Communicating and learning at a distance takes a lot of support. Colleges and universities are increasing their use of social media in a range of activities in and out of class. Your school is reaching out, are you making the connection?
Tufts University provides a helpful description of social media as “a term used to collectively describe a set of tools that foster interaction, discussion and community, allowing people to build relationships and share information.” Some of the most common social platforms inlcude blogs (e.g., WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr), LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, but there are many, many more.
Let’s take a closer look at how online instructors and institutions are using social media to support students throughout their academic programs and beyond.
You may find your instructors using social media in some of the following ways either as part of your school’s learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, eCollege, Moodle), or as an additional resource for communication and collaboration:
- Class assignments: Writing and reflection assignments can be submitted as posts on a class blog or on a site you set up yourself. These platforms allow for easy upload and commenting, and offer an alternative to threaded discussions.
- Group work: Closed Facebook Groups and shared Google Apps (i.e., Drive, Calendar, Sites) provide space for online students to work together on team assignments.
- Office hours: Tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, which offer two-way text chat or video, are popular for virtual office hours and online class meetings.
- Announcements: How do you find out about course changes? What happens if the course site goes down for an extended period of time? Instructors can use social media updates as an alternate way to post course announcements.
Find out how to apply, view testimonials from current students and previous graduates, and look for clues about an institution’s culture through school-sponsored social media accounts like these:
- Pinterest: Capella University uses Pinterest to share articles and images related to a wide range of topics including career resources, student information, and reading lists.
- Facebook: Southern New Hampshire University is just one school using Facebook to connect with students. Explore both online and on campus programs with tools provided on this platform.
- YouTube: Kaplan University’s YouTube Channel includes graduation ceremonies, introductions to the school’s programs, as well as student and faculty presentations.
Career Counselors now use blogs and other social tools to reach their students and clients. Here are just a few examples of how career center staff members are available online:
- Walden University’s Career Center has its own Twitter account through which the office shares helpful resources, job search tips, and notices about upcoming webinars.
- American Public University System is using Vimeo to share videos, including a recent series related to social media and the job search.
- American Public University System’s Office of Career Services is actively using Facebook to share resources and promote events, such as job fairs and open house sessions.
Social media can help you meet previous graduates from your program, abd keep you connected with your school and classmates after you graduate.
- LinkedIn Groups: The University of Phoenix Alumni Association has an established presence here with a group that includes more than 38,000 graduates who use this space to “network, promote job openings, and discuss career development.”
- Mobile Apps: Liberty University’s Alumni Relations Office encourages students to stay in touch with each other and the institution with an app that features quick access to information about special events, university news, and more.
Explore all of the ways in which your school is using social media to bridge the distance between you and the resources available. Each institution’s services decide how they will communicate online, but here are just two examples of social media in action with support services:
- Libraries: Saint Leo University’s Cannon Memorial Library gives online and on campus students updates and encouragement through a Facebook page.
- Academic Advising: Penn State World Campus provides an online profile for each of its academic advisors, many of whom list Skype and Facebook accounts created for student use.
Pearson’s 2012 study of how higher education faculty members use social media found that 44.7% use social media for professional reasons (primarily through LinkedIn) and 33.8% use social media in their teaching (mostly through blogs and wikis). Faculty member social profiles can help you:
- Get to know your professors. Professional social media profiles often include details about work experience, education and training, and research interests, as well as membership or leadership positions in industry organizations.
- Broaden your network. Your instructors can become supportive mentors and members of your professional network, and social media can keep the conversations going long after the classes end. Connect with your instructors, but ask first. Many instructors have preferences, and some schools issue strict policies, about how and when students and instructors connect via social networks, so ask if they are open to connecting before sending a request or invitation.
Tips for Students
Now that you know where and how online schools are using social media, it’s your turn. Meet them halfway by connecting, friending, circling, and following from your accounts. If you are new to social media, consider these steps to get started:
- Pick your platform. Choose just one or two social networking systems and register for your own accounts. Start slowly and get comfortable with the interfaces and flow of social media communication online. You can always sign up for additional platforms later on.
- Watch and learn. Look at school accounts as well as the profiles of leaders in your field, classmates, and your instructors. Note how they conduct themselves and what type of information they include about their personal and professional backgrounds. Find a few social media mentors, even if it’s at a distance.
- Keep your digital footprint in mind. Use social media to enhance your professional presence online, not detract from it. Assume that your updates and posts are public and permanent, even if you use privacy settings, and leave a positive impression.
- Develop a strategy. What do you want to get out of using social media? Think about where you would like to connect with your school and professors, as well as how you might use these accounts to further your career exploration and a future job search.
- Review and revise on a regular basis. Once your accounts and profiles are established, make sure you keep them up-to-date with new posts and current information. Take some time to periodically review how you are using social media to decide what’s working well or not so well, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Check with your instructors and institution for policies regarding social media use. There may be specific guidelines to follow if you use your accounts as part of a formal course, and exepctations for how students and instructors use these tools to communicate.
Social media and online networks not only provide ways to research online schools before you enroll, but also offer new avenues for you to reach important services and resources as you work through your academic program and beyond.
What are your recommendations? Share your favorite social networks here and tell us how you are making a connection with your online college.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog