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Student Engagement Through Social Media: #IsItPossible?

This post is taken from my Student Success doctoral course at California Lutheran University. I am currently a second year doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership program. This summer each person in my small cohort is charged with leading a weekly online discussion with the following parameters:

  • a) identifying and posting a higher education news article or Ted Talk video;
  • b) identifying and posting a research article centered on the same topic; and
  • c) initiating a discussion thread with a discussion prompt that asks your peers to critique and compare/contrast items a and b.

It is a pretty straightforward assignment. My classmates have four days to respond. Our online conversations are rich and reflected, but I thought how interesting it would be to also post this discussion on this blog. You may or may not work in higher education. Maybe you are student or a recent alumni. Below is the discussion post I added this week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!
One way that programs and services within higher education may be assessed is through the level of student engagement and involvement. “Student engagement is the time and effort students put into studies and other activities that lead to the experiences and outcomes that constitute student success” (Wolf-Wendel, Ward & Kinzie, 2009, p. 407). However, student engagement by definition also must include how the institution organizes itself to create, “opportunities and services to encourage students to participate in and benefit from such activities” (p. 407). Based on this description of student engagement, one must also consider the online interaction, services and opportunities between higher education and the community of which it serves. In this post I specifically address tools of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Is it possible that social media can increase student engagement? Can it provide the glue between student time/effort and institutional encouragement of engagement based activities?
Countless engagement opportunities exist on college campuses such as Greek life, student government, and on-campus jobs. The impact of student use of social media and how involved they become was positively correlated in 2011 by researcher Rey Junco. Junco (2011) explained that when students were active participants on Facebook, through posting events, pictures, and comments they were more likely to show that same in-person activity level on-campus. Junco found “the most impactful Facebook activities in terms of engagement outcomes…seem to be those where students invest the most psychological energy and possibly the most physical energy” (2011, p. 169). With this knowledge, social media could be used to motivate, educate, and market to college students for involvement opportunities.
Last spring higher education social media expert/consultant Eric Stoller released a blog post on InsideHigherEd.com, declaring that social media does increase student engagement. However, he put the responsibility back on higher education leaders themselves.

“In the sense that Student Affairs practitioners are like carpenters – instead of building houses – we build community, increase student engagement, and foster opportunities for student development. Social Media are only as good as we make them. The tools themselves do not build houses nor do they increase student engagement. We do. Practitioners actively create structures that enhance engagement” (2011, para 1).

The author goes on to declare that the secret sauce for harness social media technology is ourselves, leaders in higher education. Just having a Facebook page or Twitter account will not cut it. “Can social media increase and/or contribute to student engagement? Absolutely. However, this only occurs if you are at the helm and actively using the tools in ways that contribute to educationally purposeful activities” (para 3).
As cited in the last three paragraphs, I offered three sources for your consideration on student engagement and social media:

  1. Junco (2011) based upon qualified publicized research on student Facebook use
  2. Eric Stoller (2011) Inside Higher Ed blog post on social media counting as student engagement
  3. Qualifying student development definitions of student engagement by Wolf-Wendel, L., Ward, K., & Kinzie, J. (2009)

From here I would like to open up the conversation with the following prompts. Feel free to respond to these or any other content that stood out from the references shared.

  • Do you agree or disagree that social media has the capability to increase student engagement. Why or why not?
  • How do we as higher education leaders work within the tools of social media, while role modeling profession boundaries and behavior in-person and online?
  • How (or how not) is your university/department/position actively using social media tools, that as Eric Stoller calls for, to ‘contribute to educationally purposeful activities that increases student engagement’?

While the assignment did not call for me to provide my opinion, I can not help but offer it here. It should be obvious what side of the table of social media I sit on, since I chose this topic to even write about. I believe strongly in the power of communication through alternative sources, such as social media. I have seen the dynamic interaction especially on YouTube, as virtual communities are formed and strengthened. I also know first-hand having platforms as part of a program strategy is not enough. Just as student affairs professionals must have a grasp on student development theory, leadership/management practices and learning outcomes assessment, so it is time for our field to have competency standards on technology. It is not the pressure that student affairs leaders must sign up and be active on social media, especially if they can not be authentic. It is necessary however to know social media methods, so when the opportunities calls for it, the tools can be used in educationally purposeful activities.
References
Junco, R. (2011). The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities and student engagement. Computers & Education, 58, 162-171.
Stoller, E. (2012). Social media increases student engagement. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved athttps://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/social-media-increases-student-engagement#ixzz2ZYXk4rEc
Wolf-Wendel, L., Ward, K., & Kinzie, J. (2009). A tangled web of terms: the overlap and unique contribution of involvement, engagement, and integration to understanding college student success. Journal of College Student Development, 50(4), 407-428.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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