Social Media in Undergraduate Research

By Meagen Pollock, The College of Wooster

The growing body of social media tools can be overwhelming, but with thoughtful selection and use, social media can enhance the undergraduate research experience. Regardless of whether the research takes place in short classroom activities or long-term senior theses, faculty advisers create environments that allow students to collaborate with other researchers, find resources, collect and analyze data, and communicate results. Technology should never be used technology's sake, but there are a variety of social media tools that can help undergraduate researchers achieve their goals. Use these pages to learn more about the ways that social media enhance undergraduate research, the benefits and challenges of using social media, social media etiquette, and fair use and copyright regulations.

What is social media?

The term social media has been defined as a collection of web-based tools "that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010)." With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, individuals can create original text and data files, images, audio, and video that can be shared with an online community. For a brief introduction to social media in the classroom, please see the social media page in the Using Media to Enhance Teaching and Learning collection from the Pedagogy in Action portal. Although social media applications are constantly evolving, Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) define 4 types that are useful for undergraduate research: social networking sites, blogs, collaborative projects, and content communities.
Looking for a straightforward introduction to social media?

How can social media enhance undergraduate research?

Social media can help students create research communities, find resources, and disseminate their work. Many of the social media tools foster collaboration, effective communication, and other skills that develop during the research experience. Ron Schott gives a nice overview of social media and geology. Click on the links below for more information about how social media tools can be used to enhance undergraduate research.
Social Networking Sites- Twitter, Facebook, and the CUR Registries

Blogs- blogs by experts, departments, and organizations
Collaborative Projects - wikis and social bookmarking
Content Communities- YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, and the CUR Podcasts

What are the benefits of using social media?

  • Development of effective communication skills
    Image courtesy of Intersection Consulting. Some rights reserved.
  • Increased engagement with an international network of scientists
  • Access to a wide variety of cutting-edge resources
  • Collaboration with long-distance research communities
  • Archive of research process and related files
  • Opportunities for recruitment, collaboration, and new research directions

What are the challenges of using social media?

  • Not all students have access to the internet and internet-enabled devices
  • Students may resist using social technology for academic purposes
  • Institutions may not value or reward the use of social media
  • Technology requires instruction and technical support
  • Individuals must be aware of online identity and privacy issues
  • Users must understand fair use and copyright policies

Social Media Etiquette

Image courtesy of Timothy Vollmer. Some rights reserved.
As with any social interaction, users of online media are expected to follow a certain code of behavior. Policies for online communication have been developed by many academic institutions. A key point to remember is that your social media interactions form your online reputation and are recorded in a permanent and publicly available archive.
  • Be polite and professional. A simple way to create a positive online reputation is to be professional and courteous. Use 'please' and 'thank you' when making requests. Use subject lines and greetings for emails and listservs. Take the time to construct well-written text that uses appropriate language, proper grammar, and correct spelling. Resist using emoticons and texting abbreviations. Ask others to review or edit your materials before they are published online. Keep the content professional and personal issues private. Do not use a public venue for private or exclusive conversations.
  • Respect the community. You will encounter a diverse set of ideas and opinions that may be unlike your own. Engage in civil discourse and treat others with respect. Reply to disagreements and criticism with considerate responses. Refrain from flaming, or making arguments that involve offensive comments, insults, and obscenities. The tone of online interactions can be easily mistaken; avoid using sarcasm and emotional or aggressive language. To resolve serious conflicts and complaints, consider private phone or face-to-face conversations.
  • Add value to the conversation. Build quality relationships with the online community by adding insightful comments and submitting content that is on-topic and of interest to the community. Give more than you take; listen and help others more than you promote yourself. Avoid spamming by personalizing communications and making worthwhile contributions.
  • Protect your privacy. Be cautious about disclosing personal information, such as birth date and phone numbers. Use the privacy settings to control who sees your information. You may consider using a pseudonym for anonymity (but see the next bullet point). Protect the privacy of your research, too. Do not publish confidential information, like unpublished results.
  • Be honest. All users, even those who prefer to remain anonymous, should be accountable for their online interactions. Always use material with proper attribution. Never make misrepresentations or post dishonest or misleading information. Make clear whose viewpoints you are describing and disclose conflicts of interest. Abide by fair use and copyright laws.

Fair Use and Copyright

Because social media involves the creation, publication, and sharing of content, users must understand and follow copyright and fair use laws. Copyright laws protect original, creative works. If you have created an original blog post or image and published it online, you own the copyright. That means that you own the rights to those materials and other people need your permission to reproduce, distribute, or modify those works. The safest approach to using online material is to assume that it is protected by copyright and obtain consent from the copyright owner. Permission is not required if the work is part of the public domain or if your use falls under "fair use" policies. Fair use allows the use of copyrighted material for a limited purpose, including criticism and parody. Although the regulations can be confusing, your library or information technology department may be able to provide guidance about copyright law.

Resources for Using Social Media

Jackson, G., Petersen, R., and Worona, S., 2011, The roads ahead. EDUCAUSE Review, v. 46, no. 3.
Online article that describes some challenges of using social media with students.

Kaplan, A.M., and Haenlein, M., 2010, Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons, v. 53, p. 59-68.
Journal article that defines and classifies social media. Also includes tips for using social media from a business perspective but widely applicable.

Rheingold, H., 2010, Attention, and other 21st-century social media literacies. EDUCAUSE Review, v. 45, no. 5, p. 14-24.
Online article describes skills students develop while using social media, all of which apply to undergraduate research.

Weisgerber, C., and Butler, S., eds, 2010, Communication pedagogy in the age of social media. The Electronic Journal of Communication, v. 20, no. 1&2.
Special issue dedicated to using social media with students. Although the focus is on communications, the fundamental principles of using social media with students apply across all disciplines.