We asked Sophie, who has just graduated from a UK university this summer, to share with us her thoughts on her use of social media while at university, her thoughts on how universities are using social media and how she feels it could be used now that she has graduated to maintain contact with her. Here’s what Sophie had to say …
“I grew up using computers and the Internet, and so it was almost inevitable that I would become drawn into social media. Through my school years I used Myspace, then changed allegiances to Facebook as it spread like wildfire between my friends, and now I have graduated I have my own Twitter account. I have used social media throughout my education. At first it seemed parallel to it, but the education sector is now beginning to understand the potential use of social media; an increasing number of universities are using it to connect to their students.
“The university I attended has recently re-vamped its website, where it provides links to ‘retweet’ articles, or post to Digg or Facebook. Within the last few months, it has also created its own Twitter account (a micro-blog) which it uses to broadcast news and events to its seven hundred followers. It also has a separate Twitter account specifically about accommodation at the university, providing information and reminders for deadlines – although a good idea, it only has forty followers.
“Several of my friends’ universities have also created Twitter accounts. However, most of my friends don’t use Twitter. It is still quite a new platform, and many students have become loyal to other platforms in which social links have already been created over years of use. Seven hundred followers on Twitter may seem impressive, but when there are actually fourteen thousand students at the university (not including alumni), it is quite a small percentage. Twitter is still one of the most simple social media platforms, though, and I believe its Internet presence will only get stronger as time goes on.
“Facebook is definitely the most popular social media platform among students. It would make sense that universities take advantage of the platforms which most of their students already use. Some students check Facebook updates more frequently than they check their university email, so it could provide a more immediate mode of contact.
“One friend reported that some of their tutors have their own Facebook profiles, and some of the students ‘add’ them as friends, but that she would rather retain her privacy. I think this is something most students feel strongly about; I know that I publish comments, photos or opinions on Facebook that I would rather keep separate from my tutors. Thankfully, at present, Facebook allows its users to control their privacy settings.
“Another friend told me that her university sometimes creates groups on Facebook to provide an online gathering place for students enrolled on a particular unit. Tutors can post course information, emergency notification, and can create a dialogue with the students. And of course, the students can discuss and collaborate with each other.
“Universities can also create their own page on Facebook, which people would ‘become a fan of’. This page could contain not only information, but a place for students, tutors and alumni to connect. University ‘groups’ are often created by students, which provides a place for students and alumni to connect and interact, partake in discussions, share photos, information and opinions. I am one of five thousands members of such a group, which suggests Facebook would be a perfect platform for universities to create their own official page.
“As well as Facebook and Twitter, I also use blogging to connect to people. Many students contribute to a blog (web log) and so are familiar with its setup and use; the comments system implemented on most blogs is a great tool for hosting discussion and is an easy way to connect to people. I have discovered the blogs of a few of my tutors, which provides interesting reading about their professions and interests, but I have not come across an official university blog.
“A blog is often more than just a news stream. If universities were to start blogging, I would like to see some more personal or creative posts. Blogs are a perfect platform for showcasing interviews with tutors or guest on their specialist subjects, or writing articles relevant to students, or creating a more in-depth discussion about a piece of news through the comments system. It could also be used to showcase some of the work done by students – videos, art, stories, articles. And since I found it interesting to read some of my tutor’s blogs, a university blog would be a great place to gather all the links to the tutors’ external blogs.
“YouTube, the famous video broadcasting site, can also be a very useful social networking tool. Again, it is familiar territory for most Internet users, especially students. Private groups can be set up, making it the ideal place to share information between a selection of people. Universities can create and upload videos or slideshows and use them to embellish the content posted on other social networks. Videos can be made to record or steam important events, reaching a larger audience and aiding publicity.
“YouTube can also be a place to host lectures so that students can watch and listen to them again. Some universities have already been publishing their lectures through podcasting for years, but I think that some lectures, especially if they contain diagrams or graphs, would be better broadcast with a more visual medium. I would have loved to be able to access lectures this way while I was at university for a number of reasons: sometimes I simply couldn’t take notes fast enough; sometimes I felt I needed more time to digest and understand the information; and sometimes illness would prevent me from travelling to campus (I suffered with a broken foot for two months which made it very difficult to get around). The ‘Blackboard’ system that some universities use to post lecture notes never worked for me during my time at university. Furthermore, YouTube also has a comments system that can be used to host productive discussions.
“There are many other types of social media on the web, however I am not familiar with some of them. Ning is a site where you can set up your own social network, but I have never been part of this site and I don’t know of any of my fellow students/alumni who are. Flickr lets you showcase your photography, and I know a few people who have accounts with this network. Some such sites can be useful to embellish other social media platforms, but I think perhaps it is best to stick to sites which students are already familiar with.
“So, social media can provide great links between universities and their students, but what about the alumni? At the moment, as a recent graduate, I am still interested in following news about my university on Twitter. Knowing about my university’s placements in league tables, achievements they are making, and events that they are holding still effects me as a graduate as I believe that the reputation of the university from which I have graduated is a reflection on me, and the quality of my degree.
However, now that my university email account has been terminated, I feel quite disconnected from my university. In the months before graduation, I would sometimes receive emails about prospective jobs, or alumni services that the university offers such as CV clinics. Now I have no contact with the university and feel a little stranded. I would love to still be receiving information about possible graduate jobs, and be able to talk and connect with my tutors without feeling like I am a bothersome graduate. I would also like to be kept up to date with post graduate learning information, especially anything about help with funding. It would also be nice if there was a place where I could stay connected to a larger group of graduates from my course, not just the ones I am friends with on my own online social networks. As far as I’m aware, my university does not provide platforms for any of this.
“And it’s not just current or alumni students that can benefit from universities using social media sites – prospective students can, too. Specific platforms can be created for prospective students to seek information, ask questions to university officials, and chat to other prospective students. This kind of networking, plus knowing that the university is tech-savvy, modern and willing to go that extra mile to support its students, would have definitely appealed to me as an undergraduate.
Universities are slowly developing their use of social media to connect to students. With all the different platforms, and all the different ways of using them, there is plenty of possibility and room for creativity. I think the sooner universities can set up these connections, the better. The platforms and the students are already there – all the universities have to do is join in.”