By Jon Russell
It has revolutionised the way people communicate today, it has spawned a new generation of communication for companies to use …yes, social media has already made a big impact in less than five years of its existence.
Whether one looks at the rise and dominance of Facebook or Twitter in Southeast Asia, China’s huge online population and its own unique social media landscape, or Japan and its mobile internet obsession – social media is huge in Asia.
Like the West, social media presents a huge opportunity for schools, universities and other educational organisations to reach out and connect with students and prospective students.
But how can schools and universities go about using social media in a positive way to help both students and the educational organisations themselves?
The traditional paradigm in which assignments are given out in class, written on paper (or by PC) and discussed in a classroom is more flexible than ever before. The internet, and social media, have revolutionised the way that we communicate with our friends, and even those that we don’t know…or don’t yet know.
This same revolution has a hugely positive potential for the education system to help engage and develop students.
The Singapore Management University example
One notable example comes from Singapore where Professor Michael Netzely, an expatriated American, teaches at the Singapore Management University. His course, based around internet communications, leans heavily on social media. However, rather than teaching from books, Netzley encourages his students to go out and learn by ‘getting their hands dirty’ on the likes of Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook and other social media platforms.
As well as providing an obvious synergy with the subject of online communications, the approach allows students greater creativity and freedom to develop their communication skills.
The piece de resistance for Netzley and his students is the Digital Media Asia Wiki – a website designed, written and created by the students. The wiki is the only one of its kind in Asia where social media has rapidly developed a huge following.
The wiki provides details of the digital media landscape, including statistics, narrated examples, infographics, and interviews with local experts, making it a hugely useful resource for any company involved in the online industry in the continent.
Already, the wiki has received coverage by top media outlets, such as the New York Times, and prompted the director of social media for Ogilvy Asia to offer a number of Netzley’s students prestigious internships at the company’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong.
Taking the Singapore Management University example, what are the key benefits of social media for students and educational organisations?
Using social media to give students hands-one experience can be adapted to fit almost any course. Rather than written assignments, a blog or creative project – such as the Digital Media Asia Wiki – can be assigned.
An added benefit for students using social media for course work is that, once published online, it forms the beginning of an online portfolio visible, and marketable, to future employees. Building an online portfolio or establishing a hobby such as blogging, or social networking, helps demonstrate skills and understanding, and network with potentially useful contacts for the future.
Development of core skills
As the internet continues to remain a key communication channel for companies, so candidates with strong experience and skills within online channels, such as social media, are sought by employers. The opportunity to blog and develop these communication skills whilst studying enables students to stand out and develop key skills which make them more attractive to future employers.
For example, Asian Correspondent’s own Saksith Saiyasombut, the driving force behind the Siam Voices blog, has used social media and the Internet to become a noted Thai politics blogger and popular social media figure in the country, despite the fact that he is still an undergraduate student based in Hamburg, Germany.
It is well known that young people are the most passionate users of social media. Social media is a key part of the Internet experience for many who have been using Facebook and Twitter for years. Online media offers a potentially engaging channel for course communication and engagement.
SMU’s Netzley makes strong use of Twitter, tweeting interesting links to his students and communicating key topics, reminders of deadlines and engaging with his students by using hashtags.
Equally, a Facebook group or Google+ circle could be used to channel communication and help engage students with course work and learning topics.
Competition for university places is hot, both amongst students competing to enter their chosen university and the education organisations themselves fighting for attention to be the destination of choice for potential students.
Increasingly educational establishments are utilising social media as part of their communications in the same way that companies have done over the last few years.
Adverts on Facebook, or regular content on Twitter, can be used to share interesting links, student information and gain the attention of potential students online. Traditional media still plays a key role in recruiting new students but equally so does social media, and the opportunity to personalise a message and content compliments traditional means to help raise visibility.
And the future…
That is just a snapshot of some of the ways that social media can be used to develop areas of the educational system. The future could see even greater integration of social media with location-based services, more personalised content to mobile devices and greater usage of tablet PCs – these are just three of the tech trends which could positively impact education amongst an ocean of possibility.