Mark A. Elrod, Harding University, Convener: “Social Networking and Christian Education”
- Jeff Baker, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law School: Panelist
- Edward Carson, Houston Christian: Panelist
- Stephanie Eddleman, Harding University: Panelist
- Michael Lasley, Pepperdine University: Panelist
- Jim Miller, Harding University: Panelist
The Christian Scholars’ Conference yesterday at Lipscomb University was great; it is not officially over until Saturday. The panel I served on gave a presentation on social networking in the academy. Dr. Mark Elrod, professor of political science at Harding University, chaired our panel. The chemistry of the panel worked well. I sensed no egos among the group. Furthermore, each member’s humbleness and desire to hear the rest of the panel was clearly noted. I believe the chemistry of the group derived from a common purpose: A.) Mark Elrod, every one’s favorite professor while a student in the history/ political science department at Harding, chaired the panel B.) We all know each other in some way: Jeff Baker of Faulkner University, Michael Lasley of Pepperdine University, and Jim Miller of Harding University – all graduated with me in the late nineties C.) There is a Church of Christ relationship due to the religious nature of our backgrounds and our interest in Christian education. In the end, we all have academic jobs at schools we enjoy teaching at.
Professor Elrod opened the session by addressing the purpose of social networking and academic work in the academy; he outlined his talk by stating three points:
- If you are going to blog, find an arena that works. He went on to state that in the technology world of today, there are two populations. The first being technology immigrants (people such as me who did not use the Internet until college), and technology natives (the students I teach).
- If one seeks to blog, should it be public or private? I have elected to make my blog public, realizing that at times I post topics that might be unpopular – though that is never my intent. This point here lends itself to the title of my paper: The Harkness of the Faculty.
- Should one be open or anonymous?
Professor Jeff Baker discussed the impact of social networking on the position of authority. His premise dealt with the democratization social networking brings to the academy. Hence, how and to what extent might such a medium like Facebook redefine the relationship between teacher and student? Because Jeff teaches at a law school, he mentioned as well as the other panelist, that social networking has become a teaching tool. He finds himself teaching 24/7 due to the legal clinic he directs. Others stated very few students come by for face-to-face time during their campus hours of availability.
Above: I am pontificating about the nature of academic work within the confines of teaching at a Christian school. I spoke a great deal about blogging and why I blog, as noted here. I am expanding this topic for the NAIS conference to address the significance of faculty autonomy and voice within an independent school community. I might touch on topics such as faculty retirement and its meaning to school culture, as discussed here. I will co-author a paper and deliver a presentation on this matter at NAIS with Donald Morrison, an upper school administrator at Tampa Prep.
I started my paper off by addressing three basic questions when it comes to academic blogging:
- What are the challenges non-tenured academics and those who exist on a year-to-year contract face when deciding to blog?
- What are the main concerns facing academics who decide to expose their identity?
- What impact might blogs have on one seeking tenure or to obtain a position at a Christian institution?
In my introduction, I stated:
Addressing matters of faculty, academic voice, tenure, and promotion has long been an interest of my blog; I do believe that good schools — be it a university, boarding, or day school can be measured in status by the intellectual freedom and voice permitted on its campus. Honestly, this is what separates schools from one tier to the next. Often time schools want to break into the top-tier of schools not realizing that it is the collection of faculty members that makes a school … as well as a healthy endowment and good students. Furthermore, the promotion of ideas and diversity of thought promotes a democratic campus in which decisions are made by committee and the faculty. This concept has long shared a role with social networking and independent thought.
In Preparation for this paper, I sent out a survey assessing the extent to which faculty members at independent schools participate in academic networking and academic life. On my campus I found that 55% of teachers rarely read journals in their field, while 35% do so but frequently. 10% never read journals. Many teachers at HCHS prefer books to that of journals. In truth, I read three different journals in my field, but I do so as a means of reading book reviews. As much as I read, I do not read as much as my students think I read. They ask me how I know so much about so many recent works. I honestly tell them that I read book reviews. Faculty members collectively stated that they do attend conferences and seek them as an important means of communicating with others in their field. Moreover, the content and information gained from attending conferences contributes not only to their own intellectual growth, but it serves as an important means toward how they approach their teaching. 40% of my colleagues stated that they attend conferences annually and with great interest. While, only 15% stated they do not due to time constraints and financial matters.
The most interesting part of the survey I conducted for this paper dealt with electronic networking. While a number of faculty members still maintain most of their academic contacts through email, students have shifted away from this medium as a means of communication. Students prefer Facebook or texting to that of email. 90% of my colleagues stated that they prefer email to Twitter and Facebook. Though, most did state that they are not familiar with Twitter. 85 % of all faculty members I surveyed nationally were either very familiar or familiar with Facebook. 70% of all faculty members including those on my campus stated that they use Facebook, but not for academic networking. Thus, discussing the nature of politics of Aristotelian theology is not a Facebook topic. On the other hand, administrators and campus leaders view Facebook as a means of maintaining contact with alums and perspective students.
In professor Stephanie Eddleman’s paper, she noted that academic blogging is a means of sharing both her faith and teaching interest with students. Her blog is an extension of her classroom, as noted by all members of the panel. Blogs can be used to enhance one’s research, teaching, and ability to communicate with students and colleagues in a non-traditional venue, as noted by professor Lasley — who likes to use blogs as teaching a tool when it comes to writing. But this too brings about challenges when discussing academic life and academic work. Professor Jim Miller of Harding University, pointed out that a recent study found that students and many adults experience withdraw to the likes of being an alcoholic, when asked to give up emails, Twitter, blogging, and texting for a day. Jeff Baker commented that he and his wife have even adopted “social network” talk as part of their vocabulary. Case in point: professor Baker stated that they “check-in” before retiring for the night. Hence, to update their status and see what others are doing.