Book Review: Social Media Use in Higher Education
By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University
Cutting-Edge Technologies and Social Media Use in Higher Education.
By Vladlena Benson and Stephanie Morgan
Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI-Global.
For years now, social media platforms have played central roles in the lives of students in higher education. Given the centrality of a wide range of Web 2.0 services online, are there ways to better harness social media for learners, during recruitment, learning, job-hunting, and work life?
Vladlena Benson and Stephanie Morgan’s Cutting Edge Technologies and Social Media Use in Higher Education (2014) explores the question with case analyses from various parts of the world, white papers, and historical analyses.
More specifically, the authors ask a broad range of applied questions based on a student-centered stance: Are there ways to enhance university student’s emotional resilience with strong online social networks? Are there ways to help students build social capital by extending their exposure to others in their respective fields through weak ties? Are there ways to improve student learning in engineering and related sciences through simulations and online-mediated small group work? Are there ways to support student competitiveness in the extended job-interview process? Are there ways to increase productivity for students working in creative fields?
Karen Abney Korn, in “Facing Facebook in Higher Education: How and Why Students Use Facebook in College,” presents netnographic research (based on an Internet ethnography) of freshman, sophomore, and juniors, at an Ohio-based university. From 2011 – 2012, she studied how college students use this social networking site to fulfill social needs while in college. She combined interview, email communications, and direct studies of messaging on Facebook to plot out how people use this tool to fulfill particular tasks. She lists:
“fostering and maintaining community, nurturing relationships, making public statements and protecting privacy, establishing a personal identity, building social capital, establishing cultural competency, coping, and critiquing their peers and campus” (Korn, 2014, p. 1, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
The social connectivity of traditional-aged college students to their home communities as well as new friends is especially important during their transition to college. Knowing how to use social media strategically—protecting privacy, engaging with romantic partners, building social capital—entails a range of competencies: technological, social, cultural, and others. New students’ or potential students’ first contact with a campus are likely virtual. How well students connect with a campus may be reflected in their social media messaging and may provide a channel for a school-based intervention.
Joni Salminen describes “Leveraging Facebook as a Peer-Support Group for Students” in a university in Finland and suggests that coordinating students to co-learn online may save on instructor time. Chaka Chaka, in “Social Media as Technologies for Asynchronous Formal Writing and Synchronous Paragraph Writing in the South African Higher Education Context,” suggests that Facebook and MXit (an instant message service in S. Africa) may be used to enhance student writing.
Sensitivity to Student Needs and Concerns
In Laura Aymerich-Franch and Maddalena Fedele’s “Students’ Privacy Concerns on the Use of Social Media in Higher Education,” the authors sensitively capture students’ concerns about the use of social media in their learning. The authors surveyed 244 undergraduate students, and they conducted four focus groups. For some students, being required to mix their personal social media accounts with their educational work is distasteful and mixes realms of their lives which they may not want combined. Many are concerned about sharing personal information because of the risks of online stalking. Aymerich-Franch and Fedele suggest that using a social media tool especially versioned for educational use and explaining ways to set up accounts to protect learner privacy may alleviate some of the student concerns and enable greater protections. Faculty members also need to respect student senses of space and their (dis)comfort with mediated faculty communications. (Instructor “friending” may well fall into this category. In the example in the chapter, a student expressed awkwardness at being asked to interact with a faculty member via a video call.) There is a sense of potential conflict when students are required to create accounts on social media platforms or spaces that are not controlled by the university; even the request that students set up social media accounts for purely educational purposes is seen as over-reach. The mixed methods research suggested that the surveyed college students wanted more face-to-face and personal contact with their professors instead of mediated contact.
While some chapters describe learners as conservative in their wants, others see a subset which are tech-savvy and highly engaged online. Danielle Lawson proposes the use of a new term, “C-Borg,” to describe those who engage social media by creating content to share as well as consume content. In “Reaching Them Where They Live: Effectively Utilizing the Social Media Literacy of C-Borgs in Higher Education and Beyond,” Lawson makes a compelling case that educators may use social media to bridge education and business by aligning with the tendencies of C-borg learners who “consume, create, col¬laborate, and connect with content” regardless of age. C-borgs are “individuals who are not just digitally and technologically literate, they are inherently connected to their technologies to the point that such connection is a key component of their day-to-day lives, enhancing their abilities to function in the digitally enmeshed world,” writes Lawson (2014, p, 135). In her interaction model C6, Lawson suggests five categories of those engaging contents: communicators (who Tweet and blog), collectors (who download contents and scrapbook and store), creators (those who write fan fiction and digital art), consumers (those who consume vast amounts of content based on various interests and goals), and collaborators (those who coordinate with others online to achieve shared aims). In her model, C-borgs do best when their intense online engagement is supported for informal learning, their virtual collaborative tendencies are encouraged on horizontal work groups, their communications skills are developed, their critical thinking skills are sharpened, and they are given control over their education and employment. C-borg learners also benefit from the development of their own self-critique skills.
Monika Musial, Antti Kauppinen, and Vesa Puhakka envision the use of social media as a way for individuals to achieve recognition for their creative work and to maintain their innovativeness. In “Recognised Creativity: The Influence of Process, Social Needs, and the Third Drive on Creative Individuals’ Work through Social Media,” they use three basic approaches to the understanding of human creativity: the social-psychological, social and flow of experience, and “third drive.” They show how social media may be harnessed to support the creative individual on all three fronts—based on some select real-world cases.
While adopting social media may seem a natural direction for many working at institutions of higher education, adopting social media is not necessarily an easy decision to come to. Jenni Murphy and Anna Keck, in “Overcoming Organizational Obstacles and Driving Change: The Implementation of Social Media,” describe the strategic and tactical work of moving a college of a state university forward to integrate social media technologies. In their telling of this, a critical point that changed leadership perceptions occurred during a staff meeting in 2009 when the question was asked: “Who was personally active on Facebook or other social media channels?” The revelation of the wide use of social media helped the team create a sense of urgency about the need to make the change, to build coalitions, design a vision for the change, communicate that vision, remove obstacles, and start to move the college towards greater social media integration.
While the prior chapter focused on a California-based state university, Tomasz Domanski and Michal Sedkowski focused on a number of universities in Poland in “The Use of Social Media in the Networking Strategy of Higher Education Institutions: The Polish Experience.” In this context, a number of universities are beginning to articulate a strategy—to build social media presences around shared goals and values for reinforcing a common identity.
The platform could also play a huge role in the process of testing new educational services as well as assessing the expectations of the market in the terms of education, advice, research, and social events. It provides the opportunity to adjust its response to specific micro-segments, which suit the needs of the interested stakeholder groups (e.g. graduates of different faculties, specialisations (sic), and chosen postgraduate studies). (Domanski & Sedkowski, 2014, pp. 104 - 105, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
The authors capture the sense of growing pains in actualizing the vision, such as the challenge to ensuring quality communications and basic interactivity. The authors note: “Most universities have a Facebook profile and use it to only submit short messages, usually in a formal and impersonal format. They do not use expressions that would encourage recipients to be active and express their opinion. The exceptions of course are the rare posts related to contests or containing direct questions” (Domanski & Sedkowski, 2014, p. 115, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
Political Activism Online
Adam Gismondi, in “#OccupyWallStreet: Social Media, Education, and the Occupy Movement,” points to a respected tradition of college-based political movements that are a rite-of-passage for many in the U.S. Today, social media platforms are often the base for activists to recruit and organize others, disseminate information, and coordinate sit-ins or protests or boycotts. The whole “occupy” brand from 2011 was taken over for social movements in other countries and contexts in part because of global social media. While such technologies enable electronic swarming, such media are highly surveilled spaces (by oppressive governments as well as democratic ones).
For decades now, those who’ve designed online instruction have worked to virtualize wet labs and simulate equipment-based experiments. They have, so far, run up against both technological limits and those of expertise. In “The Roadmap for Experimental Teaching of Science and Engineering Based Subjects: Innovative Technology and Social Media in Higher Education,” Gordana Collier, Andy Augousti, and Andrzej Ordys review the advancements made thus far and contribute some hopeful insights about potential advancements. They suggest that online learning may be designed to seamlessly integrate the basic concepts from electronic, mechanical, and software engineering. The learning would be designed as all-encompassing online environments, they write:
These not only incorporate industry standard software and hardware, but also use remotely controlled experiments, and virtual environments as elements of the curriculum re-vitalization process. It starts by identifying the motivation and resultant broad learning outcomes achieved from experimental learning. This is followed by the specifics of modern experiments such as remotely controlled experiments, both virtual, and real, including tabulated data about a range of academic institutions offering different approaches to ‘web labs’ (Collier, Augousti, & Ordys, 2014, p. 174, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
Ideally, such experiences may be created and shared among institutions of higher education with cost- and talent-sharing to actualize such ambitions. Once built, the experiences could be endlessly repeatable and benefit generations of learners.
Ikbal Maulana, in “Social Media for Knowledge Workers,” argues that knowledge workers may benefit from the affordances of social media given the social construction of knowledge and the preservation and replicability of electronic communications (and the available metrics of such communications on social media platforms).
Recruitment and Marketing
Amy Diepenbrock and Wanda Gibson suggest that social media may be used to not only recruit students into institutions of higher education but also help them as they graduate and participate in the job search process. In “The Use of Social Media in College Recruiting and the Student Job Search,” Diepenbrock and Gibson reinforce the importance of individuals keeping their online profiles clean of provocative pictures and depictions of alcohol and / or illegal drug use; further, they should avoid displaying poor communications skills (2014, p. 283). Strategically, individuals do well to create a personal and professional brand with their online presence. Thomas Lancaster’s “Teaching Students about Online Professionalism: Enhancing Student Employability through Social Media” echoes some of the same points about strategically enhancing employability through strategic communications through social media. He cites IBM’s hiring practices in the U.K. which require extensive multi-phase interviewing and testing and screening of social media presence—as elements of the hiring process.
In “Leveraging New Media as Social Capital for Diversity Officers: A How-To Guide for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Professionals Seeking to Use Social Media to Carve a Niche in the Social Networking Space,” Kindra Cotton and Denise O’Neil Green offer pointers on creating credible Web presence for diversity officers to promote their career advancement. Ikbal Maulana, in “Social Media for Knowledge Workers,” argues that knowledge workers may benefit from the affordances of social media given the social construction of knowledge and the preservation and replicability of electronic communications (and the available metrics of such communications on social media platforms).
Building Strategic Relationships
In a fascinating work, Lewis A. Luartz points to tools on social networking sites that enable the setting of online boundaries (“access controls”) to strategically build relationships, in “The Utilization of Online Boundaries: Facebook, Higher Education, and Social Capital.” The affordances of various social media platforms to enhance and build social capital may be a game changer particularly for those marginalized and dis-empowered by family circumstances. Absent social media connectivity, many would not have the visibility to capture others’ attention or the potential levels of access to those in power who may affect their education and careers. Individual personalities do affect the building of social networks. The author writes:
Through the limiting of information available to certain individuals, each student has the opportunity to build a social relationship with other students without the worry that specific pri¬vate information is accessible immediately before a relationship has developed. The way in which boundaries are utilized is therefore dependent upon each student, their personalities, and the context of the situations in which they find themselves at any given time (Luartz, 2014, p. 354, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
Sufficient ROI for Using Social Media in Higher Education
The co-editors of this book, Benson and Morgan, suggest that there is a potential valuable return on investment (ROI) in the book’s final chapter: “Justifying the ROI of Social Media Investment in Education.” Social media may be harnessed to support the entire student life cycle and beyond. There are some practical ways to plan a social media strategy based on Higher Education Institution (HEI) goals in the United Kingdom. They offer a table aligning common goals with strategic to achieve those goals using social media. The objectives include improving stakeholder engagement, building relationships with alumni, building brand awareness, unifying geographically dispersed locations, enhancing teaching and learning, and supporting lifelong learning (Benson & Morgan, 2014, p. 389, as cited in Benson & Morgan, 2014).
Some of the surprises of this collection are that there are so many institutions of higher education that are still hesitant to engage social media in constructive ways to enhance the higher education experience. While there have been years of research into some of the salutary uses of social media in education, the political buy-in at various institutions of higher education has to be arrived at locally through whatever processes are legitimated in that context. Indeed, there has to be confidence in the resilience and security of the selected platforms before any institution will trust its students and reputation to a particular social media platform. There are real costs in having individuals invest themselves in social media, and such social connections can be fleeting and fragile. The global community, though, is important for learners to engage.
Benson, V. & Morgan, S. (2014). Cutting-Edge Technologies and Social Media Use in Higher Education. Hershey: IGI-Global.
Note: Thanks to IGI-Global for enabling temporary access to this text in electronic format for the review
Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University. She formally edits and reviews for a number of publishers.
About the Author
Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University. She formally edits and reviews for a number of publishers.
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