Social media sites have become a major source for information access in our society (Anderson and Caumont 2014). Institutions of higher learning can use these information tools to a great extent when reaching out to stakeholders and documenting how stakeholders engage in various institutional activities. Because budgets can be limited, social media can offer low-cost or free alternatives for reaching out to stakeholders to provide information about or promote class enrollment, activities, student learning outcomes, faculty and staff members and a wide range of college-hosted events. Social media provide both quantitative and qualitative means to demonstrate how institutions of higher learning engage their students, faculty, staff and community.
At Arizona Western College, instead of limiting social media to one position, a social media team was created that included current employees who were willing to post on social media from their various areas. The team included employees from recruitment, campus life, student clubs, the technology help desk, administration and marketing who agreed to guidelines and had knowledge and skills to post on social media.
The group’s mission was to provide a diversified viewpoint of the multitude of activities occurring at this comprehensive community college. Following are a number of areas at the institution that have benefited from social media posting, which can be replicated at other colleges and universities.
Student Learning Outcomes
Over the years, one issue was how to engage the community in what students at the institution were learning and how to quantify this engagement. College administrators and faculty members had discussed how to spur the community to recognize and appreciate the excellent learning that was occurring.
Immediately after the posting of photos and descriptions of students engaging in learning, comments appeared from the students, who were proud of the learning they were involved in, as well as from their friends, families and community members who knew them. Some examples of this learning were nursing students practicing in a clinical laboratory setting with simulated models, which included a description of the activity taking place, such as inserting an IV; photojournalism students posting on human interest stories; and agriculture students planting in the land lab.
Toward the end of the semester, the team posted photos of professors and asked students to post on what they had learned in class that semester. Students posted on English, biology and mathematics, sharing how they now write, or view the water differently, or see mathematical formulas when they walk down a sidewalk. Comments posted on each of these photos demonstrated the pride students took in the learning they engaged in and the appreciation their community showed in the learning taking place.
We had heard that new and prospective students were often scared at coming to the college campus because they did not know anyone and were concerned about being in an unfamiliar place. We began a campaign called #MeettheMatadors, which involved daily postings of photos of faculty members, administrators and staff members, introducing each and describing what each taught or the job the person held at the college and encouraging people to say hello when they saw the person on campus. A huge success both on and off campus, this campaign boosted morale at the college among employees who felt recognized, valued and thanked for their contribution to the institution. Posting photos of custodians and encouraging people to thank them for their hard work at keeping everything looking so beautiful resulted in hundreds of comments from the campus and community complimenting them and from their children posting how proud they are of their hard-working moms or dads. Employees commented about how they had talked with someone throughout the years but never knew the person’s name or what he or she did. Students posted on what a great instructor someone was and how the instructor helped them learn. In general, the posts improved morale and provided more of a collegiate feeling of belonging, with people recognizing and complimenting each other.
Faculty members, in particular, received additional focus in social media through short videos that highlighted their degrees, academic subjects and interests. A series called “AWC In Focus” involved 2- to 4-minute videos of faculty members talking about their interests and careers in their fields; these are posted on YouTube and used periodically to promote classes they teach. These received numerous comments from students who want to tell others what great instructors these individuals are.
Every institution hosts activities that draw the community to campus, whether those activities are sports events, plays, concerts, family nights, 5K runs, or fundraising activities. Social media posting offers a way to first inform the community of the event that will occur and, subsequently, to post photos of what took place, which gives community members the opportunity to share comments on what a great time they had at these events.
Posting on the college’s Facebook website of classes available during different sessions has resulted in increased enrollment in sections within 24 to 48 hours. Posts include images of the subject or faculty member with information on the class section, days and times it would meet and the instructor name, along with a call to register.
The Student Success Center wanted to increase traffic but realized that many times students were uncomfortable about going into a new building and telling people they needed help with a subject. The college began posting information about college tutors so that they would be familiar to students and other faculty members. This information included each tutor’s major, favorite things to do and career goals.
Many students need a role model to help them persevere to their college degree. By posting on alumni and the careers in which they currently are employed, students see people who graduated from the college, transferred to other colleges and followed different careers, such as those of doctors and engineers. One article focused on a first-generation student at the college who was planning to become a mechanic but instead transferred to Harvard Medical School and became a doctor.
Social media through Facebook or LinkedIn shows the numbers of people each post reaches, how many individuals read the post and how many clicked or commented on the post. This information is archived so that documented engagement on each post is readily available through the Internet. Here are some lessons learned about posting on social media for an institution:.
- Ask faculty members and staff members to send in photos and descriptions of learning activities and events that can be included and use social media as a communication tool.
Social media can benefit your institution through engaging your stakeholders.
Anderson, M., and A. Caumont. 2014. How social media is reshaping news. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/24/how-social-media-is-reshaping-news/.