The annual Social Media in HE Conference (#SocMedHE17) was held at Sheffield Hallam University on 19 December. Universities from across the UK and beyond were represented by both staff and students, with presentations on a wide variety of uses of social media in higher education. Highlighted here are just a few key topics that emerged throughout the day:
- Social media is used across many different streams of HE activity, including: marketing to potential students; institutional and departmental communications with current students; dissemination of research; student support and retention; careers news and advice; library updates; and alumni relations.
- Universities’ social media policies should aim to address all uses of social media. While most institutions’ policies focus on academics’ personal use of social media and on marketing campaigns, many do not provide guidance on other uses, such as recommending/requiring student engagement. This leaves some staff unsure of the extent to which they can use social media for teaching or communications with students.
- Student privacy is a key concern when implementing social media initiatives. Expecting students to engage with social media at any level involves, at the very least, requiring students to creating public online profiles. This, and any activity that follows, has implications for the student’s privacy and online personae. Care should always be taken to ensure that students are clear about exactly what they are posting online and, wherever possible, alternatives to public involvement.
- Student preference for when and how social media is used should be carefully considered. Institutions can fall into the trap of assuming that students want to use social media to engage with the university because they choose to use it outside of their studies. This isn’t always the case, and consideration should be given to individual student preferences as well as those of the student body as a whole.
- Both staff and students should have opportunities to learn how to best use social media. Safe, responsible and effective use of social media is increasingly important for students to grapple with, and this can be both explicitly and implicitly embedded into the curriculum as well as taught as part of a larger ‘digital literacies’ initiative. Staff members should also have the opportunity to develop their own social media knowledge and skills, which will in turn enable them to take the lead in deepening student understanding and use.
- Both staff and students should have opportunities to develop meta-skills for adapting to new technologies generally. As the digital world changes so rapidly, development like that suggested above should ensure that students and staff possess the skills to evaluate and experiment with any new platforms and technologies–including social media–that might emerge in the future.