Getting to know Mihaela Vorvoreanu
Written by TechPurdue // August 16, 2011 // Admitted Students, Alumni & Friends, Computer Graphics Technology, Current Students, Faculty, Faculty & Staff, Prospective Students, TechBytes, Technology Leadership and Innovation // 1 Comment
Mihaela Vorvoreanu is an assistant professor in the departments of Computer Graphics Technology and Technology Leadership and Innovation. She studies the socio-cultural impact of new communication technologies. Prior to her appointment in 2009, she was an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Clemson University and the Department of Communication at the University of Dayton, Ohio. She holds a Ph.D. in communication from Purdue. She has published research articles in the Journal of New Communications Research, Public Relations Review and the Journal of Website Promotion and a book about online public relations: Web Site Public Relations: How Corporations Build and Maintain Relationships Online.
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My classes: I teach human factors in interface design courses for graduates and undergraduates. I teach a graduate-level qualitative research methods course that I developed for the College of Technology; in fact, it was one of my first assignments. Then there’s my baby, a graduate research seminar in social media. It is probably one of a few courses of its kind in the nation or world. In this class, we look at research on phenomena I think have been fundamentally affected by social media, such as online identity, social capital, collaboration, and, of course, privacy and the dark side, such as trolls and cyber-bullying. We then work on producing original research projects about social media that align with each student’s interests.
On class participation: Students do a lot of social media immersion. I call it social media dunking. They get graded on Twitter. There is no better way to learn about a culture than by being immersed in it, and the same applies to social media cultures. It is hard for students to put themselves out there publicly. They do it all the time personally, but they don’t necessarily know how to use social media professionally. Blogging is an important tool in class. Students are required to blog, read professional blogs, and comment on them. I also use my teaching blog to supplement class instruction and to offer students the information they need when they need it. – it’s like writing my own textbook on the go.
On research: What I do is human–centered computing: what people do with technology and what technology does to people. My emphasis is on understanding the people who use technology, how they use it and how that use affects them at the individual, organizational, and even a cultural and societal level.
My two research emphases are social media and interface usability. Some current social media research projects are related to online identity management – how people manage their identity online across social networks and across social contexts. I just got funded on a project with Verisign through CERIAS (The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security at Purdue). I am also looking at the use of social media in the higher education classroom to assess what tools work and how. Another project looks at online protests, the anatomy of self-organization and online activism. What is the tipping point when a Facebook protest against an organization turns from a fun thing into a full-blown crisis? In the usability area, I have been working a lot with nanoHub. They have partnered with my CGT 51200 class (Human Factors In Computer Interface Design), and we’ve been doing a lot of traditional usability research for them to improve the site’s organization and to better understand users and their needs.
On staying relevant: I stay relevant by researching not only what’s new but also what’s important to people. Many things have relevance because a large number of people use them. Social media is changing the way we communicate, changing power relationships in society – but this power comes from the numbers of people using it. There are a lot of new tools out there, but novelty alone is not a sufficient argument for relevance. For example, I use Google+. I have to try out the new stuff; I see it as part of my job. I don’t know if it’s going to be successful or not. But I do need to experiment and explore, and honestly, it’s fun.
On one simple but important lesson: Regarding online identity management, I see so many students who don’t get jobs because of silly mistakes in social media. I’ll talk to anyone who wants to listen about how to manage their identity online. I have two points I want everyone to know: 1) don’t be stupid and; 2) be smart. One is about defensive identity management strategies and the other is about being proactive to create a professional online identity. Oh, and the first rule of Twitter: “Don’t tweet before coffee and after beer.”
Outside of class: I do enjoy yoga. And I’m fascinated by the brain and neuroscience, so I try to read as much as I can in that area. I think I’m a crazy cat lady in training. Lolcats have become expected educational materials in my classes, and, being such a big part of Internet culture, they got on the syllabus of the social media seminar!