Reflections from WRCSAD13 – Social Media and Student Affairs

wrcsadI attended the Western Regional Career in Student Affairs Day (WRCSAD) at Long Beach State University last Saturday as a member of the UCSB NASPA Undergraduate Fellowship Program (NUFP) group. This was my first student affairs conference aside from a student affairs technology conference (satech) in Rhode Island two years ago.  I met a few folks I have known via Twitter in person (face-to-face) for the first time. I was also pleasantly surprised to meet a few student affairs pros who told me they’ve been following me on Twitter. The sessions I attended, including “Reflections from Senior Student Affairs Professionals,” “Professionals of Color,” and “Research in Student Affairs,” really invigorated me and validated the work that I do with students and through technology. The opening and closing keynote speakers were dynamic and provided personal perspectives on why they chose student affairs as a career. Another session I attended was “Social Media in Student Affairs.” The panel provided insights on their personal/professional use of social media. The students and professionals in attendance also asked questions about issues/concerns they have about social media, and one even shared their hesitation about using it. As I listened to the discussion, I thought about the different ways I use social media and how student affairs use it. I was also thinking about the message from the opening keynote speaker, Dr. Dyrell Foster, Dean of Student Affairs from Rio Hondo College. Here are some of the topics he shared and how I think social media relate:

Congruence of personal and professional values:

Dr. Foster spoke about how his personal life experience and the values he learned from his family are consistent with his professional value system. I think the topic of “authenticity” comes up from time to time when it comes to how one represents themself on and off social media. Do we share/relate with others online as we do “face-to-face”? In addition, how much can we separate our personal and professional lives on social media? Similarly, when it comes to our work, how much can we separate our values/perspectives from our work?

What is your reputation/legacy?

Dr. Foster asked the questions of what will be your reputation and the legacy we will leave behind. I think reputation is subjective; it’s how others define you from their perspectives. As personal as it is, I believe through our consistent actions and what we share, we develop a reputation(s), and we do have the ability to shape how others view us based on how we act online or what we share through our Facebook statuses, Instagram photos, Vine and YouTube videos, tweets, Linkedin profiles, and our blogs. With regards to legacy, what we write has the potential to be read and shared by more folks than we probably intended and, in some cases, even become the foundation for new projects at individual and institutional levels.

Who are your mentors/who will you mentor?

Dr. Foster also reminded the audience that student affairs are a tiny field and that the student/pro we are sitting with may be the one who will hire you or will connect you to the person who will be able to help you. Thank your mentors, he also said. I’ve met a few folks via social media who I’ve come to respect and follow. These are folks in student affairs, higher education, and technology fields. Since joining Twitter on August 9, 2010, I’ve had the opportunity to share some of my personal experiences and advice with graduate students and other student affairs professionals. I consider mentoring a relationship, so my experience with others on social media may not be defined as “mentorship.” However, the potential for conversations that started via social media could lead to meaningful mentoring relationships.

 As student affairs professionals, our identities and value systems are very much related to our work. I think the enjoyment and satisfaction we receive from our jobs relate to how aligned our value systems are with our work. The folks around us and the communities we work with also matter. Our communities have become more extensive in this digital age than on our physical campus. Social media also changes our identities and the impact of what we do.

Using Social Media/Technology to Assist International Students

This post is about how technology, including social media, can facilitate the adjustment to the culture, lifestyles and academic challenges faced by international students new to this country. I was at a meeting last week for student affairs managers at our university and one of the topics presented is the increasing population of international students.  The increase in the population could be partly attributed to the active recruitment of our admissions officers in other countries. According to this article by LA Times, the University of California system made the move to recruit more out-of-state students, including international students for geographic diversity and revenue. The unique needs of the international students were also discussed. Some of these challenges include:

  • Constant process of values, beliefs, and ways of life from the moment they arrive without traditional support network.
  • Those for whom English is a foreign language, there is a need for time to adjust and the need for support system.
  • The classroom style wherein the expected active class participation may run counter from their native educational systems.  Specifically, asking questions to the professor may be perceived as being rude.

As I was listening to these challenges, I could not help but reflect on how technology can provide assistance in the transition process of these international students. What resonates with me are  1) the need for a community and support system before they even arrive and during their stay and 2) the need to accommodate the different classroom participation style. As noted in that meeting, the students may know the answer but they may not verbalize them. The list of technology-related ideas below are very limited but they could certainly be components of university efforts to ensure the success of the transition process and retention of international students. In addition, the mention of the products/services below does not imply endorsements but to illustrate what are currently available to my knowledge.

  • University sponsored/managed social networks. While any individual can create groups and pages on facebook, I think colleges and universities should be proactive in setting up, managing and participating in their networks which could include groups, pages and apps within facebook like Inigral Schools App.  There is a lot of value in having students connected virtually, months before they even arrive on campus. Our campus does use Inigral Schools app and from personal observation, I have seen students introduce themselves to others and have conversations on topics that are not even related to academics but rather on similar interests, experience and similar location of origins. During the summer when orientation sessions were happening,  students asked details about what to expect from those who have previously attended them. Additionally, some students who attended the same sessions planned meet ups as well. Towards the beginning of the school year, topics discussed include items to bring for their dorms, class information (including common schedules), and plans to meet up for various activities (running, gym, surfing).
  • Social Media/Mobile for academic use. While the notion of using social media and mobile for academic use, particularly within classrooms as a means of participation is still not universally accepted, I think there is some value to providing alternative methods of engaging international students beyond verbal participation. There was  a study by Dr. Rey Junco that showed the use of twitter in the classroom led to an increase in the engagement and higher semester grade point average for students.  A good example of a system that uses social media and mobile for academic use, including active participation in the classroom is Studio by Purdue. From personal observation on facebook, I also see students collaborating on homework and forming study groups.
  • Personalized online orientations. One of the challenges for international students who are not familiar with the English language during orientations is that they may not be able to keep up with the presenters and comprehend materials being presented. In some cases, they are not able to attend these orientations physically. I think making these presentations available on-line, including one-on-one sessions using software like Adobe Connect, Skype and even Google+ Hang Out which makes these orientations more personal would probably make a difference in having international students feel more comfortable and understand the materials being presented to them.  In addition, general orientation sessions could also be recorded using software like Adobe Captivate and made available on university websites for later viewing.

What other ideas can you think of that could assist the transition (and retention) of international students?



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