Client: Carnegie Mellon University English Department
The director of the Professional Writing program at Carnegie Mellon requested this report as part of its strategic planning and its preparations for an external review. The purpose of the report was to compare the master’s program’s digital and social media offerings with those of 29 other schools, and to investigate current digital and social media trends in the professional world.
Since digital and social media are emerging fields and rapidly evolving technologies, the primary challenge with this report was defining the areas of research. Our team of five colleagues met this challenge through exploratory research, refining our approach through regular meetings between the research team and the client.
We developed a conceptual structure for the report, enabling us to divide the research and other tasks. My contributions included research on professional uses of digital and social media, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Pew Internet and American Life Project. I also served as the team’s client advocate, tasked with the first line of communication with our client and making sure our work reflected the needs and priorities of the department.
In this report, we present our findings in our academic and professional landscaping study on digital and social media. Under the direction of Dr. Karen Schnakenberg, director of Carnegie Mellon University Master’s in Professional Writing program (MAPW), we worked to compare and contrast how digital and social media are being taught in higher education, specifically in master’s programs, with how they are being used in professional settings.
In October and November 2010, we conducted two phases of research. In our first phase, we reviewed the digital and social media offerings of 39 master’s programs in 29 schools using data gathered from program websites and e-mail inquiries. In our second phase, we investigated current digital and social media trends and tools in the professional world. We also examined job prospects and differentiating skills necessary to pursue a career involving digital or social media using data complied by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other academic and business sources.
The results of our research indicate that the amount of focus placed on digital and social media within most communications graduate programs (which include Communication, English, Journalism Departments as well as relevant technical schools) does not align with the rapidly growing uses of digital and social media in the communication field, especially in terms of social media.
Based on our research, we conclude the following:
- Digital media is studied in most (71.8 percent) of the academic programs we assessed, whereas only 25.6 percent of programs offer courses that study social media.
- Digital media courses are most frequently offered as elective courses (89.3 percent versus 42.9 percent required) and social media courses are almost always offered as electives (90 percent versus 30 percent required).
- Within programs that study digital media, 53.5 percent study web design, 60.7 percent study desktop publishing, and 64.2 percent study multimedia.
- Within programs that study social media, 50 percent focus on social media within public relations or marketing, 50 percent cover social networking in general and 30 percent are theory-based.
- Several programs have emerged as early adopters of digital and social media studies offering advanced or highly specialized degree programs and courses in digital and social media
- Social media is commonly used in communications, journalism, and online-specific careers
- Social media is far more prominent in the workplace than academic programs reflect.
- A high concentration on digital and social media in communications graduate programs will be necessary in order to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to stay competitive in the communications job market.