EMI bannersJ

Social Media as Research Tool for Knowledge Work: Brian McNely

For Brian McNely, Twitter is about more than the mundane—who ate what for breakfast. It’s about sharing and discovering peer-reviewed research and even following along as new ideas develop.

McNely, an assistant professor of English and 2009–2010 Emerging Media Fellow, studies the confluence of language and emerging media platforms, particularly writing and rhetoric for small-screen mobile devices. He’s developing the concept of ambient research, an approach to using social networks like Twitter and Facebook, along with mobile technology, to foster meaningful thinking in any discipline or profession, including his own. By exposing students to these tools and techniques, he extends the classroom for self-motivated learners.

It’s not just about sharing links or finding relevant data—it’s about tracing people’s thinking through their digital writing, discovering how their ideas take shape, and even contributing to the process. Other English professors may come to new revelations about Charles Dickens by studying his handwritten draft of A Christmas Carol and analyzing edits the author made—McNely aims to apply this approach to a world where handwritten drafts rarely exist and more sophisticated collaboration than ever is possible.

He’s also working to solve one of emerging media’s core challenges—developing techniques to create documents equally effective on a 3.5 inch mobile display as on a desktop computer or sheet of paper. Applying the approaches pioneered in Web design, particularly for mobile devices, will allow technical and professional writers to craft documents appropriate for an executive to read easily and naturally on an iPhone in the airport, while another worker prints a copy from the same file that is perfectly suited for review in the office.

McNely teaches undergraduate courses directly related to these research interests, including Introduction to Digital Literacies, a course in the University Core Curriculum; professional writing; and a senior seminar. In these classes, students take the lead in creating and maintaining collaborative public writing spaces online, gaining invaluable experience in information design and participation in applied knowledge work. For future fellow college educators, McNely leads a graduate course on teaching with technology.

Contact McNely at 765-285-8580.