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Eszter Hargittai, communication studies

All professors need to keep their class syllabi up-to-date from year to year. But when your subject matter is the ever-evolving, ever-changing world of the Internet as it is for communication studies associate professor Eszter Hargittai, you might be updating your syllabus every quarter or even every week as the class is going on. As the syllabi for her courses like Internet and Society and Search in a Digital Age are comprised of both academic readings and popular articles, Hargittai must stay current with the news to be up-to-speed with what’s going on.

Students who took Hargittai’s classes while at Northwestern will contact her after they’ve graduated to tell her how her teachings directly impacted their jobs after college.

A former student who works in the media was excited that he was introduced to the concept of blogging in one of Hargittai’s classes in 2005; he told her he felt "on top of things" and "cutting-edge" at his job as a result.

Another former student who got a job at Facebook wrote to say he often thinks about everything he learned in Hargittai’s classes.

A third student contacted Hargittai several months after taking her Internet and Society class to say she knew how to handle a "phishing e-mail" (a way of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers by posing as a trustworthy entity) because of what she’d learned in class.

"What I teach is what I research," Hargittai said. "I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it."

There is a widely held but false assumption that today’s youth are super savvy about the Internet, Hargittai said, but this is not necessarily the case.  Hargittai finds it "fun to stand in front of the class to introduce new sites and services" available on the Internet that will be meaningful to the students’ everyday lives.

When Hargittai is not conducting research or standing in front of a classroom, she’s out in the field—sometimes literally. Hargittai participates in geo-caching, a GPS-based global treasure hunt. She’s not alone: More than 4.5 million geo-cachers worldwide hunt for more than one million items hidden on public property.

This hobby ties in nicely with Hargittai’s research—the online and offline components are both essential to success.  "Neither exists without the other," she said.

Eszter Hargittai is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the School of Communication at Northwestern University.