A New Perspective

Social Media, Digital Identity, and Student Learning Outcomes

Topics: Social Media, Student Experience, Student Affairs, Student Retention and Success, Career Services, Academic Support Programs, Academic Integrity and Student Conduct, Student Health and Wellness, Academic Planning, Academic Affairs

Preparing Staff for Digital Identity Education

Omitting Technology Requirements for Graduate Students

Graduate Programs Focus on Student Development Theory

For student-oriented social media programs to succeed, staff must have a baseline of knowledge regarding the impact of social media on students’ lives. Unfortunately, most student affairs graduate programs do not include social media and digital identity in their curricula.

Student affairs graduate programs typically focus on student development theory, social justice, and individual and group interventions. Out of 25 programs that we recently reviewed, not one required technology or social media coursework. In addition, only one program had a technology elective.

Nevertheless, student affairs graduate students are increasingly looking for ways to use technology in their academic work. Some classes today feature live tweeting about blogs about course content. However, until technology becomes a full part of the curriculum, it will remain relegated to one-off classes.

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Professional Competencies, Take Two

NASPA/ACPA Initiative Overlooks Technology

NASPA and ACPA’s most recent professional competencies also neglect technology. They instead cite technology as a thread that should run through other competencies. Under this approach, student affairs professionals would be expected to understand the technological tools necessary for their jobs.

In recognition of this omission, NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community recently drafted technology competencies for student affairs professionals. The competencies are divided into basic, intermediate, and advanced. At each level, student affairs professionals are expected to learn about social media, coding, instructional technology, and commonly used software. They must also be able to teach the skills to their colleagues.

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Developing Knowledgeable Professionals

Three Approaches to Social Media in Professional Development

Given the lack of comprehensive social media education for student affairs practitioners, institutions should consider the following three approaches as they seek to promote digital identity as an area for professional development.

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Highlighting Key Issues for Staff

Training Topics for Practitioners Align with Student Digital Identity Education Topics

Throughout our research, several topics emerged as critical for any digital identity professional development activities. These topics—privacy, civility, professional reputation, and virtual wellness—closely align with the content areas that students should understand.

Practitioners in student affairs explain that they have many questions in each of these topic areas. Our research revealed widespread uncertainty regarding access to professional accounts, managing conflict online, balancing personal and professional use, and student and personal wellness online. Regardless of the approach an institution choses, these topics should guide creation of professional development activities.

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Approach 1: Brown Bags, Consultants, and Workshops

Building on Traditional Professional Development Activities

The first approach to digital identity professional development builds upon existing initiatives on many campuses. Institutions that incorporate digital identity and social media into brown bag sessions, professional development institutes, and consultant engagements indicate that they do not need to spend time launching new initiatives for staff.

On the other hand, interviewees report that many professional development workshops and brown bag sessions draw a limited number of engaged staff. Such low turnout restricts digital identity and social media education to those who have a preexisting interest in the topics.

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Approach #2: Train-the-Trainer

Sprint’s Social Media Ninjas Increase Customer Responsiveness

Some institutions may prefer to invest their professional development resources in staff members who are already interested in social media and digital identity. These individuals can then educate their colleagues and drive programming for students. This approach is increasingly popular outside of higher education.

One of the most prominent examples of a social media training program comes from Sprint. The Social Media Ninja and Blackbelt Ninja programs encourage social media enthusiasts to build their knowledge through workshops and self-directed resources. At the Ninja level, participants learn about Sprint’s social media presence and expectations for official conduct online. Blackbelt Ninjas receive training in online customer engagement and mobile device use.

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Translating the Practice to Campus

Applying the Train-the-Trainer Model to Student Affairs Social Media Needs

Within student affairs divisions, possible candidates for training include social media enthusiasts and those with externally facing roles, such as the dean of students or the residence life director. Professional development opportunities include digital identity conferences, mentoring from faculty experts in social media, and self-directed research.

As part of their training, senior leaders can require participants to conduct professional development sessions for their colleagues.

This approach encourages goodwill among interested individuals, but it also relies heavily on the willingness of staff to share their knowledge openly. In addition, staff transitions would necessitate investments in training replacements.

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Approach 3: Letting Our Students Lead

Student Employees May Be In Optimal Position to Train Staff and Find Resources

The final approach to digital identity education capitalizes on students’ knowledge of social media. In this approach, student affairs practitioners identify key content areas for training, and students serve as the primary content creators for professional development activities.

Student research into social media is used to compile online resource centers, blogs, articles, and other materials for self-directed learning. Staff members or students conduct training presentations to staff and faculty audiences. Each year, leaders evaluate the program’s successes and areas for improvement.

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Evaluating Approach #3

Considerations for Implementing a Student-Driven Professional Development Program

Empowering students to lead social media professional development makes good use of their expertise in social media. Interviewees report that students have more knowledge of social media than many staff members. Leveraging their experience to create social media training programs reduces burden on staff. Additionally, student employees learn valuable skills, including professionalism, communication, and research.

However, student turnover forces student affairs professionals to recruit and train new students each year. Additionally, managing students and evaluating programs consume valuable time. Despite these obstacles, students can nevertheless serve as a valuable resource in helping staff meet them where they are and understand the impact of technology on students’ lives and learning.

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Considering a Leader for Social Media Efforts

Social Media Managers Becoming More Popular in Higher Education

As student affairs professionals consider social media and digital identity initiatives, some have hired full-time staff members to create and lead new programs. Social media managers typically oversee student affairs’s accounts on social media and engage students online. They also educate their colleagues across campus to ensure baseline knowledge of social networking among a broad group of staff.

Social media managers require excellent written and web-based communication skills, as well as extensive knowledge of social networking tools. Additionally, these professionals should understand how to conduct research into new developments in social media so that they can adapt programming as technology evolves.

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EAB Resource: Social Media and Digital Identity Toolkit

Four Tools to Support Implementation Efforts

We've created four tools to help student affairs practitioners adopt the recommendations in this whitepaper. These tools will save time and effort as members implement programs such as the LinkedIn Profile Advising Program or campus-wide digital identity initiatives.

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Engaging Students Around Digital Identity