Learned societies are becoming increasingly adept at raising their visibility and helping their members engage with a wider audience. I was particularly taken with the “Psychologist in the pub” talks being promoted by the British Psychological Society, but there are many other ways of bringing expertise out of the academy. And of course, these include the use of social media. Having blogged some time ago about how university departments of education use Twitter, I thought it might be interesting to see how our learned societies are getting on in the wonderful world of Tweeting.
The answer, it seems, is that they are finding it a bit of a struggle. The Table shows the crude numbers for the main British learned societies in educational studies. For comparison, I have included the European Educational Research Association. But none of these compares with the British Sociological Association (over 7,500 followers), which represents a discipline with far fewer academic members than ours – and also lacks a ‘natural audience’ of non-academics comparable to those who have passed through our hands. The Table also shows that some learned societies do better than others. I am currently managing the social media sites for the History of Education Society, a relatively small body that nevertheless has a strong social media profile – thanks entirely to my predecessor. On the other hand, some of the societies – particularly those involved in post-compulsory education – have a pretty tiny following. And some, such as the British Association for International and Comparative Education, seem to have no social media presence at all. Overall, I think the message is that the UK’s educational learned societies have a lot to – well, to learn – when it comes to social media. For reasons of size, we will never catch up with the American Educational Research Association (currently over 13,000 followers). But we could be a bit more imaginating in embracing new social media as a way of conducting conversations in public. After all, it isn’t as though our discipline is lacking in public interest, is it?