NEW ORLEANS, LA. — When students aren’t making connections or friends easily, then you know they’re having a hard time adjusting to life on your campus. And challenges to student engagement can significantly impact student development and success.
Should you blame social media and other technology? Or see them as opportunities for boosting engagement?
“As much as we think social networking makes students antisocial, it really does help bridge those connections. It helps them make those social connections a little bit more quickly and easily,” said Adam Cebulski, senior director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, at OrgSync. In fact, research backs that up, he said.
“Social media will make their world a little bit smaller and more manageable at first, then they’ll eventually expand their world,” he said.
The approach has worked for Roniciel “Joy” M. Vergara, who formerly worked at DePaul University and is now director of campus programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cebulski and Vergara recently discussed effective strategies at the annual conference of NASPA — Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
So how do you start using social media and other technology to boost student engagement? Consider implementing these key steps recommended by Cebulski and Vergara:
- Know your students.
- Collect stakeholders.
- Centralize technology.
- Define your voice.
- Select a framework.
- Continually assess development outcomes.
Vergara said that it helps to start by setting goals, such as:
- Becoming more intentional and data-driven.
- Broadening, diversifying and strengthening points of strategic engagement.
- Strengthening the organizational and operational effectiveness of the student affairs division.
Consider what you’re already doing, what tools you already have, and how you can use those tools more efficiently, Vergara said. Gain buy-in from the beginning by talking to your vice president or vice chancellor. Discuss what kinds of data the institution already collects that isn’t being shared and how it can be shared. Have poster fairs to share data with academic affairs, she said.
Before you ask for something from another department, first offer data they want or student help they want and explain the benefits to them, Cebulski said.
Also consider all the online and paper data-collection methods you already have in place, such as residence halls, card readers, surveys, third-party vendors and shared drives. Consider asking graduate technology and design students to gather, implement and analyze data. For example, Vergara said that OrgSync for events can feed into a calendar application that feeds into a university events page and a university app.
But don’t just decide on platforms or formats without asking students what they’re using and what they like, Cebulski said.
Evaluate various tech methods
Cebulski and Vergara recommended you continually assess the strengths and weaknesses of your use of each social-media platform:
- Facebook: Post student-driven information, such as cancellations, deadlines and informal, fun stuff. Never pay to promote your material on Facebook — the key is posting content that others will want to share because more shares move your content higher up in the feed.
- Twitter: Keep it brief, to the point and more formal. In most cases, your institution and marketing departments won’t want you to have subaccounts.
- Instagram: This is where your personality comes out. Post photos of students having fun on campus. Show the fun nature of student affairs. Encourage students to add to certain hashtags. Ask student workers and student ambassadors (but only students you trust) to use your log-in to post photos from institutional events. Ensure all posts are fresh and current — never post or mention anything from the past (save that for Facebook). Usually avoid posts about the future, unless you’re posting regularly about something launching soon, like a daily countdown to senior week. But don’t post about an event that’s a month away because students won’t scroll down to read it.
- LinkedIn: Unless you’re involved in career placement, don’t waste your time here, especially if you’re involved in first-year or residential programs.
Aim for mobile, paperless
Think about any paper forms that could become electronic, such as forms students must fill out for events or waivers. You can easily connect students to programs such as SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics or Google Forms so students can access forms on their mobile devices instead of having to go to your office between 9 and 5 to fill out forms.
Gain buy-in among staff and higher-ups by emphasizing that paperless promotes sustainability plus increased connection with students in a more engaging, updated way, Vergara said. Start with something small, show how it works well, and then you can go on to bigger things, she said.
Students will likely catch on quickly. “When we have a system that is really truly for them, they’re slowly adapting and using it,” Vergara said.
Mobile marketing plays a key role. Whatever data-collection and engagement tools you ask students to use must be as easy as using a cell phone and as swiping a card up and down, Vergara said. “There’s an emotional connection and excitement to swiping,” she said.
Finally, if you decide to use a technology vendor who doesn’t cater to higher education, then make sure they understand how to address needs related to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, so that protected information doesn’t show up in Google searches, Cebulski advised.
For more information, you may contact Cebulski at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.orgsync.com or Vergara at RVergara@uic.edu or http://campusprograms.uic.edu.