One of the big differences for me in moving to Vermont a few years ago is that I have a social life that is far more intermingled with my professional life than my pre-Vermont social life. For better and worse, this is one of the features of living in a small town where a great deal of the social life revolves around events at the College.
Yesterday our men’s and women’s basketball teams played Williams. I was in the stands with my nine year old boy, sitting next to my doctor and one of my colleagues in the college administration. We noticed that all of the coaches were wearing suits and sneakers. I asked my doctor, my colleague, and my son if they knew why this might be, and they had no idea. Despite the fact that the coach’s wife (also a colleague and the mother of my older son’s girlfriend) was but three rows away, I decided the simplest way to get an answer was to turn to twitter. I posted:
Now it was time to wait to see if the Twitterverse would provide an answer. As the game progressed, I would check my phone during timeouts to see what was up. Now it turns out that the network of people who follow me on Twitter is not the network of people who pay much attention to Division Three College basketball, and so I came up empty on that question.
However, I did happen to catch on to the fact that MiddTwitt was live tweeting the game in her inimitable style. She posted at one point
Now being a sweatshirt-clad and balding Vermonter that happened to have brought a nine-year old to the game, I laughed out loud and passed my phone around to my friends, who really didn’t get it, because they don’t follow Twitter to begin with, and haven’t been following MiddTwitt and her hilarious efforts to find love in Vermont during J-term.
The very next morning I get an email that had been forwarded to the College from a firm that was looking to help us out with our social media strategy. I will confess that I have not been particularly involved in developing the College’s social media strategy. While there are those within LIS who work closely with our colleagues in Communications to think about this, I have taken at best only a passing interest. I had been thinking (mistakenly) that social media practices mostly take place on somebody else’s infrastructure, and don’t really impact our core duties. As a result, while we may need a College strategy, we don’t really need to have an IT strategy for social media. Like I said, this was not the most strategic way of thinking about this.
Upon reflection, it is clear that the entire College, including and perhaps especially LIS, needs to think through how we want to engage with social media: twitter, facebook, youtube, foursquare, wikipedia, and the list goes on. How can these platforms be used to help us achieve our mission of producing liberally educated leader/citizens ready and willing to engage the challenges and opportunities of a world that is rapidly changing? How do we use these platforms to attract and retain great faculty, students, and staff? To ensure that the curriculum remains both rooted in the tradition of the liberal arts and yet dynamic and adapting to new disciplines and new ways of approaching traditional disciplines? To engage our alumni, parents, and friends in the mission of the College?
How do we build these networks? How do we challenge our academic and administrative colleagues to engage in these sorts of questions and to continue their experiments with how this can help us more effectively communicate, collaborate, and educate ourselves and others? How do we measure the effectiveness of our various efforts so that we can learn and improve? And as importantly, how do we balance these on-screen efforts with our efforts to build community in what William Gibson calls meatspace?
As I think back on using Twitter at the basketball game, I wonder what my experience of the actual game might have been had the Twitter backchannel been more active. What happens to communal activities when many or most of the audience is both in the stadium but also on-line? The same issues, challenges, and opportunities of technology in the classroom are bleeding over into all of our other social events. There are no simple answers to these questions. But we need to keep asking them, in order to shape our practices to help make sure that we don’t create unintended effects by chasing after every new technology simply because it is new, or ignoring important new platforms because they are clearly threatening to the status quo.
(And it turns out that the coaches wearing sneakers was part of a national ‘coaches versus cancer’ event organized by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The hashtag is #coachesversuscancer . )