Purpose of Social Media in Online Education

Purpose of Social Media in Online Education

People in 1985 and later have never lived in a world without personal computers.  These are the students that have been described as “digital natives.”  Most faculty are what would call “digital immigrants.”  They have had to learn the use of personal computers and the internet as they went along.  As faculty, we are now faced with the challenge of how to cope with these digital natives. There are many digital technologies used by younger students, and social media is probably the most common.  Tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and WhatsApp are just a few of over 90 social media sites.  Now the pressure is on as to how to use social media, which these students know well, as an effective tool in the classroom.  The challenge to teachers and to universities is how best to integrate social media into online teaching. There are both advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

One stated purpose for the use of social media at traditional universities (on ground) is the belief that students engaged socially will be more likely to return.  Retention is a driving force behind some social media applications being introduced at on-ground colleges and universities.

My question to my colleagues is whether social media in an online environment can be used effectively in teaching and whether such a tool engenders any sense of “commitment” to the university, thereby enhancing student retention.  The competition for online students is intense as virtually all universities and colleges are now offering online programs.  Is social media an effective to enhance student retention?

There is a meeting June 21-22, 2018 in Limerick, Ireland.  It is the 5th European Conference on Social Media.  I will be leading a mini-track on social media in education, and I plan to also present (assuming I pass peer review) a paper on the use of social media in online education.  If there are colleagues who wish to join with me on this paper, that would be terrific.  If there are colleagues who want to work on a different paper to present at the ECSM meeting, that would be wonderful as well.   I look forward to hearing from you all.


Ryan Rominger's picture Ryan Rominger | April 3, 2018 10:27 am MST

Dr. Davidson,

I appreciated reading your post on social media. You raise an excellent question, as to if social media helps facilitate student engagement, retention, matriculation, and graduation. Ultimately, a school will engage tools which will facilitate all of the above. It seems that most often social media is used primarily for *recruitment* and thus the forward facing social media tool is structured for potential new students. However, if that is the only face on social media, students may quickly become dis-engaged after enrolling. In my 20 years in doctoral education, I have seen various versions of this problem. Those institutions which are able to create unique social media spaces for students post-enrollment, in my experience, often find a profitable avenue of communication with students, allowing for student support as well as feedback from students to improve the programs. For programs which are primarily online, social media can increase a student's sense of connection with the institution, which according to literature in turn increases retention and matriculation.

However, I have also seen instances where social media has provided a platform for a few angry individuals. Most often this is problematic on social media platforms which are forward facing with a focus on student recruitment. An institution wishes to keep this forward 'face' pristine, with little controversy, and when controversy or student issues arise and land on the social media pages, administrators become frustrated. A knee-jerk reaction can lead to threats to shut down the social media pages, effectively cutting off that avenue of communication. From the student perspective, this seems like the only possible avenue to communication with an institution which seems to have stopped listening to student complaints. Thus, one potential solution is to provide an appropriate platform and *invite* student feedback and dialogue through social media which is focused on retention and matriculation, rather than recruitment.

To move off topic, I have also personally used, as a researcher, social media to recruit research participants. Social media can be a great tool to reach out to diverse sets of individuals, even across national boarders. The invitation to participate can spread quickly, and large numbers of people may see the invitation. In one study, I used Facebook and had nearly 4 million views of my invitation to participate within 2 months. Ultimately I had participants from 10 or so different countries, and my intention had been to reach only US participants. This fortunate surprise allowed for some interesting statistical analysis. Thus, for doctoral education and faculty researchers, social media can also be a tool for research purposes. It is important, though, to consider ethical implications (such as having international participants, langague barriers, family and friends participating without the researcher's knowledge, etc.) when using these platforms.

Anyway, great topic and I hope the conference goes well in Limerick.

Dr. Rominger

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Phil Davidson
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