My research is focused on using emerging technologies to help engage students and enhance their success in higher education. Some people who learn about my research before meeting me, think I’m going to be a digital evangelist. On the contrary, I prefer to be engaged with my students in realspace (i.e., the classroom) and realtime. I would never recommend using technology as a panacea or a replacement for face-to-face engagement. That being said, I am interested in meeting students where they are, using technologies that are meaningful to them, in order to enhance our face-to-face interactions. If you already haven’t been inclined to do so, I hope that this post will pique your curiosity about using social media in educationally-relevant ways.
Early in the days of the web, the primary activity was web surfing—an oftentimes solitary experience. During the early days of the web, interpersonal digital interactions were a byproduct of other online activities. Then, we saw the development of personal publishing tools such as blogs and the interactivity of the web blossomed. Fast forward to today, where we live in the time of the social web– a more interactive, engaging, and democratizing space where social capital is of great importance. The social aspect of today’s Internet is expressed through the popularity of social media and content creation websites like Twitter, Facebook, youTube, flickr, Last.fm, and blogs.
As the Internet has developed and expanded to reach more segments of the population, I have been curious about the power that technology can have to bring people together. I’ve long theorized that social networking website use was not a “waste of time” (as many of my colleagues put it) but an important vehicle for student self-expression and connection. We now have evidence that is the case. For instance, both Heiberger & Harper (2008) and the Higher Education Research Institute (2007) found that time spent on social networking websites was correlated with indices of student engagement. Additionally, Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) discovered that Facebook use was related to an increase in engagement with students’ supportive social ties. I’ve recently completed an experimental study of using Twitter in the classroom and found similar results. The take-home message is that the online social web mimics the realspace social web– if you are more engaged online, you’ll be more engaged in the real world.
What does this mean for advisors? I believe there are three major issues that impact our trajectory in using technology in educationally-relevant ways. For starters, we aim to engage our students in the advising process and hope that they will remain engaged and thinking about their academic trajectory when we are not around. Consider the advisee who comes to their advising meeting having “done her/his homework” and presents you with a list of courses she/he is thinking of taking that shows they have researched general education requirements, prerequisites, etc. Now consider the student who comes in to their advising appointment, sits down, and waits for you to tell her/him what courses to take. Clearly there is a difference in engagement level between the two. Which leads to a question that is not rhetorical, but merely practical– what can you do about it?
Second is the reality of the economic hardships faced by our institutions. Before the current economic downturn, many of us did not have enough resources to provide quality advising to all of the students in our caseload. Now, we continue to struggle in order to cover both demand and need and there doesn’t seem to be relief in sight. Advising is a resource-intensive task, yet resource allocation for advising has diminished steadily over the last decade with a precipitous decline over the last two years.
Third, and most importantly, is our desire to meet our students “where they are.” In today’s interconnected and wired society, meeting them “where they are” means engaging our students in their online spaces. A significant barrier to this has been the gap between advisor and advisee adoption of new technologies. Lucky for us, the last few years have seen a normalization of the adoption curve especially among older Internet users. For instance, the largest growth in Facebook adoption in 2007-2008 was for the 35-49 demographic (Nielsen, 2009). This has led to a more general societal awareness and openness to using social media. The institutional resistance to using social media with students has been replaced with a desire to connect with them using these technologies.
The timing and interconnectedness of these three issues give us an opportunity and presents a call to action to integrate technologies into our repertoire of effective advising tools. With the tools we have at our disposal, we can help students maintain a level of engagement with their advisors that provides an unparalleled student experience and allows a more balanced distribution of our communication workload. For example, we can employ YouTube video introductions to advisors, maintain wikis that explain the details of the advising process, and leverage Twitter and Facebook to broadcast important information, respond to student queries, and develop a realspace-to-digital relationships with our students.
I hope that this brief introduction to using new technologies in educationally relevant ways inspires you to be curious about how you can leverage these technologies for student good. Sure, it takes time and can sometimes be frustrating or even daunting based on your level of technical expertise. In the same ways that you push yourself to develop professionally with advising skills and competencies, I urge you to push yourself to explore fresh ways to reach students through newer virtual formats.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4).
Heiberger, G., & Harper, R. (2008). Have you Facebooked Astin lately? Using technology to increase student involvement. In Junco, R., & Timm, D. M., eds. Using emerging technologies to enhance student engagement. New Directions for Student Services Issue #124. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 19-35.
Higher Education Research Institute (2007). College freshmen and online social networking sites.
This is an edited version of an article that appears in the NACADA Academic Advising Today Newsletter
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