I voted today in the officer elections for the Association for Institutional Research. AIR is the main professional organization in North America for the people who do reporting, business intelligence, and assessment for higher education—my professional colleagues. Like most such organizations it relies on its members to serve as officers, board members, and committee members to function. The slate of candidates seems quite capable. I don't know any of them personally, though I've connected with one virtually (more on that below). Certainly, I am grateful that they've volunteered their time to make a great organization work.
I have been a member of AIR for about a year, so I hardly know the players in institutional research. But as someone who is active in the AIR LinkedIn group and who follows a fair number of institutional researchers on Twitter, I expected to recognize at least some of the candidates. With the exception of Ellen Peters, who is also involved in the LinkedIn group, social media users are absent. So far as I can tell, none use Twitter. Not one of the candidate's statements mentioned AIR's social media use. And that's a problem.
Social media should play an important role in AIR's goal of professionalizing institutional research. Two of the best uses of social media is the development of personal learning networks and crowdsourcing information and solutions to problems. The network structure of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn makes finding other professionals in one's field who share information and practices exceptionally easy and effective. It has certainly made me a better institutional researcher, and has also allowed me to contribute to the institutional research community as well. Social media builds the kind of
professional community that supports the professionalism to which AIR
AIR rejected a proposed roundtable on social media that I, CIRPA
LinkedIn group founder Mike Krywy, and Twitter virtuoso Brian Bailey (who must admit to having a bit of a problem with Twitter proliferation!)
proposed for this years AIR Forum. It was, I am sure, a reasonable
choice under constraints of time and space, as is always the challenge
in planning a conference program. But few AIR members seem aware of
social media's use; many still think of Twitter as messages about what
people had for lunch. AIR needs people who understand social media, who
can encourage the growth of it and the development of a broad
professional community online, to reach its professional aspirations. This was one opportunity to do so, and the association needs to pursue more of them. Much of that can be done from below—that's one of the great virtues of social media—but a push from the leadership would help greatly as well.
How will AIR build that when social media users are absent from its leadership? Heather Kelly, a board candidate, noted the importance of "facilitating
an open forum to discuss current IR and postsecondary education issues." It seems to me that the LinkedIn group is just that, and I encourage her to build on it to develop closer organizational connections to and involvement in that forum, but I worry that her statement means that she's not aware of the group and its potential.
So I would love to see the candidates (and especially the winning ones) embrace social media. Start discussions and answer question on LinkedIn. Create a Twitter account, follow one of Brian Bailey's feeds, and follow interesting people that he follows or that follow him. Then tell the rest of the institutional research community what you're doing, both in AIR and at your institutions. You are, after all, not just leaders in the organization but also in the profession; we rank-and-file types would like to know what the best of us are doing and thinking.
The result will be both a better association and a better profession.