Faculty News

Discussing social media, college campuses, and COVID-19

Thomas Finholt, dean of the University of Michigan School of Information, joins Nikki Sunstrum, Director of Social Media and Public Engagement at U-M, to discuss the hybrid semester at U-M, share experiences from those participating in classroom instruction and virtual learning, and explore online influence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finholt was on the coordinating committee for instructional planning over the summer, which was charged with advising on the structure of the academic calendar and how to conduct instruction while following public health guidelines. Three weeks into the semester, that work continues, and Finholt says he is hearing positive feedback—particularly regarding asynchronous styles of instruction and faculty members’ commitment to producing engaging content.

“The orchestration of the virtual and in-person simultaneous session is quite complicated,” Finholt says.

Sunstrum and Finholt also discuss the prominence of online platforms and how they have evolved throughout the pandemic, and dive into the potential risks and opportunities of the growing popularity of some social media platforms, like TikTok.

“I don’t think social media rewards representative views necessarily. I think it rewards the most attention-grabbing, or the most sensational, or the most viral,” Finholt says.

They also explore the evolving tone of online conversations, the Center for Social Media Responsibility, U-M’s social integrity initiative, and the relationship between social media and higher education institutions during the pandemic.

“There is certainly a dichotomy between working in social, studying social, and participating in social. You have to try to somehow navigate between the three and treat them all differently,” Sunstrum says.

They wrap up the conversation by reviewing data privacy, speculating who will acquire TikTok, and sharing words of wisdom for everyone navigating online social spaces.

Listen to the full interview in this episode of Michigan Minds.

Download the transcript

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