Social Media Integration in Higher Education

The following is a guest post by Jen Dryer, a current student at the University of Southern Indiana. I first met Jen at the 2009 PRSA International Conference in San Diego, and was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about the business uses of social media. She, along with Brooks Cooper, have since become the linchpins for integrating social media into the classroom at USI. Given her unique perspective and our mutual interest in all things #SMCEDU, I asked her to write a guest post here on what social media in higher education means to her.

Looking back ten years ago, the thought of social media didn’t even exist. We kept in contact through traditional media like phone calls, e-mails, and sometimes even the good old-fashioned hand-written letter. Company promotions and advertisements were broadcast through television, magazines, billboards and the occasional internet banner. Now, fast forward five years and advertising is now found on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, making everyone’s lives a lot easier. Not only are more websites being created, but each individual social media site is expanding and integrating to make things more convenient for its users.  We have entered the world of social media and we are now using our online voices to speak louder than ever before.

Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Social media is starting to shape the world we live in on a “most recent” basis.  However, since social media has existed, most of the education departments of America have not “signed in.” Social media is an essential part of our professional business world, and if we want students to succeed, then it must be part of the curriculum. One reason it hasn’t is because social media often started out as a fad with the younger generation, so it is automatically assumed that our generation of students is very knowledgeable of social media.

It is true that our generation knows a great deal about using social media, but usually only for personal reasons.  When I had an interview for my current internship they told me one of the reasons I was chosen for an interview was the fact that my Facebook page was “acceptable” to their professional needs.  Employers do not want to hire a person whose Twitter or Facebook page could make their company look bad. The other students may have been very worthy candidates for the position, but the picture with eight shot glasses surrounding them seemed to prove otherwise.  Though my employer may not have necessarily disagreed with the candidates’ drinking, they did think it was very unprofessional to not take the initiative to untag themselves from the picture.

It’s an interesting question – why are today’s students held accountable for not knowing how to use social media professionally, yet they haven’t ever been taught formally?

Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea. I don’t think it should be specifically called a social media class; rather, it should be a well-rounded class that focuses on communicating in a digital world.  It may be best to start by integrating it into speech classes that every student has to take at every university across the United States. The speech class I took as a freshman had integrated communication skills, such as interview tips, handshakes, etc.  Being that the speech class isn’t solely focused on speech, it would be a good starting place to integrate social media communication.

Image courtesy of Flickr user lawtonchiles

Those studying areas such as health or sciences are taught how and why things work and also how to be ethical. Their main focus is not how to communicate effectively, so communications and social media doesn’t always come natural to them.  A general “Internet etiquette” course would be valuable to them. Or maybe we can follow the University of Kentucky, who recently combined their English Composition and Communication courses to create a more efficient way for students to engage in the classroom.  This revolutionary required course incorporates the use of social media so that students learn the essentials of writing professionally using social media.  No matter what one may be studying, social media importance can’t be underestimated.

I’ve often found that professors are teaching us how to do old school tasks, such as writing a memorandum. But, we don’t learn how to tweet.  Education should be constantly updated with the most effective and convenient ways to educate those pursuing that career field.  Professors wouldn’t teach students to create overhead projection slides instead of using PowerPoint, so why do they refuse to adopt the principles of social media as a quick and effective way to replace less effective methods?

One main question always arises when discussing how to integrate social media into higher education. How would we assess a social media course?  Let’s be honest – all of the college grads have heard of how Facebook content can limit their chances of scoring that job. What we need to be teaching is not to just delete the bad content, but rather to teach students how to add valuable content. The best way to grade would be to assess them on the valuable content that they post, not just for the inappropriate content they don’t have. The main point of the social media class should be graded on “what if” situations and facts about professional Internet writing, social media settings, pictures, videos, news and crisis management on the Internet.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Liako

We have come a long way from Morse code and telegrams to a much faster and easier way to communicate. It almost boggles or “bloggles” our minds!  Perhaps five years from now everyone will jump on the social media bandwagon and will be more advanced and complex enough to create classes in our higher education system.  If students are not even being educated on the current issues, we can’t expect to move on to bigger and better things. As for now, we must try to push social media into our higher education and create a more professional and more networked world. After all, students learn much better in a natural environment and nothing is more natural for our generation than social media.

This video is a great example of how social media is being integrated in not only the professional world, but also secondary education.  It’s a great idea to grab young adults’ attention and expand their possibilities in communications today.  But, why doesn’t higher education, the institution where one becomes a more intellectually rounded individual,  jump on this opportunity to help better prepare their candidates for the real world?

For more information about integrating social media in higher education, make sure you check out the following resources:

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About Jennifer Dryer

Jennifer Dryer is a current student pursuing Public Relations at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. She is an active member in PRSSA, which has gained her many professional experiences with communications, public relations, campaign strategies and social media. She is currently a student intern for USI’s Center for Applied Research, and will be studying International Relations for the fall semester in Brno, Czech Republic. Contact her via email at jrdryer@mail.usi.edu or follow Jennifer on Twitter (@JenDryer)

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  • I couldn’t agree with you more! As a recent college graduate I have also taken frustrating and extremely unhelpful business comm classes that address 90’s skills. Colleges and universities must realize that social media is a form of communication regularly used in business today. As such, they lead to serious challenges AND opportunities that students must be informed of to aid in their business success. @chasing_real

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Jennifer, for contributing thoughts from a student’s perspective. As an adjunct professor who has incorporated social media into my curriculum for the past three years, it is nice to know the students are craving this knowledge too. Changing teaching strategies from pure text book study to actual practice is a culture shift for institutions. There are several professors who are going against the grain to establish change one class, and sometimes, one student at a time. We need more students to request this change and support these educators.

    Also, we need more vendors to partner with institutions to bring these tools into the classroom. At Radian6, we experimented in the Spring semester with allowing a select number of undergraduate classes and graduate students access to the monitoring tool for a period of 30 days. The feedback was awesome. We are currently evaluating the program to see how it will work in the upcoming school year.

    We have to give students the tools they need to succeed and the safe haven to learn and practice using these tools and theories before they enter the real world with real life consequences.

    Lauren Vargas
    Sr. Community Manager at Radian6
    @VargasL

  • I’m glad you appreciate this as a student’s perspective. What’s the most effective way for students to request such a change as this? Perhaps we need to give our professors evaluations and suggestions after about 3 weeks of class, instead of waiting until the end of the semester. As a student, it is aggravating to give feedback and never see any beneficial changes from my advice, unless one would happen to have that professor again in a different class.

    It seems that most professors who go “against the grain” are actually the ones who are most appreciated by students. Instead of getting upset with the students who are texting in class, why not take advantage of it and put the cellphones to use? This world is constantly changing with new and updated technology and most students crave anything other than the usual college lecture.

    Please keep in touch with me! I would love to hear more about Radian6 and the evaluation once it is completed.

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    @JoannaAven @barbchamberlain …RT@sradick Social Media Integration in Higher Education by @jendryer ([link to post]) #smcedu

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  • Anonymous

    Jen, Do not wait until the class is over to give feedback. Do it when syllabus is reviewed. Also, do not be afraid to go to the Chair of the Department and express your concerns and ideas. Students should have a say in the education process! I would love to connect with you outside this blog, so feel free to contact me at any time: lauren.vargas@radian6.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Jen,

    I just graduated last April and I can tell you —- I feel your pain. Hard. I would sit in class googling what my professors were talking about and asking questions on Twitter and WISHED they would teach some of the basics of social media, just so we could get started. Everything I’ve learned I’ve learned on my own, which is great in a way if you have the curiosity and interest to learn, but not everyone does. Unfortunately, everyone is going to be affected by it whether they like it or not..

    Great to have found you, in any case, and good luck for the rest of your studies!

    Best,

    Michelle @Synthesio

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    Fascinating post on how #socialmedia could better be integrated into higher education [link to post] /via @DanaMNelson

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  • One thing that jumps out as me is that this article focuses on social media as a class, but what about social media as a platform to act as the framework for the class? I.E. Blackboard with integrated social media. I’ve been watching this product develop recently: http://sites.force.com/appexchange/listingDetail?listingId=a0N300000016aUcEAI

    And, the product just got a HUGE boost to make it social: http://crmfyi.com/2010/05/17/the-higher-ed-cloud-studentforce-chatter-brilliant/

    While this does not address the problem of college content, I wonder if getting onto such a platform would enable some additional learning about social media through doing.

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with StudentForce, although I do work with the platform, Salesforce.com. I just see things like this and think that they have a lot of application and higher education is one of them.

    Thanks,

    Garry

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    #ESM good read. RT @eric_andersen: “Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea”~@JenDryer [link to post]

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    YES! #HigherEd RT @eric_andersen: “Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea”~@JenDryer [link to post]

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    RT @eric_andersen: Fascinating post on how #socialmedia could better be integrated into higher education [link to post] /via @DanaMNelso

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  • As an adjunct professor at several colleges/universities, I teach marketing and management courses – and to date, whenever I have incorporated social media into my courses, the reaction has been “what is this?”, “oh god, more work beyond (not) reading the text!” and “WTF is this?!”

    I agree with vargasl – walk into your classes and talk to the professor – come with some suggestions on how he/she can incorporate social media into the class OR offer to work with them in developing solutions/approaches. Some will welcome your interest and willingness to improve the learning experience, others will not – be prepared for both types of responses and realize you can only do so much.

    Then, go see the program/department chair and have the same conversation. Finally, go meet the Dean.

    At best, you help change the learning experience today. Worst case scenario, you make some key connections that can help you throughout your career.

  • Jen Dryer

    Since you are a recent college graduate, did you feel inadequate about anything in particular with social media in the professional world? Something that would have been helpful to learn in class? You talked about it leading to serious challenges and opportunities, could you discuss some of these that you dealt with?

    I think this would be helpful for myself and the readers.

  • Jen Dryer

    Happy to hear other students feel the same! Social media is one of many key tools to help students learn and engage. It’s unfortunate that one of the most essential communication tools in the professional world today is not being taught. Something needs to be done soon!

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    so much solid info on twitter today RT @JasonFalls: Interesting look at social media in higher education by @jendryer: [link to post]

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  • Jen Dryer

    I definitely agree, using social media as a platform in a class could be very beneficial. But, how do you pick which types of classes would benefit the most from having social media as its framework?

    I only wrote about one aspect of social media in higher education, and there are so many different ideas and thoughts that make it difficult to figure out which ones would work out the best. It probably all depends on the class subject, the amount of students, and the professor.

    I am so glad you commented, it is always nice to see this from different perspectives! Thanks.

  • Great thoughts…any tool that can help students have an edge in the work force is helpful. The issue is not all of the educators know how to do a Tweet themselves or even the difference in a Facebook profile and page.

    Marketing degree’s are really lacking in training on basic social media training and I really feel for all of the graduates from the past 5 years. That area has totally shifted! It all comes back to practice makes perfect…there’s only so much you can learn from a book.

    @ericamcclenny
    Expion- SMMS
    Director of Enterprise Engagement

  • I’m with you on the value of social media in higher ed. However, as a 13-year veteran of higher ed in both the faculty and administrative sides of things, I’ve seen many good ideas attempted to be translated into required courses, only to kill the idea. When you make a required course out of something, students tend to treat it as a hurdle to be jumped through and something requiring memorization now and memory-purge later. Just because something’s a good idea doesn’t mean it should be compulsory.

    Instead, it would be much better for universities to adopt campuswide implementations of social media — from admissions and athletics all the way to classes and individual communications between profs and students — and find ways to reward those who are doing it right. Then you wouldn’t need to force students to take courses on social media — they’ll just want to do it, because others are.

    Final note: Don’t overestimate the enthusiasm of college students for social media. I’ve made repeated attempts to incorporate social media in my courses and students have steadfastly resisted it. As patmcgraw commented, they tend to see it as just another thing to have to work on. There are a few standout students who have embraced social media but these are definite outliers.

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  • I never felt inadequate about social mediia in the professional world… I just learned from watching others. I don’t think a class on social media can really be like a traditional comm class because they focus on format, where social media focuses on content.

    My professors always seemed to list the challenges or negatives of social media: wastes too much time, detracts from focus in class, negatively impacts prospective employer perception, etc.

    Although these things can be true, they didn’t really show the opportunities afforded to those that use social media in a different ways, ie: networking with professionals,
    gaining and sharing knowledge, positively impacting prospective employer perception, etc. These are some ways that I have found social media to be useful that students, should know about, and possibly benefit from.

    I would advocate for an elective class with the premise “Social Media is What You Make It.” The class could allow students to find something positive that interests them (besides just chatting with friends), and use social media to do something with that topic. That would show students different uses of social media and allow them to tie it to something they enjoy.

    Best

    Chris Fripp
    @chasing_real

  • Jen Dryer

    Campus wide implementations of social media would be a great idea. It would put everyone on board to help the students learn to use social media with a professional outlook..

    It’s interesting that you both commented about students tending to reject the introduction of social media in the classroom. What type of course did you experience this with? I could definitely see this being an issue in courses outside of communications.

    Students from my age group did not grow up with Facebook or Twitter. It started when I was in high school and it was only for college students. Then when I was a junior, students in high school were allowed to have a Facebook account. From that point on, our generation has a hard time mixing Facebook and business. We had a “personal” type of Facebook account for about 4 years, by personal, we students were open to say whatever we wanted and post any picture of choice with no worries at all. It started becoming a way for us to connect with others of our own age. It’s the way we met friends when we first went off to college, and the way we stayed in touch with our long lost high school friends that we missed. What I am saying is Facebook has taken a revolutionary turn, and for those of us who were caught in the middle of the turn, we are having just as hard of a time adjusting as some professors have implementing it in the classroom.

    I believe it’s a cycle we have to break. No, some students may not like it simply because it’s change. No one likes to adjust to change, just as older generations who have a hard time using social media and technology such as texting to communicate. Those students who don’t like it are still stuck in the Facebook stage from high school. The sooner we can break that state of mind, the better. Though, they may not like this “change” we must be persistent to help prepare students for the professional world.

    I am sure this is a huge struggle for several professors who have tried to integrate it in the classroom. It would be very interesting to sit in on a class where a professor tries to integrate it for the first time. This could be very beneficial to those of us who are trying to develop ideas for the integration of social media in higher education. We are all still trying to find the most influential way to do so, so every bit of experience would help. I hope together we can create a new future for students.

    Thanks for your comments.

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  • Jen Dryer

    I think our courses need to be combined. My professors would speak only of the positives of social media. But, it was just slightly touched upon, at the very most ten minutes during the entire semester. As we both know the positive and negative aspects need to be addressed. Without the positives, students will try and steer away from using social media and without the negatives, students may use social media carelessly.

  • With all this attention on integrating social media in colleges, why no mention of high school and earlier education? There are several middle/high schools I can think of that are requiring Twitter accounts for 9th graders, iPads for 6th graders, and blogs and wikis for collaborative learning.

    Perhaps the college route should be based on the earlier grade levels.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it’s meant to be exclusionary to just colleges, and I think it’s incredibly important to start teaching students to use technology much much earlier than college. I tend to focus on colleges though as a matter of scope and expertise. I feel like I know college students a lot better and it provides some form of focus for me. Teaching at the college and elementary levels is so different, I wouldn’t be able to focus on everything in between.

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