How connected are your professors? More so than some might think.

By Sam Hayes

When one thinks of a professor, the image of a reclusive, bearded intellectual, perhaps in a coffeehouse, perhaps in a dimly lit study poring over yellowed papers may come to mind. According to a recent study called Social Media in Higher Education, that image may be a thing of the past as the study,found some 80 percent of college professors use at least one form of social media.

The May 4 survey asked 939 professors at two and four-year colleges if they had at least one account with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Google Wave, Skype, LinkedIn or Slideshare. Eighty percent said they used at least one of these functions, with 60 percent reporting that they had accounts with more than one social media site.

University of Massachusetts’ professors seemed not to quite fit that trend.

“Facebook is terrible,” said UMass history professor Sigrid Schmalzer. “The Internet is a wonderful open public source for knowledge and information. Facebook privatizes and controls content, disallowing photographs of mothers nursing and forcing all content through one single entry point. It limits sharing.”

“As an academic and an activist [Facebook] frustrates me,” Schmalzer continued, “many activists only post on Facebook, and that restricts the publicity and allows policing.”

Other professors were more simple and direct. Microbiology department head professor John Lopes simply said, “Sorry, I don’t use social media.”

Women, gender, and sexuality studies’ department head Arlene Avakian does not use social media either. She said that there are many advantages and disadvantages to social media but does not use them herself. “I see no pedagogical advantage to this media,” Avakian said. “I use email lists to contact students with messages.”

“One thing I fear is that young people using social media may be losing the ability to have significant face-to-face interaction,” continued Avakian.

“LinkedIn [a business oriented social networking site] has been very useful connecting our undergraduates and graduate students to alumni and alumni back to the department,” said department of mechanical and industrial engineering head Donald Fisher.

Social media may be too broad a term to use when examining professors’ online activity. In a May 4 article on the college news site Inside Higher Ed, journalist Steve Kolowich wrote that, “not all Web 2.0 tools are created equal. Among respondents to the Babson survey, YouTube was the preferred tool for teaching, with more than a fifth of professors using material from the video-sharing community in class.”

Sam Hayes can be reached at [email protected]