Getting Connected: Using Social Media to Enhance Student Success, Retention, and Completion
January 2014, Volume 17, Number 1
By Sarah Hannes, Scylla Lopez, and Cynthia Wilson
Over the past decade, there has been a growing public fascination with the phenomenon of connectedness (Rios-Aguilar, Gonzalez Canche, Deil-Amen, & Davis, 2012). One of the most prominent ways in which society is now connected is through social media. While both students and higher education institutions are using social media more and more, educators and scholars face challenges in trying to understand the new dynamics generated by social media in community colleges.
The League has partnered with a group of researchers from the University of Arizona and Claremont Graduate University and a team of Schools App developers in a research project designed to increase understanding of issues relevant to the ability of social media technology to improve student engagement and increase student retention. Community colleges participating in the Getting Connected Project have been working since 2011 to build community among students through the use of social media. The eight colleges initially opted to use a private Facebook platform, Schools App, developed by Uversity (formerly Inigral, Inc.).
In this issue of Learning Abstracts, project liaisons from Laramie County Community College in Wyoming and San Jacinto College in Texas report on social media activities and the impact of those activities at their colleges. The League is a partner in the Getting Connected Project, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
San Jacinto College Social Media
San Jacinto College (San Jac) utilizes social media as one of the main means of communicating to the college community, and it has become an important part of ensuring student success.
In fall 2011, San Jacinto College adopted Schools App through the Getting Connected: Harnessing the Power of Social Media Technology to Enhance Community College Student Success project. Schools App is a private Facebook community just for San Jac students to connect with fellow students, form groups, and learn about campus events and activities. Faculty and staff respond to student questions or concerns posted on the app. Students appreciate that we respond to them, and some students actually depend on the app to get their questions answered quickly.
Findings show that there is a relationship between social media usage and students’ retention and success. We gave the students the platform and they have made it their little community. San Jacinto College student and Schools App user, Chijioke Ezeana, explained, “I met my study mates this Fall semester through the app meetups, and so far this group study has helped us a lot in tackling very difficult topics that each of us would not have been able to do studying alone.”
Essay Contest. In an effort to collect feedback from users about the app, we created an opportunity for students to win a scholarship with our Schools App Essay Contest. We wanted to know if and how the app was helping students succeed, and what they like and don’t like about it. In July 2013, we awarded scholarships to 17 students. We announced 20 winners for our second round of the essay contest on December 9, 2013.
Live Chat. Twice a month, we conduct a live chat on Facebook with different departments from throughout the college. This gives our students a chance to ask questions about a specific topic. I meet with subject matter experts, and they help me respond to questions. It is an opportunity to inform and remind students about important academic dates and deadlines, campus services, programs, and other activities.
Through the chats, students learn a lot about the college and our processes. Financial aid is always one of our hottest live chat topics. The chats are also a great way for us to interact with our students. Some students feel more comfortable communicating online rather than coming to campus and asking faculty or staff a question in person.
Social Media Week. San Jacinto College held its first ever Social Media Week event September 30 through October 3, 2013. This free event was open to students and employees. Our goal was to provide the San Jacinto College community with information about how to appropriately use social media to their benefit. Marketing experts from the Houston area volunteered their time and services to speak to our students and employees. Topics included protecting one’s online reputation, establishing online security, using social media to look for a job, and using social media to enhance the college experience. We promoted our social media sites through giveaways and other activities. This event helped our students learn not only the importance of having a good online reputation, but also ways social media can be used for much more than socializing.
Laramie County Community College: Engaging Students Through Social Media
Laramie County Community College (LCCC) seeks to establish an online community that encourages meaningful engagement while strengthening relationships between and among current students, prospective students, alumni, community members, faulty, and staff. How do we strengthen relationships and engage students through social media?
Fill-in-the-Blank Friday. Our most successful engagement activity to date is Fill-in-the-Blank Friday (#LCCCFriday). We started this activity shortly after we created our Facebook page and have continued the tradition almost every Friday since. Initially, we did not offer incentives for participation. We soon learned, however, that the potential to win prizes, such as LCCC sweatshirts, increased the level of engagement. Our questions have included topics regarding LCCC and college in general to getting-to-know-you items, as illustrated in the exchanges below.
Participants include current students, prospective students, alumni, community members, and staff. The questions are great icebreakers for students to start connecting with each other. For example, a question asking a student’s major provides an opportunity to connect with other students in the same field of study. Or, an instructor can chime in to welcome a new student to that program. The overall cost of this activity is one sweatshirt per week.
Who’s Been Touring? Another fun activity on our Facebook page is our Who’s Been Touring? photo album. Our Admissions staff and Student Ambassadors provide tours to prospective students. While on the tour, they take a photo of the future student. The photos are posted in the album on Facebook with the description: “Check out future students who tour LCCC. See yourself in a pic? Tag the photo and you may earn some LCCC goodies!”
We are building engagement with our prospective students as they are on the lookout for their photo on our Facebook page. They tag themselves so their friends and family can see. We are strengthening relationships as our current students and staff comment on a photo saying they are excited to see prospective students on campus, or start a conversation about their intended major. These photos are proving to be effective as students and their families look forward to seeing their photos on the LCCC Facebook page. The cost for this activity is minimal; we randomly select a few students who have tagged themselves and give them a hoodie.
Duct Tape and Hashtags. LCCC purchased a private Facebook App for our students and staff. To recruit students to join the app, we did one promotion that used duct tape and hashtags. Posters were created, laminated, and duct taped to the sidewalks around campus. The posters had specific directions for the student to follow:
This promotion took place the first week of the 2013 fall semester. We received a total of 79 posts on the app by participants who followed the directions on the poster. Fifty-two of those students were new students who logged on to the app for the first time during the promotional period. The remaining 27 had logged on previously, from several months to two years ago. It was exciting to see them log on again and become reacquainted with the app. This promotion was more expensive than others, as 79 students were given a sweatshirt for their participation.
Rios-Aguilar, C., González Canché, M.S., Deil-Amen, R., & Davis III, C.H.F. (2012). The role of social media in community colleges. Report printed by the University of Arizona and Claremont Graduate University.
Sarah Hannes is E-Recruiting and Web Specialist at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming; Scylla Lopez is Social Media Coordinator at San Jacinto College in Texas; and Cynthia Wilson is Vice President, Learning and Research, at the League for Innovation in the Community College.
Student names and profile photos are intentionally blurred. The image of "Terrel" is used with permission.
Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.