Monday, April 9, 2012

Professional Day Part 2: The Importance of Social Media for the Community College

So the last post discussed some of the concerns for ourselves and our students when contemplating social media.  This post will examine some of the important reasons to consider and engage in social media in the college level.

Social Media = Virtual Community
Social Media is about devleoping and engaging an online community and that virtual community can transcend into the real world.  As North Shore Community College increasingly teaches more students online, we need to foster and engage our students in a similar fashion.  After all, the student that leaves in Western, Massachusetts going to NSCC full time via online classes is also part of our community.  Just as faculty have a physical presence in physical community, a virtual presence is also needed.

Role Models Needed
Students need role models.  This is often true in the phsycial classroom and equally true in the online environment.  They need people to look up to who can show them how to be professional and what it means to be responsible in public in an online environment.  Faculty can and should serve as that those role models, exhibiting profesionalism and etiquette.  There's often criticism and belittling of how students use (or misuse or abuse) social media, but if we don't provide concrete examples for them to emulate, are we helping or perpetuating the problem?

Tangible Social Connections
Because social media is much more clearly quantified (you can clearly delineate how many connections from a particular organization/geographical space that you have as well as easily quantify the amount and types of interactions), students can emerge from their degree with a clearer sense of what kinds of networks their education opened them up to.

Improving Social/Cultural Capital
With those tangible social connections, comes increased social and cultural capital.

First generation and low-income students can lack substantive social or cultural capital compared to middle class and students of college-educated parents.   While college is significantly about the education and work one does, it's also about establishing and expanding one's social network and thereby improving the opportunities afforded in the student's life.  Maintaing connections through social media is important for students as they move on in their lives.  This is because our social connections can often shape our opportunities and this is the case not just with our strong social bonds but our weak social bonds as well.

Crisscrossing Interactions
Engaging in social media also provides later opportunites for interaction and learning on both student and faculty's behalf.  Just as we are likely to keep connected with students in the real world at the end of a course, virtual connections also help to bridge the chasm of time and space.  This can make it much easier if you wish to call upon former students to guest speak in your class (particularly in fields like nursing or business) or for them to engage you for ideas and information.

Informing Students of Class, NSCC, and the world at large.
Social media also serves as a continued conduit with students with regards to the class, the college, and the world at large.  Utilizing social media for education can help students learn how to use social media as a meaningful tool while also keeping them connected to the institution and faculty that have hopefully guided the student to understand the world more.

With regards to these ideas, if you plan to use social media in the classroom in some direct or indirect way, I'd highly encourage you to think broadly ahead of time and develop a clear policy about the nature of how you want to use social media, how you expect students to engage it (with regards to you or the online social space that you construct), and other important considerations that might be helpful for them (and yourself) to better understand while providing clear understanding for how exactly socializing will occurr.

For the final part of this series, I will highlight some of the important points that I took from faculty during these workshops about social media.