Today's Thoughts on a Degree in Social Computing

So, I've been thinking about the role of a university program in social computing. I'll never forget speaking with my undergraduate advisor at Columbia. I told him that I wanted to major in business. He told me that I came to the wrong university. "The Ivy League doesn't teach people how to do specific things," he explained. "It teaches people how to think."

I'm not very familiar with the University of Michigan program. But, if it's worth consideration it probably does not teach people how to use the social networks of Web 2.0. Instead it engages insightful people in deep thought about the nature of this web. Hopefully, students have the opportunity to ask meaningful questions and investigate the answers.

I've been an active member of the online social community for a year but there are some questions that I have not really thought about. I'll try and list a few:

1. What is the role of a specific social site such as classroom2.0 on Ning?

2. How do bloggers act differently when they write on a blog within a social community than when they write on a blog in the larger cyber world?

3. What are the substantive (note I write substantive not technological) differences between blogs, podcasts and vodcasts?

4. In what ways does participation on social networks influence the way that people behave in the physical world?

5. What does the nature of collaboration on the Internet look like? For example, what would a diagram of an idea being collaboratively developed on the Internet look like? What could we learn from this diagram?

Certainly many of us will think about these questions and contemplate answers. But, how many of us will rigorously pursue research investigations to test our theories and refine them? Without these investigations our answers remain unreliable.

A graduate degree in social computing might be comparable to a graduate degree in education. Graduate education students don't learn how to teach. Hopefully they know how to teach before they enter the program. Instead, graduate students in education learn how to ask profound questions and develop answers to these questions. If a graduate degree in social computing is meaningless, I've got to wonder if my graduate work was meaningless?

Rather than wondering this, I'm recognizing that both graduate fields are worthy of study.

What do you think?

Views: 29

Comment by Sylvia Martinez on April 7, 2007 at 4:13pm
hello, I think that Will didn't think his post through thouroughly. it seems to me that there is a lot more to learn about social computing (and actually about pretty much anything) than what you would come to know by just being a user.

The math behind this stuff, why and how you would design such a system, and the psychology of use are all valid areas to study. I'm sure somebody could come up with some interesting thoughts by themselves, without the trappings of a university, but it's unlikely.

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