SMCEDU: Changing Higher Education Through Social Media

As most of you know, the topic of using social media and education is one that I’m very interested in – whether that means using social media in the classroom or teaching social media, I believe that there is a lot of opportunity to use technology to improve the ways the next generation learns.  As I detailed in this post, this is one reason that I got involved with the SMCEDU project at the very beginning. Founded in July 2009, SMCEDU has established more than ten chapters at colleges and universities across the country, it was officially granted a 501(c)(6) non-profit designation, and it’s forming its Advisory Board now. There are a lot of exciting things happening now with SMCEDU and that’s why I was excited to talk with Yong Lee, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and current director of the SMCEDU project.

I got the opportunity to ask Yong seven questions about SMCEDU – what it is, what’s going on now, and what’s in store for the future. The full interview is below:

Finish this sentence – the Social Media Club Education Connection (SMCEDU) is the:
SMCEDU, a division of Social Media Club, is a formal attempt to gather the lessons and experiences of educators, students, and professionals across the country to address the need for social media education, including what social media are and how to use it for different purposes. You can follow the conversation surrounding social media and higher education under the #SMCEDU hashtag.

What’s the mission of SMCEDU?
The mission has three parts:

  1. Bringing about awareness of social media and its impact on both personal, professional, and civic engagement to educational communities
  2. Studying how this impact is affecting social dynamics, especially as it relates to higher education.
  3. Connecting students to professionals with the intent of creating internship and mentorship opportunities.

SMCEDU seems to really be growing – I’m hearing more and more about the need to integrate social media into higher education, from Twitter to New York Times to blogs across the world.  What are some of the new and exciting things that SMCEDU is doing now and where do you see it going from here?
One of the most exciting things to me is the growth we’re experiencing right now. The project kicked off in July 2009, and this semester alone we’re seeing new chapters forming at American University, Kansas University, Kansas State University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Penn State University, and the University of Texas.

Since awareness and connection are the first steps, what I would like to see in the future is students that are actively engaged with SMCEDU making connections with the professionals in their fields of study, and documenting how they’re using social media to make classroom learning experiential and engaging rather than insulated and theoretical.

There’s much discussion around education reform right now, and I see social media being an aspect of that. I don’t know how “tomorrow’s classroom,” or whatever you want to call it, will shape up in the coming years, but I know that the social component is becoming increasingly influential in our daily consumption of information. How can we let something that important go by unstudied? There might be research underway, but from speaking with several educators I don’t know of any peer-reviewed journal or accredited source of information regarding social media use or impact.

Social media has traditionally been the realm of either communications or IT professionals. But what about those college students studying things like biology, chemistry, math, political science, etc.?  Is there a role for them in SMCEDU too?
So this question interests me because I’ve had a different experience when it comes to finding IT/techies on social media. I often wonder why I don’t find more programmers on Twitter. I follow the #coding and #code hashtags, but I don’t see Twitter being leveraged the way I think it could, as a personal learning network that can answer questions in real-time. I can think of many nights working on a project and reaching a point where I couldn’t find an answer on my own, I needed to ask someone. But who’s available at 3am to answer a question like that? The traditional means of communication for this situation, forums, are responsive within a day or two and are comprised of great communities. But they don’t respond right now, and are limited to just the people participating in those forums rather than a broader audience. Granted, in programming, you don’t need answers from everybody, just the experts that know the answer…but why limit the question to just that handful? Why not give questions greater exposure, and give the people that credibly answer them the same?

Communication happens in every field. Universities were traditionally just places where scholars could get together and discuss/argue about the problems they were thinking about (which is why I don’t think physical classrooms will ever go away). But a classroom shouldn’t be defined by campus boundaries. Generations that were/are raised on the Internet expect greater (in terms of number) conversations, conversations that can introduce new people and new thinking…this applies to ALL fields. I think because at its core, social media is about communication, PR/marketing/communications pros have seized it as their own. But in reality, everyone communicates, and it’s about time we devoted academic study to this particular form of communication.

 

Yong is the current Director of the SMCEDU Project

One of the reasons that I like entry level candidates with social media skills and experience is not because I’m necessarily looking for “social media experts,” but because they generally also show the most initiative and ambition than other students. Do you agree, and if so, who are some of the students you’ve met who are demonstrating these traits?

I agree. Some reasons why:

  1. Social media is still seen as a new technology. I have reservations about calling it a technology or even “new” anymore, but the people that have social media savvy tend to be of the early adopter mindset which requires taking the initiative to try new things.
  2. “Social media experts” are social people. If you’re someone who enjoys talking to others, is outgoing, and asks questions, you’re going to learn something (assuming you listen as well as talk). I’m not saying quieter people are any less ambitious, but it seems that the people that are working hard to develop social media presence are the same ones that don’t mind having a conversation with strangers, which requires an openness and willingness to risk.
  3. The secret ingredient to success with social media is passion.

Two students that come to mind are Alex Priest, an undergrad at American University, and Andi Narvaez, a grad student at UMD. You know them both, they’re go-getters.

The majority of the readers of this blog are involved with the government, either as civil servants or contractors – why should they care about SMCEDU now?
Because social media has greater implications than we currently understand. Nobody was paying attention to Facebook five years ago, now it’s everywhere. The social aspect is mandatory in nearly every tech startup, which shows me that people are becoming used to and expectant of it. This means everyone has to have some baseline understanding of how to interact online.  All those stories you hear about how someone posted something on Facebook that got them fired or in trouble? It’s becoming unacceptable to not know the ramifications of your online behavior.

As I said earlier, social media impacts personal, professional, and civic engagement. You have to know what’s going on: the tools being used, the conventions/purposes for each, how to learn newer tools, how to separate BS from useful information. Social media, in my mind, encompasses all of that and will be a necessary bullet point in most any resume in the near-future. SMCEDU is trying to help form that education, that understanding, in lieu of academic study. Hopefully soon, schools will get on board.

Look ahead five years from now – what’s SMCEDU look like?
Great question. I work in higher education, so I see how long it could take for schools to adapt to newer things. I think social media — both its study and integration — will inevitably become an academic convention. For now, it’s not, and who knows how long it will take.

I’d like to see SMCEDU continue to be both an entry point for those interested in learning more about social media, and a thriving community that both accepts and provides contributions of knowledge. I’d love to see SMCEDU acquire some level of accreditation, some trust and authority beyond “social media gurus.” I’ve heard a few ideas of how we can accomplish this, but for now, we’ll keep trying to fill the role as both indicators for need, providers of information, and pathways to professionalism.

For more information about SMCEDU, make sure you check out:

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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