The Impact of Social Media


I passed a milestone today, in that I tweeted my one-thousandth tweet in Twitter. As I thought about that fact, it reminded me that last Friday, I saw a blog post from Karyn Romeis, who said she was exploring the impact of the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals for her dissertation. She wanted to know educators’ stories, and in particular:

  • How did you get started with social media?
  • What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  • What difference has it made in your professional practice?

A milestone day is a good day to tell my story.

If I had to entitle the last year of my life, it would be the year of social media. In January of 2007, I was teaching online, but I was not using any of the social media tools that I now take for granted. I had just recently joined the Center for Teaching Excellence here at VCU. Part of what helped my journey unfold was the job transition. I am not sure I would have been able to adopt these tools to the degree that I had if I had remained an administrator and faculty at my former college. I would have been using the same “no time” excuses I routinely hear from faculty. So part of how I got started was simply by moving in to a new position that gave me the freedom to explore Web 2.0 as part of my job description.

Social MediaThe second factor that helped my journey get started and unfold is that I was not doing it alone. My colleagues here at the Center, Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, cajoled me, prodded me, (or “poked”in Facebook terms), and certainly mutually supported me as I began my journey. It is easier to use “we” rather than “I” in discussing “our” journey. The first one that stuck was social bookmarking and We also were trying out some of the new Ning social networking sites such as Classroom 2.0 and College 2.0. Through these connections, we began to build a network of colleagues worldwide. We began to use RSS feeds to aggregate feeds from various blogs, Ning sites, and delicious networks…and we would frequently discuss what each of us was seeing and feeling around coffee each Monday morning. As we became increasingly connected with others virtually, we grew to cherish our physical connections here in our office, and so our weekly coffee conversations remain important to us.

For about six months, we were fine at this level but did little to add to the global conversation ourselves. However, Jeff suggested to us that we needed to model blogging ourselves if we were to effectively sell it to our colleagues, so Learning in a Flat World was born (as were techne and Exploratory Learner). Again, it was a mutually supportive effort in shifting from lurker to producer. It was good timing, as Sue Waters was launching her Edublogger blog at about the same time, and her tips and advice helped us craft our blogs and improve our delivery through this spring.

Jeff talked often about Twitter and whether that was something we should also examine. About three months ago, he sent me a short email that basically said – I dare you to start Twittering! He knows me too well! I dove in, built a network (based again on my blog companions and THEIR Twitter followers), and in three short months, have a small but respectable following of over a hundred colleagues leading to my thousandth tweet today.

Karyn importantly asks what difference all this makes to my professional practice. I have found it transformative. I was working with some faculty last week and they noted that one had to be physically present with people to form any type of relationship. I strongly disagreed and noted that I had friends in Australia, Uruguay and Romania that I have never met and may never meet – yet I consider them friends. I share laughs with Sue Waters (Australia) and know that her husband is fishing-challenged (something we share). I also admire how she effectively uses technology for adult education. Gabriela Grosseck (Romania) helped me set up my classroom use of I have seen the passion with which Wes Fryer (Oklahoma), Michele Martin (Pennsylvania), Jeff Utecht (Shanghai), or Vicki Davis (Georgia) attack global problems and have added my voice to theirs. In a sense, the impact lies in the fact that I now see myself not as a player on one campus but a player on a flat world – contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning on a scale I would not have conceptualized several years ago.


Two years ago, I would have had a hard time conceptualizing that I would connect with and interact with hundreds on a daily basis, yet I now find delicious, blogging, Twitter, and Ning part of my life. These connections have added a richness to my professional life that makes the “before” life seem dull and single-dimensional. The challenge is to remember that the vast majority of faculty have not (yet) discovered this transformation, and so to work towards facilitating their journey.

How has your experience differed (or not) from mine? Let me (and more importantly – Karyn) know.

[Photo Credit: janusz]

9 thoughts on “The Impact of Social Media

  1. Great blog post, I can relate to all with Twitter, Ning, and my little Edublog. I saw this in Jeff Utecht’s daily link. I tweeted before that I use Twitter to start my day and look for neat ideas, I then check out links and will search Ning for ones I’m in (SMART Board, WNY-PLP, and looking at Voicethreads).
    Thank you for your thoughts.
    Mark Carls

  2. I’m glad my posts on The Edublogger have helped you all. Sorry about the frog incident the other day on twitter (but I’m still stressed by the whole thought and it wasn’t me in the toilet). I shall probably not tell my hubby that the World knows he is fishing challenged.

  3. Thank you for this inspiring post. I agree with you in that we may have friends whom we never met in a physical context; we surely can feel the power of authentic human relationships fueling our reflections and efforts to improve both as persons and as professionals. Me too find delicious, blogging, twitter and moodle as being “part of my life” and it amazes me to recognize that not even a month ago I would take all this for a dream.
    Although I sound like someone offering ice cream to Eskimos, in the context of Comment Challenge I must recommend you a web tool: I’ve chosen Camaléo: for it seems to be very practical, aesthetically valuable and may be included in social media; it allows you to publish your documents embedding videos in them, among other advantages.
    As you probably know this web tool already, I dare suggest also”Read the Words”: which is a tool that enables us to listen to any text we have previously submitted to be read, while we drive our car or clean our house, for instance.
    Thank you for your wonderful posts.

  4. I really appreciate Jeff Utecht adding me to his daily links – a real honor! And I treasure Sue’s friendship…but she will have to tell the frog story herself (which unfolded on Twitter)! It looks like I have found kindred souls in Mark and Ines – now if we can figure out how to get our other colleagues swimming in the same stream!

  5. Hi Britt,

    First of all – great post !

    Secondly, I tried to remember when was the first time I “met” social media. And I couldn’t ! I think in 2005, due to my friend Carmen Holotescu, which is the “head” behind the Romanian Twitter – Cirip, I started to blog. Then I discover and slideshare, and flickr and others social online artifacts.

    Above all, I discovered A COMMUNITY, made by wonderful people, ready to help and support beginners like me (with poor English background, too). I found out that the world isn’t flat due to social media tools we all share.

    I have so many many names to thanks for: Sue Waters, Eduardo Peirano, Britt Watwood, Beth Kanter, Darren Draper, Judy O’Connell, Steve Hargadon, Paulo Coelho, Jim Henderson, George Hari Popescu, Carmen Holotescu, Javed Alam – sorry for all the persons I didn’t mention here.

    I am so grateful because of all these people I am a better teacher and improved my personal development every day.

  6. I know as a web 2.0 professional, social media feels both exciting and daunting at times. On the other hand, I have definitely become a Facebook addict in my personal life!

  7. So interesting that a pattern is emerging! I am also in a position that places Web 2.0 as part of new job responsibilities. Without following your lead, I joined the identical social networks and have experienced very similar learning outcomes and perspectives. Because my responsibilities are related to teacher professional development, I am seeing a pattern that points to revolutionary practices in educator PD – strengthened by an existing social/technical infrastructure to support it. After 20 years in teacher professional development, it seems clear that the future is now.
    One challenging aspect of my journey continues to be separating techno-centeredness from student-centeredness. It is easy to get caught up in the Web 2.0 whirlwind. For me, keeping a straight head means focusing on product and process for the ultimate value tools can add to inspired, deep learning.
    Glad I stumbled on your blog, kindred spirit!

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