative Online Relationships) that is open to those professionals at the hundreds of UPCEA member institutions. Members raise questions, make announcements, consider collaborations and engage one another on timely topics in many aspects related to professional, continuing and online higher education. Other associations in our field similarly maintain open and/or closed Listservs designed to facilitate dissemination of information and platforms for discussion around their own niches of higher education field. Yet there still is a need for broader-based discussion on the emerging technologies, developing strategic options and the policy and related changes that we face with the public at large.

As we look at our social media PLN options, it would seem that our needs cannot be satisfied by the short video formats that are the stock in trade of TikTok and Instagram. In part, we are looking to build and maintain professional networks, share updates, and stimulate creative discussion on ways to better serve learners and reach new audiences.

What are the alternatives? Fortunately, a number of platforms are available online to meet these needs. A couple of decades ago, I launched curated reading lists with online discussions for students enrolled in my graduate seminars on emerging technologies. I used Blogger, which was originated by Pyra Labs and later taken over by Google (Alphabet). Out of that experience evolved the flagship curated reading list at UPCEA, the Professional, Continuing and Online Education Update. The Blogger tool remains an icon for sharing stimulating ideas intended to foster deeper discussions among professionals. WordPress, Tumblr and Reddit followed, with other similar blogging sites. You can easily search for blogs online to find ones that are active and relevant to your needs. Blogger remains, for me, the anchor of my social media where my curations are held in long-term, searchable format and from which I feed the microblogging sites of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and (now) Mastodon. Each of these sites has its own strengths and shortcomings, so I find that using all of them help to reach a wide-ranging audience across the continents.

Facebook (Meta) has served as an informal network platform for many. Traditionally, Facebook has been a more casual than professional network. It remains to be seen just how the platform will evolve with the advent of a promised metaverse. Perhaps the new environment will give us a wide variety of new tools that can enable academic collaboration and information dissemination.

Mastodon offers the most similar look and feel to Twitter. However, behind the scenes it is a very different enterprise. It is comprised of a federation of open-source, nonprofit servers interconnecting with each other to enable worldwide access. While it has been around since 2016, the number of users had reached one million by the end of October. That number doubled in the past month and continues to grow rapidly.

LinkedIn is more than a site for job seekers. Serious professional discussion and networking take place across the platform. There are numerous relevant groups on LinkedIn which serve specialized interests. For example, the Quality, Innovation and Sustainability in Higher Education Group, with some 12,000 members, is aimed at all profiles of a broad spectrum of participants. Large groups like the Higher Education Management group, with nearly 130,000 members, are designed to discuss administrative and leadership topics. These are just a few of the thousands of different groups communicating via LinkedIn.

Take time to consider your PLN in light of the disruption in Twitter. Are there other social sites that might do a better job of addressing your needs? Now is the time to reassess as Twitter reorganizes and other social networks enhance their offerings.

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