The Rise of Social Networking Graduate Degrees

Computer News Alerts

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an article out on how universities are incorporating the study of social networking / online communities / user-generated content into new curricula for a graduate degree in “social computing.” The programs seem to be combining classes from sociology, psychology and
communications departments with computer
science classes. Here are some quotes from the schools involved, including MIT, Cornell, University of Michigan, and Rochester Institute of Technology:

Michael Macy, a sociology professor at Cornell
University who is directing a multi-year research project,
“Getting Connected: Social Science in the Age of Networks,” which
received $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation and
$60,000 from Microsoft’s research arm:

“There’s a strong interest coming from computer scientists and from
industry, based on the recognition that, increasingly, computing is
indeed social… These digital records leave unprecedented
opportunities for social scientists to study human interaction.”

Marc Smith, a sociologist / senior researcher for
Microsoft explains why it’s important for social scientists to study the Internet:

“Things like Wikipedia or
newsgroups, Web boards, email lists, the Web itself… A lot of value is
collectively constructed by many users.” Part of his job is to identify “ecosystems” in online communities.

Susan Barnes is a communications professor at the Rochester Institute
of Technology who recently received a grant for close to $150,000 from the
National Science Foundation to develop a course in social media:

“Two
years ago when I was writing this grant, nobody was doing anything. Now
it’s all over the place.”

Barnes new course will be taken by 90 students in the spring 2008 class. Students will analyze social
media, blogs, and wikis while they themselves are studied by other
communications researchers. Group assignments will be completed in
Second Life and traditional
online forums.

Here’s a listing of social media courses offered at various colleges and universities:

• Designing Sociable Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

• eCommunities: Analysis and Design of Online Interaction Environments, University of Michigan

• Online Identity, Social and Community Behavior, Rochester Institute of Technology

• Social Networks and Social Processes, Cornell University

• After Google, What? Information Management and the Academic Enterprise in a Networked Digital Age, University of California at Berkeley

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