Social Media is the New Study Hall

HIGHER EDTECH | By Julie Smith

Year-over-year, social media continues to expand on our nation’s campuses as an educational tool.  Now more than ever, students and faculty are using Facebook, online chat, blogs and other social networking sites to connect on class assignments.

The annual CDW-G 21st-Century Campus Report shows growth in social media over the years.  According to the 2010 study, 64 percent of college students reported using social media to connect with classmates on class assignments at least several times a month, up from 52 percent of students who used social media for classes in 2009.

As students increase their use of social media, faculty re-evaluate ways to communicate with them.  According to the 2009 report, just five percent of faculty said that they use Facebook to communicate with students.  This year, faculty have expanded their use of social networking, with 23 percent that use blogs in conjunction with teaching.  In addition, 19 percent are using online text and video chat, up from 17 percent in last year’s report.

The 2010 study also found that social media engagement is not limited to higher education.  More than three-quarters of today’s high school students are using it as an educational tool.

As institutions educate and engage next-gen students, they should consider integrating social media into their curriculum.  By using these platforms as an educational tool, campuses can reach students on a new, more meaningful level.

At Temple University, one department is using social media as a stepping stone to reach students in real time.

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The Management Information Systems (MIS) department at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia uses an integrated content management system to communicate with students on class assignments, course documents, internship information and study groups.

John Brownell, CDW-G intern and graduating senior at Temple University, was one of the first students to start using the MIS Community, which is based on interactive applications and students’ needs and wants.

“Fox MIS wanted to create an interface that was all-inclusive, with features from Facebook and Twitter, and link them with features that duplicate Blackboard-like functionality to provide students with an open forum.  The site allows students to get course information, share ideas about projects, hear about upcoming seminars and even find jobs,” said Brownell.  “Fox MIS took the idea of Blackboard and Facebook, and merged them together so that students can interact easily and learn efficiently.”

Brownell and most students at Temple University use social media in their personal lives, so bringing it into their department for educational purposes made sense.

“Since students in the MIS department were already using social media to connect with classmates, it made sense to create a cohesive, standard portal,” continued Brownell.  “The site is unique in that students can not only access course specific information easily, they can also create profiles, post possible test questions and share ideas.  We haven’t seen another site like this on campus.”

The network, which was created by MIS department professors and select students, includes more than 2,000 users, up from just a few dozen users when the site launched two years ago.

Creating the site did not happen overnight, though.  Its creators used case study examples and real success stories to convince faculty that social media was not a distraction, but rather a learning tool that provides educational value to students.

Today, the site has evolved and grown exponentially, as several departments are considering creating similar social networking sites.

In addition to the portal that the MIS department uses, students campus-wide are connecting with classmates and faculty via the university’s Google Chat function.

“Temple hosts its e-mail via Google, so students and faculty use its instant message feature,” said John.  “This is especially helpful for class assignments.  Most people are always on their e-mail anyway, so we are able to schedule meetings for group projects easily and can ask each other for help from the convenience of our dorm rooms.”

Brownell hopes that the MIS department’s site will inspire student leaders and faculty to create and build a campus-wide social network for all of its 39,000 students.

Ready to Do it Yourself?

As institutions look to incorporate social media into their curriculum, they need to consider critical first-steps to thoroughly understand the breadth of the project, and learn how to engage students along the way.

CDW-G offers the following guidelines for bringing social media to campus:

Survey the students and faculty:  Institutions looking to integrate social media on their campus should first identify student and faculty needs.  Ask them what they are using in their personal lives to understand how it can be applied to their classes

Showcase the “wow” factor:  Faculty may be slow to get on board.  To secure their buy-in, administrators should demonstrate the advantages of social media and highlight successes.  At Temple University, faculty were impressed with the number of users and how students were using the site to make strides in their grades and achievement

Seek student input:  When piloting social media programs, it is critical to seek out students’ opinions.  After all, they offer the next-gen voice on what works and what doesn’t

Use a little of this and a little of that:  Pull functionalities from several sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – to create a site that includes everything students will want.  Temple University’s MIS Community site has several applications, offering students a variety of ways to engage

Look at what you already have:  Some students may have created their own Facebook pages and blogs for class.  Research what is already available and determine ways to expand groups and networks to make existing content available to additional students

Consider virtual office hours:  John Brownell strongly encourages institutions to adopt virtual office hours.  Faculty can connect with students through instant message features, eliminating the hassle of in-person office hours.  Create boundaries on when students and faculty can use instant message to avoid personal disruptions.

Keep it current:  With all social media, from the consumer to the education market, it is key to keep content updated and current.  In order to keep students active on the site, faculty and staff must ensure that documents are current and that information is the most up-to-date.

As institutions look to reach their students on an interactive and engaging level, they should consider integrating social media programs.  Who knew that social media would be able to change the way the 21st-century student learns?


Julie Smith is vice president of higher education for CDW-G, where she leads a team providing best-in-class information technology products to address higher education institution issues with processes and reporting, state mandates, institutional funding, staff resources and technology standardization.


  1. Do you know of an existing survey concerning professors’ use of social media with education students?

  2. Totally agree! Social media isn’t just for meaningless ‘status updates’, it can also be a great tool for learning and communication.
    A tool that schools should look at is which is a free resource for students to manage group projects and for teachers to create virtual classrooms.

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