Joseph G. Gerard, Western New England University, recently published “Linking in With LinkedIn®: Three Exercises That Enhance Professional Social Networking and Career Building” in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Management Education. Professor Gerard kindly provided his thoughts on his article.
Who is the target audience for this article?
The target audience includes any instructor who wants to advance student professional awareness and networking ability using any professional social networking tool. The purpose of this article is ultimately to enhance student professional networking with a focus on contemporary Web-based tools.
Were there findings that were surprising to you?
Given the wide-spread assumption of GenY/Millenial student competence with Web- and technology-based applications, I was most surprised that there were so many areas where students expressed discomfort with the social networking tool. When this occurred, students simply opted out of the networking tool’s use. This suggested a need for greater instructor guidance with certain portions of the tool. I was also very surprised that students – all of them seniors – expressed such low professional self-esteem. It is very difficult to network effectively if you cannot even recognize your potential worth within the network. Providing opportunities to boost students’ professional esteem appears to be an essential precursor to the successful use of the professional social networking tool.
How do you see this study influencing future practice?
I believe users of increasingly popular and functional social networking tools will better leverage these tools for their own advancement. Given the surprising findings, however, I hope that instructors will compare social network system functionality with actual student use and determine what is driving that use (or lack thereof). The greatest influence to future social networking tool use should be to examine motivators of their use or disuse and to design future instruction to offset challenges and better leverage network enhancements.
How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?
I try to examine how my more experimental lessons do or do not meet my own expectations and lesson objectives. So I will continue to examine such lessons to measure their effectiveness. Given the importance of social networking to both new and established professionals, I expect to examine networking issues with increasing detail in the future. In particular, low student professional esteem and failure to use the social networking tool’s functions concerns me. The tool itself loses its power if students cannot identify their own professional worth and, therefore, successfully integrate that worth with network tool use.
How did your paper change during the review process?
My initial paper was meant to introduce three networking exercises and nothing more. I expected that the data behind the exercises would not be of interest to most readers. However, I did make some vague references to data to support some of my statements and conclusions – especially in support of effective network function. A reviewer recommended that I do two things: First, that I make the paper more data driven and second, that I examine what worked AND what did not. So I added almost all of the data I had collected. (I was concerned, in the initial draft and second drafts, that this would “clog up” the paper.) Then I examined the paper for details as to what did and did not work. Initially my focus was narrow and I only examined what did work. In retrospect, looking at the social networking tool’s dysfunctional elements seems so obvious. Most of my more interesting findings involve what did not work, so reviewer comments really improved this paper by extending that focus.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?
If I could go back and change the study from the beginning, I would include professional esteem variables as well as some measures of conceptions of “professional self” or how students view themselves from a professional perspective. What I did measure suggests a severe lack of professional self-esteem and an underdeveloped professional image. This suggests that while management educators focus on general business knowledge and functional area knowledge, we fail to deliver essential development that is tailored to each specific individual in the development of their professional personas. Since all business knowledge and its use must filter through this professional self, its development is important and, I believe, underemphasized by traditionally content-driven courses. Current experiential and application exercises that include a reflection dimension help offset that traditional focus