Archive for Facebook

Should Academics be (Facebook) Friends with Students?

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , on June 30, 2015 by telescoper

I noticed a short article in the Times Higher last week about a small survey that concluded that more than half academics count students among their Facebook friends. It’s actually a very small survey – of 308 academics, all based in America – of whom 54.4% admitted being “friends” with students.

For those of you who don’t use Facebook, a “Facebook friend” isn’t necessarily an actual real-life friend, it’s just someone else on Facebook with whom  you agree to share information, photographs, music and other stuff. Different people have different policies with regard to whether to accept or decline a friend request (or indeed initiate one). I only ever accept requests from people I know in another context, for example, which restricts the number of people who get to see my Facebook scribblings. Others are less selective and have many many more Facebook friends.

One of the things about Facebook is that people do sometimes share quite personal things, and sometimes things that might be quite compromising in a work context, e.g. pictures of themselves ina  state of inebriation. I suppose that’s why it’s a rather  contentious whether a member of academic staff in a University should or not be “friends” with their undergraduate students. I know many of my friends and colleagues  in academia flatly refuse to befriend undergraduate students (in the Facebook sense) and indeed this is the advice given by some institutions to staff. Most wouldn’t have a problem with having social media interactions with their graduate students, though. The nature of the relationship between a PhD student and supervisor is very different from that between an undergraduate and a lecturer.

There is a point on social media where professionalism might be compromised just as there is in other social interactions. The trouble is knowing precisely where that boundary lies, which is easy to misjudge. I’ve never felt that it was in any way improper to be friendly to students. Indeed I think that could well improve the students’ experience of education. If the relationship with staff is too distant students may not  feel comfortable asking for help with their work, or advice about wider things. Why should being “professional” mean not treating students as human beings?

One can take friendliness too far, however. There have to be some boundaries, and intrusive or demanding behaviour that makes students uncomfortable should be avoided.

I’ve thought about this quite a lot since I joined Facebook, which was in 2007. What I decided to do is simple. If a student initiates a friend request, I usually accept it (as long as I actually know who it is). Not many make such requests, but some do. More often, in fact, students send friend requests after they’ve graduated, when they perhaps feel liberated from the student-teacher relationship. On the other hand, I never initiate friend requests with students, for fear that they might feel pressured to accept it. It’s much the same as with other interactions.  For example, I rarely visit the extensive Student Spaces in the School without being invited there for a specific reason. If I did I’d just feel I was intruding. Many universities don’t bother to provide study space for their undergraduates, so this is probably only relevant here in Sussex.

Anyway, that’s my response. I know it’s a sort of compromise, but there you are. I am however interested in how other academics approach this issue. Plus, I haven’t done a poll for a while. So here we go:

 

 

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BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 20, 2014 by telescoper

I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to keep up with all the BICEP2 excitement in between all the other things I’ve had to do this week but at least the blog has been generating some interest and there’s no sign of that abating yet.  In fact, according to the wordpress elves, today is the busiest day I’ve ever had on In the Dark – and it’s not even 6pm yet!

I realize that I’ve posted several items on B-modes without ever showing a picture of what they look like, so here you go, an image of the B-mode polarization seen by the BICEP2 experiment:

b_over_b_rect_BICEP2

When the BICEP2 team announced that  a “major astrophysics discovery” would be announced this Monday I have to admit that I was quite a bit uncomfortable about the way things were being done. I’ve never been keen on “Science by Press Release” and when it became clear that the press conference would be announcing results that hadn’t yet been peer-reviewed my concerns deepened.

However, the BICEP2 team immediately made available not only the “discovery” paper but also the data products, so people with sufficient expertise (and time) could try to unpick the content. This is fully in the spirit of open science and I applaud them for it. Indeed one could argue that putting everything out in the open the way they have is ensuring that that their work is being peer-reviewed in the open by the entire cosmological community not secretly and by one or two anonymous individuals. The more I think about it the more convinced I am becoming that this is a better way of doing peer review than the traditional method, although before I decide that for sure I’d like to know whether the BICEP2 actually does stand up!

One of the particularly interesting developments in this case is the role social media are playing in the BICEP2 story. A Facebook Group was set up in advance of Monday’s announcement and live discussion started immediately the press conference started. The group now has well over 700 members, including many eminent cosmologists. And me. There’s a very healthy scientific discussion going on there which may well prove to be a model of how such things happen in the future. Is this a sign of a major change in the way science is done, the use of digital technology allowing science to break free from the shackles placed on it by traditional publication processes? Maybe.

Anyway, no time to write any more. I just remembered I have to participate in a seminar on Open Access publishing and I have to start thinking about what I’m going to say!

P.S. The Vernal Equinox happened at 16.:57 GMT today, so welcome to Spring!

To Hype or Not to Hype?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 18, 2012 by telescoper

Like many bloggers on this site, I have set up my WordPress account to send a tweet every time I publish a new post. I did have it set up to post to Facebook too, but that mechanism seems no longer to work so I usually post my offerings there by hand. I joined Google+ some time ago, and did likewise, but found it to be a complete waste of time so haven’t logged on for months. Sometimes if a topic comes up that I’ve covered in an old post, I’ll tweet it again, but that’s the extent to which I “pimp” my blog.

However, I have noticed that over the last few months my Twitter feed is increasingly clogged up with multiple copies of blog advertisements from people I follow, often with requests like “Please Retweet”.  I have to say I don’t like this at all. It seems very tacky to me to be constantly screaming for attention in this manner. If people want to retweet or link to my posts then I’m very chuffed, of course, but I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I touted for traffic. Anyone who blogs already runs the risk of being labelled an attention-seeker. That doesn’t bother me, as in my case it’s probably true. But there are limits…

These thoughts came into my head when I stumbled across a couple of posts about self-promotion (here  and here). The author of the first item says:

Whenever I write a blogpost, the extent of my self-promotion is this: tweet my blog-link about 3 or 4 times in the same day it’s published…

I think even that is excessive. I’m very unlikely to read a blog post that’s been rammed down my neck on Twitter four times in a single day, very unlikely to retweet said link,  and indeed very unlikely to read anything further from an author who indulges in such a practice. Call me old-fashioned, but I struggle to keep up with Twitter anyway and I only follow about 100 people. I can do without this unseemly conduct. It’s nearly as bad as the “promoted tweets” (i.e. SPAM) that also plague the Twittersphere. More importantly, people don’t seem to realise that there is such a thing as too much publicity.

The answer is simple. Write interesting stuff, put it out there and people will be interested in it. It’s the same with scientific papers, actually. Write good papers and people will find them and cite them. Simples.

I realise my attitude in this regard is quite unusual and shaped by my own experiences and circumstances. I don’t make any money from this blog – it’s really more of a hobby than anything else – and I don’t particular care how many people read the items I post. If I did I wouldn’t put up things about Jazz or Poetry or Opera, as these have very little popular appeal. I just enjoy writing about such things, and sharing things I come across. I’m not denying that I like it when posts prove popular and/or provoke discussion, of course. But I don’t get upset when others sink without trace, as many do.

Moreover, having more blog hits isn’t going to advance my career one jot. Possibly quite the opposite, actually. I know there are plenty of important and influential people out there who think having a blog is some sort of aberration and in order to keep it going I must be neglecting my duties as an academic (which, incidentally, I don’t), so if anything it probably has a negative overall effect.

I realise that, as an amateur blogger, my attitudes are probably very different from the majority of those who actually earn money from this activity. The Guardian science bloggers, for example, get paid according to the number of page hits they generate. Unfortunately the result is that the Guardian itself repeatedly tweets links to every new post, as does every individual author. The resulting deluge of tedious advertising no doubt generates traffic that helps increase revenue, but its effect on me is that I no longer read any of the posts there.

There. I’ve said it. No doubt there’ll be angry reactions from fellow bloggers. If this post has offended anyone then I’m sorry, but  please remember to retweet it, share on Facebook, Google+, etc.