RealTime IT News

A Masters in Facebook?

It had to happen sooner or later.

A British university has developed a masters program in social media, offering a one-year degree program beginning in September that aims to instruct students in "interacting and disseminating ideas through websites, blogs, Twitter and other social media as well as at networking events."

The program at Birmingham City University promises to prepare students for careers in fields like PR or marketing, or to strike out on their own as social media consultants, "and understand what that means," the program's site adds parenthetically.

In a video outlining the program, course director Jon Hickman said he is crafting the social media MA as a vehicle for "academic and rigorous" study the phenomenon of blogs and social networks, as well as training area for the very practical uses of Web 2.0 tools in the business world.

"It's not going to be an MA for geeks," he said. "You don't really need to be a techie to be a social media person -- a bit of technical expertise goes a long way."

The academic world has a mixed track record with the new-media landscape. Many scholars have trained their eye on social networks, producing articles exploring things like the cultural significance of how people elect to represent themselves online.

But it can cut both ways. Last year, a freshman at Toronto's Ryerson University faced was threatened with expulsion for 146 counts of cheating -- one for each member of a study group he had set up for his chemistry class on Facebook. (The student, Chris Avenir, avoided expulsion but received a failing grade for the homework portion of the class.) That case touched off a fevered debate over the proper use of social networks in academia, a question that is still far from settled.

In 2007, the University of Michigan launched a graduate-degree specialization in social computing, which the school said was the first program of its kind in the United States.

That program, offered under the university's School of Information, looks to have a more technical bent than the program Hickman is launching in Birmingham, but both get at the emerging reality in the business world that the social Web can no longer be ignored.

Corporate blogs, Facebook pages and, most recently, Twitter streams, have become a marketing reality for companies doing business today.

Social media strategies are a favorite topic at advertising conferences, where marketing gurus give audiences advice on how to interact with young, tech-savvy consumers online without coming across as phony or, worse, corporate.

Hickman said the MA program will try to demystify the social media phenomenon and graduate a new crop of students who will be able to apply their training to the corporate world, where they can step into a career advising business leaders on best practices for blogging, or how to communicate with the world using Twitter.

"A part of the philosophy that I want to bring to an MA in social media," Hickman said, "is this idea that these are just tools, all these Web 2 things."

The masters degree requires students to either produce a social media project or complete a dissertation of 150,000 words.

"It's not going to be another Mickey Mouse course," Hickman said.