Social media already are ingrained in most college students’ personal lives, and now some college professors are using social media as a tool to help students create professional connections and build valuable workplace skills.
At Purdue University, Mihaela Vorvoreanu’s public relations students used social media to stay connected outside of class and to network with public relations professionals for outside learning experiences and for potential employment or internship opportunities.
Vorvoreanu, a professor of computer graphics technology and organizational leadership and supervision, gathered data about her students’ experiences and feedback and is currently compiling those data into a study.
Students used Twitter, wrote blogs, read and commented on blogs, and heard from guest speakers via Skype, she said.
Vorvoreanu examined learning, motivation, teacher relationship, and career success and how social networking helped students in each of those areas.
She said students indicated through surveys and questionnaires that social networking helped them learn public relations concepts more thoroughly and put them in better positions when it came time to seek employment.
“Once I learned the basics about how [public relations] professionals used social media, I was able to teach myself even more on my own by reading blogs and reaching out to [public relations professionals],” said one student, whom Vorvoreanu quoted during an Aug. 27 webinar. “I was more prepared on my first day at my internship because I had already become familiar with these things.”
“This shows us what’s really valuable in terms of students’ learning experiences,” Vorvoreanu said.
In terms of career success, Twitter had the highest impact on helping students establish relationships with potential employers and other public relations professionals. While Vorvoreanu said she thought reading other professional blogs would have the next-highest impact, hosting guest speakers via Skype took the second spot.
Students indicated that they often taught supervisors or other colleagues how to use the social networking tools.
“Career success is important, but we see the phenomenon of reserve mentoring—students are more in control and are in higher-ranking positions and are mentoring their co-workers” because of their use of and familiarity with social media, Vorvoreanu said.
“It would be interesting to see if these tools work the same not only in other public relations and communications classes, but also in biology, chemistry, and engineering—can these tools still be applied, and would this model still apply?” she added.
“A couple of years ago it was really hard to get students on Twitter,” she said. “The tool itself is easy to use, but the culture we’ve developed on Twitter is a bit like a foreign country, and it takes a while to understand what is Twitter and what is appropriate.”
Students can approach professors about incorporating social media into their classes, but Vorvoreanu cautioned that students should take care when doing so.
“There is a power dynamic in the student-teacher relationship, and not all teachers enjoy being challenged by their students,” although many teachers welcome students’ knowledge about such topics, she said.
Vorvoreanu said students also can look for resources on how to educate themselves about establishing a professional social media presence and using those tools to help find job opportunities and create a dialog with professionals in their chosen career path.
And professors who search for resources on incorporating social media into their lessons will find no shortage of information.
“There are so many resources out there—as educators we figure out quickly which ones are credible, which ones make sense, and which ones don’t,” she said. YouTube tutorials could be one valuable resource for professors, she added.
Although social media can be a great help to students, these tools also raise security and privacy issues.
“In terms of security and privacy, it’s a big risk for students, and I’m not sure it’s ethical to force students to expose themselves online,” Vorvoreanu said, adding that she presents students with the advantages and disadvantages of having a professional online identity.
One solution is to let students make their blogs public but write under a pseudonym, and use that pseudonym to comment on other professional blogs.
Vorvoreanu said she cites Microsoft research of human-resources professionals in which HR employees who Google job applicants’ names said a poor online presence or total lack of online presence hurts applicants, and that out of two equally qualified job candidates, hiring employees are likely to choose the candidate who has a positive professional online presence.
If one of her students posts something inappropriate on any of the social media tools she uses in her class, Vorvoreanu said, she will send a direct message asking the student to reevaluate that particular post.
The study did not include LinkedIn or Facebook. LinkedIn did not seem to be something students actively used, Vorvoreanu said.
“I didn’t include Facebook in the classroom, and I don’t believe we should,” Vorvoreanu said. Using students’ Facebook accounts to create a professional online presence would be like “bursting into a college student’s dorm … and starting a PowerPoint presentation while they’re still in their pajamas. Students are really protective of it, and they perceive it as their own space. I do teach about Facebook and how to use it for a public relations campaign for a client, but I didn’t use it as a tool to teach my students.”
As with any integration of technology, Vorvoreanu said that injecting social media into the classroom for the purpose of helping students create professional online identities is something that should be dome strategically and thoughtfully, with a clear goal in mind.
Those interested in receiving a copy of Vorvoreanu’s study when it is released can visit http://bit.ly/smEdStudy.
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