Old School (Literally) Meets New School – Universities Go Social

Today’s guest post is from Kaity Nakagoshi. You can connect with Kaity on Twitter, @Kaity_FL.

An increasing number of colleges and universities are discovering that social media is not just an effective marketing tool to attract new prospects; it’s also a platform that enhances learning by allowing students and teachers to interact and connect outside of the classroom. Educators and students alike have embraced social media as a means to exchange ideas and relay information.

Say Yes to Social

Universities like Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Columbia are making the best use of social media. Class announcements and learning material are shared on social sites and blogs. School spirit is generated via Facebook fan pages – mascots give away free “swag”. 360° virtual tours are offered online to prospective students, which is a great recruitment tool. Professors network with each other to learn more about their industry and stay ahead in the academic world. Social sites are also being used to keep parents and family up to date with the ongoing campus events.

Realizing they need a social media campaign, many colleges and universities are outsourcing to big marketing agencies, but this is not only costly and unnecessary, it most likely is not as effective as an in-house campaign. Not only do colleges know their story and culture better than an outsider; they also have social media experts right at their fingertips. Administration would be much better off finding students who are passionate about technology and social networking, and asking them to be in charge of the social campaigns. What a perfect job for a full-time student. 

Risk vs. Reward

The use of social media in higher education poses a unique amount of risk when compared with traditional media because of its general lack of regulations, speed at which information can be shared, and the lack of awareness users have of how public or private a networking site is.

Despite the fact that many faculty and staff view social media with half-glass-empty eyes, others see the rewards of social media – a glass that is half-full, if not completely. Who can argue the benefits of better communication and enhanced learning that social media brings to the classroom? As technology supplies and demands advance, colleges and universities will have to find the right balance in order to identify and differentiate between the social risks and rewards.

Policy Planning

There is a definite need to create social media policies within the world of academia. Such policies would guide student behavior and influence faculty usage as well. Although no one really argues about the necessity of social media policies, the discussion continues as to exactly how to go about creating them. As with any effective development process, a committee should be formed (made of students, staff, faculty and administration) with a single goal in mind – create a policy that provides students with the freedom to explore the online social landscape, while also clarifying the expectations and limitations of online behavior, in and outside of the classroom.

It would also behoove everyone to adhere to some social media best practices:

  • Instruct students and faculty alike to use their real names on all social networking sites.
  • Make sure all users can report abuses and have strict guidelines for dealing with such abuse.
  • Forbid all acts of cyber bullying.

The Side Effects

As with any new policies put into place, there will inevitably be positive and negative side effects experienced.  Even the best intentioned policies can be seen as deterrents of free speech. Guidelines are meant to guide but if not monitored and given flexibility, situations will undoubtedly arise between the regulated student body and the administration. This is another reason why policy committees should always include members of faculty and students, as well as administration, to hopefully curb any future misunderstandings.

The flip-side to the policy coin can be seen with the enactment of university crisis communications policies, which are aimed at taking a pre-emptive approach to public relations fiascos. When crises erupt, and they inevitably do, having policies in place alleviates confusion, allowing repair strategies to be immediately developed and deployed. 

Faculty Feedback

In a 2011 Faculty Focus survey of nearly 900 higher education professionals, the surveyors found that 56% of faculty expected their social media usage to increase during the following year. Not only do 85% of those surveyed already have a Facebook account, but 32% have “friended” a student on the popular site. Eighty-three percent of faculty currently allows students to bring their laptops into the classroom, and a whopping 52% percent willingly allow smart phones. Roughly 30% believed their institution did NOT have a social media policy in place, and 40% said they weren’t sure. 

As social media makes its way deeper into every corner of our lives, the role that it plays in education will indeed become increasingly important. What remains in question is how institutions will implement changes and policies that keep up with the ever-evolving digital landscape.