Co-authored by Jillian Balay
At the beginning of the spring 2010 semester, Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies launched what we like to call our "social media empire": our LAUS blogs, our Facebook
pages, our Twitter
accounts, and our Liberal Arts Voices
bi-weekly podcast. Our hope was to create a community around the Liberal Arts undergraduate experience, with our students, staff and faculty as co-authors; we wanted our contributors to share a sense of ownership of the community. Six months later, as part of the Hacking Pedagogy project
, we're reflecting on what this ongoing effort has taught us about the power and challenges of using social media in a higher education setting.
Traditionally, we have seen ourselves--and have been seen by others--as a unit providing services and resources to undergraduates throughout the college. We assisted students by pushing out information, answering questions, advising in a one-on-one setting, and interpreting policies. Over time, however, we noticed that many students in the College of the Liberal Arts did not truly identify
with the liberal arts. They identified with their particular major and department, they identified as Penn Staters, and they identified with the organizations with which they were involved: with a number of exceptions, they did not see themselves as part of a liberal arts community. We saw the potential of social media in helping us to create, maintain, and nurture this community.
Every year, more Liberal Arts faculty incorporate new technologies, including social media, into the classroom. New English instructors introduced wikis into the freshman composition classroom over four years ago, and many seasoned professors across the college are now using student-produced blogs and video to engage their students in the subject material. While we could look to these faculty for models when beginning our own initiative, we had to remind ourselves that we are not a classroom; whatever we are "hacking," it isn't exactly pedagogy. Most obviously, we have a much larger and more diverse audience: all Liberal Arts undergraduates, staff, and faculty, as well as alumni and supporters of our college. We struggled at times with how to best accommodate our growing audience while staying focused on the undergraduate experience.
Because we have a such a diverse audience and a wide variety of information to relay, we continue to examine the variety of social media we use. We want to make sure that we employ each tool in the best possible way. Initially, for instance, the information on our Twitter and Facebook accounts was simply fed from our blog posts. We realized quickly, however, that most of our social media was not only pushing out the same information, but also lacked any kind of personality. Although the feeds were perhaps easier to administrate, they were not cultivating the community of engagement that we were striving for. Now we are trying to manage each of our different social media venues in a slightly different way so that the content we are providing is a bit more balanced. If a viewer looks at our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account on the same day, we are hoping he or she will see a variety of information and different "voices."
We are also continuously trying to figure out how get our readers/followers/fans to actively participate in our initiative. We are, of course, always hoping that our audience finds a blog post interesting and decides to post a comment. Simply asking questions and inviting the reader to participate within a blog post has helped to generate some feedback. We have also found that blog posts focusing on "hot topics" or more widespread themes, like State Patty's Day, have created some of the more animated discussions. Posts written by students also have consistently been been successful on our blog. Indeed, capturing this student voice will no doubt continue be an important part of all of our social media. Encouraging students to take part in what we are doing has repeatedly shown our office that in order to create the community that we envision, we have to relinquish some control of the message.
In one semester, we have learned a great deal from our exploits into the world of social media, but we still have a ways to go. The important thing to note is that social media has enabled our office to build stronger relationships with students, staff, faculty, and the community. We are far more in touch now with what is going on with our students, in the college, and throughout the university. Our audience continues to grow, both in numbers and in levels of participation. As we continue to strive to create a community centered around the Liberal Arts experience, we invite you to participate. The community will only be as strong as we, collectively, make it.