The last week and a half have been an exciting time for us; we presented ourselves publically as a group at McGill’s Education Graduate Students’ Society (EGSS) annual conference, as well as hosting and developing a workshop that explored exciting new research methodologies, particularly those applicable to sociolinguistics (see tweet below).
After what feels like many months of lots of talking but less doing, these are some important baby steps for us to be taking out into the real world where we are really interacting with other academics, students, researchers, interested parties, as well as coerced partners and friends of the aforementioned categories.
Nevertheless, much of our in-person discussion at EGSS was of the other things that we do; namely, the things that we do in the privacy and comfort of our own homes. Principally, we use Google Docs, Facebook, as well as this blog and more recently, Twitter, in order to keep in contact, collaborate, share and hopefully continue our in-person discussions in online spaces.
We’ve previously touched upon the idea of what it means to be academic, or scholarly, and what it means to extend our university lives into an online sphere. Through discussions at EGSS we discussed several questions, but I will dwell on two here:
- Can online tools and social media be successfully used as a valid extension of academic life?
- How do we expand the conversation?
The short answers are as follows:
If you’d like the longer answers, please continue reading.
All of the abovementioned Internet tools have a myriad of uses. For example, I use Google Docs for collaborative shopping lists and Facebook to have inane conversations with friends overseas. That being said, the key to making these tools work in an academic environment is rethinking and exploiting their functions.
In this way, Google Docs is now the platform where we might be writing a future collaborative journal article or even book; each of us contributing in our own special colour to help us track the development. Similarly, our Facebook group is peppered with links, PDFs to read, as well as arrangements to meet for discussions or just lunch. Thanks to these developments, we are no longer lone wolves, tapping away at our laptops, ensconced in pyjamas and hunched at our desks. Instead, we construct a virtual reality (perhaps still in our pyjamas) where there is someone else at the end of our laptop-tapping; we are reclaiming our academic experience as a shared one. While the availability of shared offices and collaborative spaces on university campuses dwindles, we are turning to mediums that will never disappear. And most importantly this means avoiding academic loneliness, but also it certainly improves our productivity and the quality of our work: several brains are better than one!
In terms of expanding the conversation, Twitter was the overwhelming favourite from audience members at our EGSS roundtable discussion, so this is the latest addition to our online portfolio. It’s amazing the links that we have already created, and the conversations we have already joined. More importantly, Twitter has immediacy. It has become the instant gratification version of this blog, which in turn was the instant gratification version of a journal article. This kind of rapid-fire publication might be frowned upon, but as a young scholar I find it refreshing. Too long have I been bound by the constraints of research proposals and literature reviews. Indeed, these pursuits are very much tied up into our academic selves. The freedom of Twitter, then, is perhaps helping us to expand our scholarly lives (a distinction that Mela touched upon here). The very nature of language, language use, and sociolinguistic inquiry means that the topics we are most interested in are in a constant state of change. I want rapid fire, I want instant gratification, I want to be able to spread ideas as they come and bounce them off other individuals around the world, all connected to me via the one thing I could no longer ever live without: the Internet. This style of communication comes with its own inherent downsides, but I still see it as a valuable addition to our arsenal of learning, writing, and disseminating tools.
But maybe that’s because I got my first e-mail address when I was 7 years old; I’m not good at waiting!
So tell me, am I just part of the brave new world of youth, wanting to condense complex ideas into 140 characters or less? Or are these tools indeed viable ways to build vast networks of scholars and academics?