The important role of social media in higher education
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When it comes to social media and education, some parents and teachers view these platforms as distractions that negatively influence students.

But in today’s increasingly digital world, social media plays a meaningful role in higher education every day.

When used the right way, social media can enhance a student’s learning journey, also making it much easier for pupils and educators to connect.

Research has shown how beneficial social media can be in terms of learning. Through these various platforms, teachers can connect with students and incorporate social media into their lessons, making them more interesting, relatable and engaging.

Social sites are a great tool when it comes to interacting with students since it’s something they are so familiar with, using these sites frequently throughout daily life.

So what are the most effective ways teachers can use social media in their lecture halls and classrooms? David Altounian, marketing professor in Digital Media Management at St Edward’s University, devised a way to teach his students how to combine traditional marketing techniques with digital components.

His students are required to create a Tumblr blog about a subject they’re interested in, marketing it as a product over the course of the semester. Then they were asked to conduct market research about customer segmentation at the same time as finding appropriate audience distribution channels.

Next, students used Hootsuite, a social media management platform, to collect information about their customers, find content they’re interested in, and use this knowledge to drive awareness of their product on social media.

It makes sense that marketing and communications professors can use social media to their advantage, since it’s related to their major and can be easily integrated into the curriculum.

But professors of other disciplines can also incorporate social media learning. Richard Ng and Latifah Abdol Latif outlined their experience in a research paper on how their university, Open University Malaysia (OUM), uses social media to improve the teaching of mathematics in a distance learning course.

Students encountered a problem in their Management Mathematics and Statistics courses, whereby adult students were finding it difficult to grasp the subject due to their negative experiences with math or lack of self-confidence.

They also faced problems with the software Microsoft Equation Editor, used to input mathematical symbols for their coursework, as they were unfamiliar with the tool.

To overcome these problems, OUM started a pre-tutorial mathematics workshop to teach students how to use the Microsoft Equation Editor software. They were also taught how to access video clips and PowerPoint slides posted in the blog, as some students were not well-versed enough in technology to effectively use these resources.

Students were then shown how extended discussion can be conducted through a specially-created Facebook group. At the same time, this increased their engagement and encouraged interaction, reducing feelings of isolation which is one of the major challenges of distance learning courses.

Social media is also great for research, offering useful audience and subject monitoring tools. Students can use polls, surveys, or even just post a simple question to gauge how people feel about a particular topic.

A way to communicate with students

Should professors connect with students from their personal profiles? Source: Shutterstock

In a university setting, social media can be incredibly useful when it comes to reaching out and engaging with students. It’s a less formal way for professors to communicate, showing students a more personal side while improving the teacher-student relationship.

A study that analysed the use of social networks as a communication tool between teachers found that that they primarily communicate through social networks for academic reasons.

Results of the study led researchers to conclude that teachers should use social networks as communication tools for purely academic-related issues, such as addressing aspects related to class organization and coursework. Teacher-student interaction in the social media sphere should be kept strictly professional.

The study also uncovered that teachers found Facebook and WhatsApp to be the most effective social media tools due to the popularity and versatility of Facebook, and the easy-to-use communicative abilities of WhatsApp.

Professors should also be careful about what they post and how much they wish to share with their students via social media platforms, as their online profile content could affect their credibility as an education professional.

They are advised to keep their profiles primarily for academic purposes or to keep their personal profiles private, creating a separate public profile for connecting with students or sharing academic-related content.

For students taking distance learning courses or for lectures with large class sizes, teachers can make themselves more accessible to students via social media.

They can hold ‘virtual office hours’ through Skype or get them to use Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp to raise questions they didn’t get the chance to in class.

Connecting students 

A great example of using social media to connect with students – admissions staff members and current students answer questions on the interview process via Google Hangout (Wayne State University School of Medicine).

Professors and educators can and should encourage their students to better communicate with one another for group projects, either by using Whatsapp groups or Google Hangouts.

Personally, I found social media helpful when I was a student back in 2009. I was struggling in a Psychology Statistics class, and felt a bit lost in a sea of around 300 students.

A fellow classmate introduced me to a Facebook group for the particular course, which had members from my current class and previous students who had taken the course before.

Students posted questions regarding assignments, exams and coursework, while other students commented with answers and suggestions.

I found it extremely helpful to be able to connect with fellow classmates and seek help from them. This was ten years ago, and social media has come so far since then, making it even easier for student communities to strengthen.

In a university setting, social media is a valuable tool in terms of keeping staff members engaged and informed.

They can use their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profiles to spread awareness about a particular news incident related to the university, broadcast important information, and share anecdotes or videos about the institution.

Ultimately, social media plays an increasingly important role in higher education. It’s a rapidly evolving field, so there’s plenty of potential to integrate social media platforms and tools in student learning.

Professors would be wise to adopt ways to incorporate these platforms into their coursework and student interactions, if they’re not doing so already, to keep up with the ever-growing digital world and encourage 21st century learning.

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