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Only 14 percent of college faculty said they saw educational value in social media such as Twitter.
Only 14 percent of college faculty said they saw educational value in social media such as Twitter.

There are more than 20 million college students in America, and more than 50 percent will not graduate. The No. 1 reason contributing to student dropout rates is a lack of engagement. The billion-dollar question for our education system is: How do we motivate and stimulate students to take a more proactive role in their academic success?

An obvious starting point might be the environments in which we know today’s students are currently engaged, all day, every day—social networks. To date, a significant chasm has existed between students’ interactive, stimulating experiences with social media and the reality of their “low-tech” classrooms.

Of course, there are exceptions, but on the whole, the education system isn’t yet capitalizing on the social networking and Web 2.0 tools that keep today’s digital natives motivated. It’s time to unleash that potential.

In a recent McGraw-Hill Education survey, a staggering 98 percent of students agreed social networking is beneficial to their education. Yet a CDW-G survey indicated only 14 percent of instructors believe there is educational value in using social networking sites.

This disconnect between student and instructor perceptions stretches across the range of social media sites and even to what many in the commercial sector now think of as traditional technologies.

Given the nature of higher education—that is, a culture typically built on collaboration, research, shared information, and real-time communication—it seems only natural that social media would be an important education technology tool for instructors and students alike.

Engaging institutions

Change can be difficult, time consuming, and costly. To ensure that faculty and institutions adopt and implement these new study and learning tools, we first need to make sure they can see the value.

For that, we need a success story. Community colleges have long been at the forefront of change, more quickly adapting to new economic conditions, technologies, student demographics, and more. Just as they were on the front lines of online learning, so they again must serve as the industry’s beacon of change with social learning networks.

In addition to creating a “poster child,” the industry will need to convince institutions that social media can affect their bottom line. More engaged, digitally imaginative students means more career-ready students, and that has brand benefits for institutions.

Encouraging instructors to use social media and giving them incentives—like linking tenure to digital teaching innovation and using unique methods to engage and connect students in the classroom—will place colleges on the cutting edge and, most importantly, drive student performance and retention.

Using technology in non-intimidating, intuitive ways will be key, especially as institutions seek to win their share of the rapidly growing mature-age student market. Offering flexibility and peer-support networks for students with multiple conflicting priorities, from jobs to families, who can’t physically engage on campus will be all-important, and social media plays right into that space.

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