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Educators: are you scaling the social media mountain? Digifest speaker, Eric Stoller

Eric Stoller

A 21st-century university or college needs to be social media savvy to thrive, if not survive. So why is there still so much resistance to exploiting social media opportunities in education? Eric Stoller looks at why some educators are stranded in the foothills of the social media mountain, and offers inspiration - and suggestions of the best apps and networks - from those who are at the peak.

It’s a common manoeuvre for bloggers to write up lists about the “best new apps” for teaching, learning, and engagement on the basis that there’s always something on the cutting edge that might be new for educators. However, the reality is that the rate of adoption of new technologies within higher education is always going to be less about the availability of whizzy new tools and more about a willingness to learn new things. And that comes down to whether or not experimentation (and sometimes failure) is rewarded.

In 2017, an interconnected, digitally-engaged university is the norm. Yet, there is still a lot of resistance to using social media within education.

In my blog post on why educators can’t live without social media, I presented a clear set of ideas, concepts, and arguments that offered ample opportunities for educators to use social media within the context of their work. Teaching, learning, retention, marketing, career development, digital literacy, engagement, and the student experience are all positively impacted by well-thought-out social media initiatives.

Educators are role models for their peers, students, staff, and anyone who connects with them on digital channels.

Leading from the top

So, what determines why some educators jump at the opportunities social media presents and others do not? I believe that organisational change, growth, motivation, and leadership influence how well social media are used within a university.

For example, a vice-chancellor who tweets or shares snaps is a role model for everyone who works at an institution. That simple act of leading by social sharing on digital channels showcases permission for others within a university to do the same. Digital leadership matters.

This kind of encouragement could be taken further. It’s been discussed within certain digital communities of practice (eg #LTHEchat on Twitter) that social media be added to annual appraisal metrics for educators. Regardless of which channel or tool is used, it’s a measure of innovation, creativity, and growth.

The challenge that social media presents for educators is that there exist myriad opportunities for use within countless networks. The “target” is constantly moving. Change is the norm. Apps and social networks are always evolving. New functionalities and ways of being on social media are frequently released. How do educators keep up with this constant churn? Prioritisation is key, along with building in time for “DPD” – digital professional development.

Social media channels - where are we now?

Given that, which social networks and apps should we be paying attention to right now? It depends, of course, on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Facebook is still the most widely accessed social network on the planet. Facebook Live has been used by educators around the globe for lectures, guest speakers, and open days.

Twitter is a multifaceted communications channel that can connect a variety of stakeholders and is often a “tip of the iceberg” for meaning making, learning, and global engagement. Similar to Facebook Live, Periscope (a Twitter property) offers up live broadcast functionality with social connectivity via mobile devices.

Houseparty, from the makers of Meerkat (a now defunct competitor to Periscope), allows for group video conversations.

While some of this live social functionality may currently be mostly informal, there exists a lot of potential for educators to use these spaces for teaching, learning, and enhancing the student experience. In any case, students and staff are now able to broadcast anytime, anywhere.

However, messaging apps that offer a more closed loop of interaction have also emerged as being highly valuable for student engagement. Take Snapchat or WhatsApp. These are hugely popular apps with students. Both apps offer one-to-one or group-based connectivity that doesn’t exist in a larger public sphere. Other apps to be aware of in this space include WeChat, Signal, and Facebook Messenger.

Daily ephemerality from Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories provide opportunities for quotidian storytelling that can be useful for a variety of educational aspects.

Some institutions, such as the University of Glasgow, have used student takeovers of these story accounts during study abroad programmes to good effect, allowing unique voices and experiences to be shared via campus and global communities. Some universities have even started incorporating Snapchat Spectacles into their daily stories – take a look at how Sheffield University is experimenting with this tool

Social media for student retention

Student engagement is a major factor in student retention. The more students are engaged while at university, the more likely they are to be successful.

Engagement takes place inside and outside of the classroom. Social media affords student services practitioners the opportunity to connect with students and build community, scaling interactions from just one-to-one to a one-to-many. For example, Facebook Groups have long been a way for administrators and educators to engage with large amounts of students, reaching them whenever and wherever.

Can educators survive without social media? Of course. However, can education survive without educators who are willing to learn how to use digital channels to benefit their students?

Today’s enrolment atmosphere is highly competitive and those institutions that can demonstrate that they are properly connected universities will have an edge with recruitment, retention, branding, teaching, learning, employability, and alumni development. 

Digifest 2017 - join the debate

Digifest 2017 logo

This is one of a series of features on topics that will be covered at this year's Digifest, which takes place on 14-15 March 2017.  

Eric will be giving his talk Part Deux: why educators can't live without social media at Digifest during the morning of day two. If you're not attending in person, we'll be livestreaming this session as part of our online programme.

Full details for all this year's sessions, can be found in the Digifest 2017 programme.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #digifest17.

The views expressed by contributors to Jisc Inform are theirs alone and not necessarily those of Jisc.