Social Scoop: What is social media's role in higher education?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – As the Social Media Coordinator here at THV11, I'm always on the lookout for interesting events that highlight social media's importance in today's society. About a week ago, my manager informed me of a panel discussion that took place at UCA in early September regarding social media's place in higher education.

Obviously, this is an important topic, as social media is very much a part of students' personal lives. In order to better engage and interact with students at the college level, it makes sense that educators and administrations should be looking to social media to enhance their students' educational experience in a relevant way.

So, I contacted J.S. Stansel, International Communication Manager at the University of Central Arkansas, and asked him to pass along some questions I had regarding their take on social media's role in higher education. I've included their responses in their entirety:

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1. When did you start seriously considering social media's role as a vehicle for higher education?

  • Dr. Will Slaton, Associate Professor of Physics: "After I attended a National Science Foundation funded two-day workshop on science communication using social media. Before this workshop I thought twitter was for keeping up with [celebrities]. I quickly learned that scientists and teachers were using Twitter in remarkable ways to educate the public and to connect with students and the community.
  • Dr. Riva Brown, Assistant Professor of Public Relations: "In spring 2009, I made it mandatory for students in my PR Practice class (at another institution) to sign up for Twitter. They all balked. They just didn't see its PR implications at the time. Years later, they thanked me."
  • J.S. Stansel, International Communications Manager: I started using Social Media when I was working as an English as a Second Language teacher here at UCA. I created Facebook groups for my classes to create a community of learning outside the classroom and give students a forum to share their thoughts and questions. I figured that the students were on Facebook all the time, so why not turn it into something productive?

2. How have you personally and UCA as a whole incorporated social media into the classroom?

  • Slaton: I use Twitter as a way to keep up with the rapid advances in Physics and Astronomy and to share that information with students. Twitter is also a great resource for professional development since I can connect with other faculty like me at other institutions or high schools to share best practices etc. I use social media as the co-mentor for our Physics Club but not in my classes.
  • Brown: Students in my PR Techniques class are required to earn a social media certification through Hootsuite University for the first time. The class was restructured this semester to include a strong focus on social media. I also post supplemental readings and links to articles on Twitter using my class hashtags: #PRLS3305 and #PRLS3310.
  • Stansel: It was very effective in my classes and we broadened its use to reach out to all of our international students at UCA with a dedicated Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Our Facebook page currently has over 1,300 "likes" and serves to make event announcements, answer student's questions, connect international students with their American peers, and create a stronger community at UCA. www.facebook.com/ucainternational

3. How has social media been received by students, and is there any research showing its progress and effectiveness as a teaching tool?

  • Brown: The students are excited about learning how to use social media for professional rather than personal purposes. They also appreciate the industry-recognized social media certification they can earn because they can put it on their resumes.
  • Stansel: It has been received very well. Students are very comfortable using Social Media to communicate and I think it is important that we reach out to them there and be a model of good digital citizenship. As far as research goes, there is quite a bit all with varying conclusions. Social Media is so new and constantly changing that by the time the research is done, it is already outdated for the most part. The important thing is that Social Media is a part of our world now and the skill of using it as a tool for education and not a source of distraction is one we must teach our students. Most students think it is just a way to connect with their friends, but it is also a great educational and professional resource. At UCA, we try to lead by example in how to best use this new medium.

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Their responses to my questions showed a refreshing openness to embracing new technology in the classroom. As more and more educators eschew outdated education practices, students will benefit greatly from this new open-information environment. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow constant communication and direct access to information and opinions from their teachers and peers. This online classroom extends into the space of the student's personal lives, where they communicate heavily already through social media.

By taking its place in student's lives, social media seamlessly integrates into the student's daily learning experience. In my opinion, all college professors should establish Facebook pages for their courses where they can easily post relevant articles, reading assignments, as well as discussion questions. People of all ages are online more than ever, so why wouldn't a teacher want to communicate with their students in a way the student feels most comfortable? If the panel discussion that took place at UCA is any indication, faculty and administration in higher education have caught on to social media in a big way. As a somewhat recent college graduate, this development is music to my ears.


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