Engaging students with social media

Social media is increasingly being recommended as an innovative method of supporting student engagement.  Mobile technology makes it easy for us to reach learners wherever they are and, in turn, allows them to share their concerns or memorable moments with us.  With students spending less time on campus and more time on social media, it is essential for teaching and support staff to explore how sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can be integrated into the student experience.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

What do we mean by student engagement?

Before you decide how to use social media to increase student engagement, you need to be clear about what you mean by engagement.  Are you striving to improve attendance at classes or events?  Would you like more feedback on services or to prolong class discussions?  Or do you want to motivate students to take a more collaborative approach to their learning?

Here are four different types of student engagement that can be enhanced with social media.

1. Physical engagement

For students to be interested in what’s happening on-campus, they need to be informed.  Use social media to increase awareness of your activities and amplify events.  Tweet reminders about upcoming activities or use the Facebook Events feature to publicise social occasions and manage attendance.  Create an event hashtag and publicise it online and on printed materials but don’t forget to encourage others to use it too!  It’s essential to make contact early and often to build up interest and maintain momentum throughout the event.

2. Emotional engagement

Social media can be used to foster positive emotions in students throughout the student life-cycle.  By engaging with them from the start using platforms that they are familiar with, we can guide them through each stage and manage their expectations, making the transition to student life much smoother.  Using tools like Instagram to show students ‘behind the scenes’ or to profile members of staff, can add a personal touch to their student experience – something that can be difficult to do in a large institution.  Hashtags are a great way to encourage students to demonstrate their affinity, such as the #LoveQUB campaign by Queen’s University Belfast.

3. Social engagement

Support services as well as academic departments can use Facebook and Twitter to provide guidance and build online communities.  This is proving important for generating a sense of belonging, particularly for isolated groups such as part-time or international students.  Online spaces can provide a social dimension when there is no campus café or common room where learners can meet.  Used proactively, Facebook groups or module hashtags can be effective ‘ice-breakers’, encouraging students to get to know each other and potentially create friendships that could last beyond graduation.

4. Intellectual engagement

If you want students to be intellectually engaged, activities need to be relevant and stimulating.  Social media can be particularly conducive to peer-assisted learning as students can exchange views, share resources they have found or showcase their own content.  For example, Padlet is great for brain-storming or collaboration and Twitter can extend discussions beyond the classroom.  Or, instead of writing a report, students could create a blog or vlog.  Technology, when integrated into an appropriate learning design, can be a catalyst for curiosity and creativity, while helping learners to refine their digital communication skills.

How do we measure our success?

Once you have decided the type of engagement you are aiming for, you need to consider how you will measure it.  For physical engagement, attendance at classes or events can be a reasonable indicator of success.  For emotional or social engagement, finding a suitable metric will be less straight-forward.  Likes, shares and comments may be of interest, but will be less informative than anecdotal evidence or feedback from students.  Whereas learner analytics such as accessing online resources or contributing to a wiki or blog may be reasonably indicative of intellectual engagement.

As you can see, there are lots of ways that social media can be used to engage students.  The key is to be clear about your objectives and how you are going to measure your success.  Then, if your chosen method isn’t working, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

Have you used social media with students in the past?  Share your experiences in the comments!

Further reading: Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement by Lis Parcell.

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