Category: Social Media and Our Society

The internet is the most wonderful thing that has happened for college students in many decades as it allows us to have an infinite amount of information at our fingertips. Gone are the days of debate about who won the 1998 World Series (New York Yankees) or who won the Best Actress in 2005 (Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby). Anything we want to know is only a moment away. Seems great right?

The unfortunate side of the information age is the quality of information our students use in their research. High school and college students today are so used to using Google and Wikipedia in their personal lives that they transfer that into their studies. And while technology literacy is a wonderful attribute for them, understanding the pros and cons of the internet when writing and researching is essential to success.

In this blog piece, I’ve decided to take a look at the positive and negative aspects of the internet when it comes to certain aspects of the writing process. Hopefully, this will make students aware of some of these pitfalls before doing their next paper.

The Information Age has changed how students do research.

The Information Age has changed how students do research.

#1 – Prewriting

This is a crucial step that frequently people forget to do at all or spend adequate time with. Many feel that it is an extra step or extra work that they can skip and still provide a quality product. What I often explain to students is that without the framework of a paper, your organization is lacking. An example I give in class is: Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. What is most likely to happen?

Cons – Students often attempt to sit down with a blank Microsoft Word document when it comes time to write their paper. Prewriting guides the entire work, especially giving you direction when it comes time to research.   You can ask questions that you want to answer that can at least give you an idea of what you want to say by allowing you to formulate a central idea of your paper. Without prewriting, your “house” may not stand on its own.

Pros – A frequent statement that I hear when research papers are assigned is: “I have no idea what to write about”.   This is where technology comes into play. In the information age, bloggers have become the modern day public opinion meter.   Blogs are out there about any topic, therefore reading a blog piece or two may help inspire you about what topic to write about or what opinion to have. Much of writing comes from feelings and ideologies that the writer has and sometimes reading an opinion piece can help writers form their own opinion about certain topics.

#2 – Research

To me, research is the aspect of writing that has changed the most in the information age. Prior to the internet, researchers had to find books, magazine articles, or even microfilm to find information that they needed. Today, we have an infinite number of resources at our fingertips, including Google and Wikipedia. Understanding how to evaluate these resources is extremely important to success in writing.

Cons – Wikipedia – While Wikipedia is a wonderful asset to us as a society, many still do not understand the numerous problems that Wikipedia presents. The main issue is the fact that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. If I wanted to go change an entry right now I certainly have the opportunity to do so. That said, academically Wikipedia is just too general to be useful in a college setting. It’s the same reason that researchers wouldn’t use an encyclopedia in research; it is just too broad for the type of information that we seek as researchers at a college level.

Cons – Blogs – For the individual college student, blogging is a necessity. Blogging though is another major facet of research that has watered down the quality of information that we are presented with on a daily basis. Think of it this way: Writers have to painstakingly get edited before their work is published and journalists have an editor that can dice up their stories to fit spacing guidelines or other factors in the news media. Bloggers, however, have little or no oversight and some bloggers do not take the time to fact check. Also, blogs are often meant to be persuasive in nature. Books, news stories, etc. are typically meant to be informative in nature, to present the facts to you and allow you to make your own opinions.   Blogs are typically trying to attempt to make you change your opinion on a matter, which detracts from the validity and usefulness in an academic setting.

Pros – Wikipedia – Wikipedia does offer many positive things to a researcher though. First, if you are new to a topic and have limited knowledge on a subject, Wikipedia may be a good starting point for general information, as it may point you in the right direction for future research. Also, Wikipedia has extensive references and further reading sections that can direct you to other sources that provide a wealth of quality information. So, while Wikipedia shouldn’t be cited as a source, it is a great place to start your research.

#3 – Revision and Proofreading

One of the aspects in writing that is often neglected is the step of revising and editing a paper. Technology has made us “lazy” in the sense that once we run a spelling and grammar check, we feel that this step has been completed and often may not even read back over our work

Cons – Spelling and grammar check – Microsoft Word and other word processing programs have come a long way in providing us a great deal of tools that can assist us in the revision and editing process. As I mentioned, however, many students think that this tool is a substitute for taking a little extra time to reread their work. In fact, the most common error I see as a professor is students either not using it at all or only using it and not reading through their paper prior to turning it in. And to a professor, this is quite obvious.

Pros – SmartThinking – At Central Penn College, we have series of tools that students may use to help improve their revision and editing skills. The first and most useful is SmartThinking, a tool on Blackboard that provides online tutors to help assist you in your writing. I encourage students to learn more about this wonderful tool by check out their website ( and accessing the tool through Blackboard on the “Tools” tab.

Pros – Emailing your professor, classmates and others

Technology has made getting feedback on your work much easier than in the past. First, you should always reach out to your professor at their office hours or via email. I’m always happy to look over a paper and provide feedback to students should they email me their paper in advance of the due date. You could also email classmates and get their feedback, realizing that you may also be helping them in their studies by seeing how someone else approached the assignment.

As we are clearly in the information age, instructors have realized that this is both a blessing and a curse for students. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of technology could be the difference between success and disappointment when it comes to the writing and researching processes that all college students face. Using some of the tools I’ve suggested here could make the navigation of this information age less of a challenge and more of an adventure!

By:  Paul M. Miller

Professor, Central Penn College


Facebook is rolling out its new Newsfeed on the web today and on mobile in the coming weeks.  What new features can we expect?  How does this change things?

The main point Facebook tried to hammer across in todays’ Press Conference is how they are making the social networking site a “personalized newspaper” that is evolving with our needs.  When Facebook started Newsfeed, the interface was not as visual as it is now.  Most people have “little cameras in their pocket” that allow us to take and share photos of the things around us.  They promise that the interface will be more visual and engaging, with a larger area for Newsfeed, larger photos, expanded articles and so on.

Another unique feature they will be adding is a choice of feeds.  Users will have a friends feed, a photos feed, a music feed, and a business feed all in chronological order.  The feeds will be organized based on the frequency you use them as well.  They are also rolling out a major photo album facelift, allowing friends to see more of what we do and take photos of.  Articles will have an expanded section, with larger photos, more detailed descriptions and a more prominent title area.  This will be even more pronounced if you have multiple friends that share the same story.

Check-in’s to Facebook will be more visual and include a larger description of where you are and a map detailing the geography in the region.  They also promise to make 3rd party apps (Pinterest and Instagram were their examples) receive more coverage in your Newsfeed.  They want to wrap-up each day’s news for you from people and places that you like and follow and promise to give us ample coverage of important events, based on how many of your friends share similar stories.

One thing that was not covered whatsoever in the press conference was what all this means for Businesses that do a majority of social media marketing on Facebook.  While all of this honestly sounds fun and interesting on a personal level, it is my responsibility to understand repercussions for the businesses I represent.  Many of these small businesses do not have the time or will to understand the nuances of Facebook, which is why they turn to me for advice and guidance.  It will take time for myself and other social media professionals to digest these changes and develop (or edit) new or existing strategies to make sure our messages are seen by the most people.

At the end of all of this, engagement will still be key.  I do not believe people will see what you post as much if they don’t engage with what you are saying.  Generating new, fun and unique content will allow more users to see your posts and help them develop into brand advocates.  It remains to be seen how these new features will change the Facebook for Business landscape, but on a personal level, this update seems to have appeal to the masses.

For more information about the updated News Feed:


Paul M. Miller

Twitter: @SolutionsforAdv


For the East coast, we often only see the pictures and video of a natural disaster.  Whether it be Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti or the most recent oil spill in the gulf, residents of the eastern seaboard usually just have to deal with the occasional blizzard.  Hurricane Sandy gave us first-hand experience of what it is like to be involved in a natural disaster.  While Harrisburg didn’t receive the amount of damage as did places like Washington, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, the Harrisburg area still had to endure loss of power and more over the safety of loved ones.

While I know some people out there still are against Facebook and Twitter, I don’t know how I would have gotten through Hurricane Sandy without them.  Those people who lost power were still able to communicate with friends and family, but also were able to communicate with other people in the community.  A dear friend of mine has family that live in each of the five boroughs in New York City and was very afraid for the safety of his dearest relatives.  Facebook allowed them to reach each other in ways that may not have been available in years’ past.  He was able to know that even though they lost power, they were safe.  Facebook also allowed news media to chance to communicate with their constituents in a new way that should and will be embraced in our new digital age.

Twitter also allowed followers to know and understand what was going on in our surrounding areas.  For me, #SandyCenPa was a forum that people could discuss road closures and power outages and news outlets were able to disseminate information about speed limit changes and regional flood warnings that otherwise would have been impossible for those to access without power.  There were a series of other forums on Twitter:  #SandyNYC, #SandyPhilly and #SandyDC that allowed people regionally without power to get an understanding of what was happening around them and to know what areas were unsafe.

While listening to New York City’s own Ron and Fez Show on SiriusXM today, Ron Bennington made a great comment:  “The one good thing about this (hurricane) that we can take away is our ability to band together and help one another.”  I think social media in Hurricane Sandy helped everyone keep things in perspective and understand social media’s true power.

Paul M. Miller

Twitter: @SolutionsforAdv