Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Badoo, FourSquare, Hi5, Orkut, Pinterest….the list goes on. These are a few of the, literally, hundreds of social media sites that today’s digital generation are using. I sat down today to write a post for this blog, and I got to thinking about social media in general. The way it connects people, promotes causes, and keeps us informed, while simultaneously allowing us to “facebook stalk” our old friends,  is incredible.  It has become so commonplace these days, that I fear people might wonder how they ever existed without the opportunity to waste endless hours procrastinating on these sites instead of doing something productive, such as studying.  All of this culminated in a thought: How has social media changed the face of higher education? I think that the mere fact that I am sitting here, typing a post for a blog that is run by a university, on the topic of higher education is an indication that social media has greatly changed the way colleges and universities network, recruit, and stay connected with their student body in hopes of heightened retention rates.

Institutions of Higher Education have a great presence on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  What is especially interesting nowadays, is the use that faculty & administrators are making from social media. Some classes use pieces of social media as tools for teaching. Student Clubs have their own Facebook fan sites, and peer study groups can plan their assignments through a facebook message.  Furthermore, universities can send out mass alerts with the click of a button through a tweet or status update. This is all in addition to the use of social media to connect students both educationally and recreationally. CM Sturgeon (2009) poignantly notes, “since its creation in 2004, Facebook has become one of the most frequently visited websites on college campuses. Because of this rise in popularity, the subject of social networking has grown as an idea and concern for both faculty members and students.” The author also notes that there is an increase in faculty members creating facebook pages, which, when coupled with the idea that some of the most effective faculty members are those that create an informal relationship with their students, can be very powerful. This simple means of interaction between faculty and student can help individuals become engaged in the subjects they are learning, all the while feeling as if they are interacting with their professors on an individual level. S. Robbins-Bell (2008) also builds upon this theory stating, “Although the barrier between inside and outside the classroom has been difficult to overcome, new social media forms today are starting to break down that barrier and enable dialogue. Social networks, instant messaging, blogs, and virtual worlds not only allow conversation but rely on it.” It appears that both universities and the individuals working inside are not afraid to break away from the traditional model of education.  This is a progressive movement; as long as students are interacting on these sites, we would not be doing our job in engaging and connecting with students if we did not do so in the same place.

Social media has not only impacted higher education in connecting with students, but has also become quite a valuable recruiting tool. Universities can target athletes, special interest groups, parents, and many other segments of their market through directed communication on social media sites. Some, such as Facebook will let organizations purchase advertising spots and target them as broadly or as narrowly as they choose. B. Volino (2009) states, “school administrators believe that social networking can lure students, spread the word about educational opportunities and programs, and promote achievement on campus.”  At VIU, we have seen that prospective students will visit our fan page on facebook and ask questions to us and our current students. In this way, it is very much a marketing tool for our university. We are able to direct these individuals to the most appropriate information, and the personalized attention might encourage them to enroll in our programs above others. If not, we are still just happy to be connecting with people and letting them know that we are here, and that we have a mission to provide affordable and high quality education to anyone who is interested.

Overall, social media is an interesting and fun way to connect with students and recruit new enrollments. It is a great way to keep people informed of issues at the university, as simple as an upcoming event, or as important as a last minute school closing due to weather.  With that said, social media does have a downside, especially when people are unaware of privacy issues or share too much of their lives. I think that when used responsibly, the benefit far outweighs the costs of using social media! This is a huge trend that has popped up, and is here to stay.

 

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Sources:

Robbins‐Bell, S. (2008). Higher Education as Virtual Conversation. EDUCAUSE Review , 43 (5), 24.

Sturgeon, C. M., & Walker, C. (2009). Faculty on Facebook: Confirm or Deny? Paper presented at the Annual Instructional Technology Conference, Lee University, Cleveland, TN.

Violino, B. (2009). The Buzz on Campus: Social Networking Takes Hold. Community College Journal , 79 (6), 28‐30.

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