Social-Justice Researchers Meet Social Media in New Effort at CUNY

Profile picture of Jessie DanielsThe City University of New York’s Graduate Center has announced a project to expand the social-media reach of academics working on social-justice issues.

The project, called JustPublics@365 and supported by a $550,000 grant awarded this month by the Ford Foundation, seeks to “move conversations that happen within the ivory tower of academia into the wider world where they have broader impact,” said Jessie Daniels, a professor of public health and sociology and co-principal investigator for the grant.

The project will train professors and graduate students to use social media to make their social-justice research more visible to a wider audience and to measure its impact.

JustPublics@365 will hold a number of events, beginning in March, to connect researchers, social-justice activists, and journalists, including conferences on such topics as racial justice and the intersection of health and housing. “MediaCamp” workshops, co-sponsored in January with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, will teach skills like using Twitter, setting up a blog, and writing op-eds. The project will also play host to a free massive open online course, or MOOC, focused on East Harlem.

Rather than distributing knowledge solely through traditional avenues like peer-reviewed articles and monographs, academics need to pursue new ways of reaching a larger audience, Ms. Daniels said. Podcasts, short videos, and infographics can make scholarly information more accessible, she added, but researchers are often unsure about how social media could have an effect.

“A question that often comes up among academics is, ‘How do I count those for tenure and promotion?,’” she said. “Are there ways to count the number of Twitter followers or visits to blog posts as scholarly influence?”

The answer may lie in “alt metrics,” or alternative ways to measure scholarly impact that JustPublics@365 will examine. For example, peer-reviewed articles mentioned on Twitter tend to be cited more often in academic research, Ms. Daniels said. Other “alt metrics” can include the impact of research on the public good, like an article that prompts a change in policy.

[Image: Jessie Daniels, a professor of public health and sociology, is co-principal investigator for the grant. Courtesy of CUNY Academic Commons.]

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