Saturday, January 12, 2013

Looking for a Digital Media certificate program

Hey there,

So a couple of nights ago, I had dinner with the 'rents. I'm definitely grateful that I still live in the same city as them, and don't take the opportunity to see them as much as I want to and probably should. And yes, doing so is one of my New Year's resolutions.

And, don't get me wrong, I love them, but once we bring up work and careers, particularly my own, the inevitable happens: my dad informs me that I should be making more money. And I love my current place of employment and it pays adequately, but I also realize that with an M.A. in Arts Management from American University, I'm also at the lower end of the pay range for that degree.

I credit my dad's advice with maybe not knowing what the current job market is like as well as the fact that working for a non-profit does not mean we work for change. I mean, I was fortunate to get a job right out of grad school, with the position offered to me before the interview was over. And the organization regularly communicates how much my effort is appreciated and valued.

But I digress. Part of what my dad did put out there which struck a chord, was taking a look at technical certificate programs. He went on to talk about how good I am with computers, and how I could earn extra and maybe even more money doing additional contract work. I wanted to remind him, that's kind of been my plan with social media and that I've already started doing that, both paid and pro bono.

So, even though it wasn't what he had in mind, I'm sure, I decided to google "social media certification". This was where my search started.

And the first result to pop up for me was an article at Social Media Today from 2011, The "Social Media Certificate" - Smart Move or Scam? by Tom Pick. From the get-go, he has no qualms about letting know exactly what his answer to his question is:
A growing number of community colleges, vocational schools, online universities, technical colleges and even big-name universities are now offering social media certificate programs (Google this if you like, I don’t want to legitimize any of them with a link). It’s understandable why the purveyors offer them—unemployment is high, social media is a hot topic, the federal government is still willing to spend our great-great-grandchildren’s future taxes on questionable education grants today—but are such programs really a good idea for students? When companies hire, does having a social media certificate really differentiate a job candidate?
In the piece, viewing social media as a tool, he compares having a social media certificate to having an Excel certificate, and...well I'm sure you get the idea.

Regardless, this didn't discourage my search, but actually energized it. As he seemed to draw comments from mostly like-minded folk, one person wrote:
"Well I think the idea of social media certification itself is absurd. Its funny how people think that they need to be certified in everything in order to prove their skills. It really is like being a certified artist or musician. I don’t need to be certified to prove I know how to rock."
I'm guessing this person missed the memo that the Arts are legitimate majors, and require skills and techniques that can be learned and refined, regardless of innate talent. And then the light bulb came on. Different people have different views of the value of education. For these people, the paper (certificate, diploma, whatever) isn't worth the time or money. They'll figure it out on their own, which is fine and valid, don't get me wrong. I suppose it's a matter of personal preference and learning styles.

But for me, the value isn't in what you get at the end, it's the process. It's the curriculum. It's the opportunity to discuss relevant subjects in a safe setting without real consequences (other than your grade), and to receive information and context from peers and professionals that have probably put much more thought and energy into the value and structure of a social media program than the author of the piece above.

So, you've probably guessed, I'm one of those people that appreciates learning in the Ivory Tower. I wouldn't be where I am now, as soon as I am, if I didn't have the knowledge and generate the appropriate critical thinking skills and vocabulary for the nonprofit arts sector, that I do from AU's program. Sure, I would've learned it all in time, and I suppose in the end it will always cost time or money.

Back to the certificate search. I must add, one other reason this is appealing to me is because with a couple of recent job applications, I personally know that having a certificate like this on my resume, could only help position me above other candidates that don't. All things being equal, that's generally the way it works. Unless a company or organization doesn't see value in that, so I suppose it ultimately depends on its culture.

I go further with the results, and see that HootSuite has an online University which provides its own certification upon completion. Now I'm not sure how long HootSuite U has been available, but I can see some of where the sentiment might come from, in terms of looking at social media certification warily. But I also see the value in Hootsuite U, and might enroll myself. I appreciate knowledge, and I don't think the majority of people who set up programs like this are doing it just to make a quick buck.

But then I come across AU's Digital Media Skills Online Certification. Not only is this a program at my alma mater, but it's online!! I took note of that, but also revised my search to "digital media certification". This provided another local program in the first page of results, Georgetown University's Certificate in Digital Media Management.

I look to see if there are any other local universities offering digital media certificate programs, but those seem like the only ones, and they're both appealing choices for different reasons. AU's is online, only requires 5 courses, and seems geared towards skills. Georgetown's is in person, requires 7 courses, and seems focused on strategy and implementation.

If could do both I would, but for now time to go back to the 'rents and talk them through this and see what they think. And that's mostly just so I can have an excuse to go back and have dinner with them.

What do you think about digital and/or social media certificate or degree programs? Do you agree with Tom in his piece? Does it depend? Do you have a certificate yourself, and how has it served you, or not?

Please let me know in the comments. And I'll keep you updated about this next chapter in my professional development,

- JR
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