Student Affairs

The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs


Editor's Note

Well, some of you might have noticed that we have had a little gap in our production of issues. Since our last issue, we have changed the name of our journal – we are now the Journal of Technology in Student Affairs, and we have begun to discuss the possibility of changing to a peer-reviewed journal. Any suggestions that our readers might have on this topic are certainly welcome. Please feel free to send them directly to me.

Turning to the current issue, as you can see below, much of the content pertains to the growing use of on-line social networks by college campuses. Student affairs practitioners are often on the cutting edge of adopting new technology used by students, and some of those uses are described in the articles in this issue.

Gary D. Malaney

Inside This Issue

Sarah Jenness discusses how Facebook is currently being used to engage students, and she offers some recommendations to student affairs practitioners regarding how Facebook can be used to positively impact student learning and development in Rethinking Facebook: A Tool to Promote Student Engagement.

In Technologically Capable Armed Forces: Attributes of Graduates of the National Defense University of Malaysia, Jowati binti Juhary explains how the university utilizes new technologies to improve the capabilities of its graduates.

William Mallett shows how using an online social network has been a successful method for assisting and welcoming international students prior to their arrival on campus in The Use of an Online Social Network to Introduce and Connect Newly Admitted International Students.

In Are They Listening? Social Media on Campuses of Higher Education, Amy Ratliff discusses how social media are used by students, administrators, and staff members to better communicate.

Quincy Martin III and Doug Olson tackle the topic of increasing on-line social aggression of college students and what to do about it in College Cyberbullying: The Virtual Bathroom Wall.

Rethinking Facebook: A Tool to Promote Student Engagement

Sarah E. Jenness
Graduate Research Assistant
University of Massachusetts Amherst 


Though the nature of technology’s impact on college campuses is widely debated (Bargh & McKenna, 2004; Katz, Rice, & Aspden, 2001; Milliron & Miles, 2000; Treuer & Belote, 1997), the fact that it has dramatically altered student and campus life is undeniable. Since the early decades of the twentieth century, the advent of new communication technologies such as the telephone, radio, and television have necessitated changes in the way student affairs professionals design programming and interact with students (Guidry, 2008). Unlike these earlier forms of technology, however, the wide-spread integration of the Internet happened in just four years (Milliron & Miles, 2000), causing more rapid changes than in the past (Kleinglass, 2005). According to the Student Monitor (as cited in Kleinglass, 2005), full-time undergraduate students in 2004 spent approximately fifteen hours online each week, up 42 percent from reported usage in 2001. A more recent study (Jones, Johnson-Yale, Millermaier, & Perez, 2009) reports that students are devoting increasing amounts of time to online activity; specifically, over half of the students surveyed reported spending 21 hours or more online per week. Jones et al. (2009) also document the increase in use of mobile devices by undergraduates to access the Internet. Certainly, this trend is not stagnant; use of the Internet and related technologies by undergraduates is constantly becoming more deeply integrated with the college experience (Elling & Brown, 2001; Kleinglass, 2005; Kruger, 2009; Malaney, 2004-2005; Treuer & Belote, 1997).

Today’s college students are “plugged in” everywhere – and student affairs practitioners must use this to their advantage if they aim to engage students in the campus culture (Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Shier, 2005). In fact, Elling & Brown (2001) instruct that “connectivity [is the] key word for student affairs in the 21st century,” (p. 82) a notion they suggest is vital to building effective relationships with students. Traditionally aged undergraduates today report high comfort levels with technology (Shier, 2005) and are overall much more technologically savvy than older generations (Milliron & Miles, 2000), due in part to the fact that they began using computers at a very young age (Gemmill & Peterson, 2006; Jones, 2002). As a result, this generation is “the most wired in history” (Juncol & Cole-Avent, 2008, p. 3), expecting those in higher education to be knowledgeable about technological advances and invested in maximizing new technologies to increase efficiency and ensure immediacy of services (Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Juncol & Cole-Avent, 2008; Lowery, 2004; Shier, 2005).

While a host of technologies are available to students, Facebook seems to be among the most popular, reporting over 500 million active users worldwide in 2010 (“Statistics,” 2010). This figure refers to users of all ages, but student participation in the Facebook community has grown exponentially (Cain, 2008; Heiberger & Harper, 2008), resulting in widespread student use. Specifically, Facebook engages an estimated 80 to 90 percent of college students (EDUCAUSE, 2007).

The current version of Facebook allows users to see when friends are online and chat in real time via an instant messaging tool, send email messages, advertise and reply to event invitations, upload and share photos, post and reply to status updates and notes, find friends, “like” particular products and services, and create and join virtual groups. For many students, Facebook is an appealing and easy way to keep in touch with friends from high school, as well as a low-risk way to connect with fellow students who share similar interests (Shier, 2005). Little formal research exists to explain the popularity behind Facebook (Pempek, Yermolayeva, & Calvert, 2009), but the availability of this wide variety of tools and features (EDUCAUSE, 2007), and the ability of users to alter privacy settings and control other aspects of interaction with friends (Heiberger & Harper, 2008), may be some reasons for growing membership of the site.

According to Read (2004), another appealing aspect of Facebook is its potential to foster the creation of smaller, more intimate communities within the larger context of an institution, engendering a greater sense of belonging among students. Feeling a sense of belonging is widely documented (Astin, 1999; Barefoot, 2000; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 2010; Tinto, 2007; Upcraft, Gardner, & Associates, 1989) as an important factor influencing student involvement and student retention. For this reason, and due to evidence suggesting that increasing numbers of undergraduates are spending considerable time using Facebook (Cain, 2008; Pempek et al., 2009), student affairs professionals must seriously consider how Facebook can be used on their campuses to facilitate social connections among students and between students and faculty and staff (Cain, 2008; Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Kolek & Saunders, 2008; Lowery, 2004; Treuer & Belote, 1997). The value in maximizing a resource that students are already tapped in to and excited about cannot be underestimated. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of some of the ways Facebook is already being used in higher education to engage a wide variety of students, and to offer student affairs practitioners additional recommendations for using Facebook to positively impact student learning and development.

Engaging Newly Admitted Students

Some institutions are attempting to involve newly admitted students in campus culture as early as possible (Heiberger & Harper, 2008) – and many institutions have taken advantage of the heightened publicity available through Facebook, as evidenced by the new student orientation initiatives that follow. Though these online initiatives vary depending on the institution, the innumerable group listings and pages returned in Facebook searches (e.g., “new student orientation”) suggest that this early method of contact is becoming more prevalent. Much more research is needed, however, to explain whether and how new students’ participation in Facebook groups impacts their overall transition to college.

Unlike past first-year students who arrived on campus knowing virtually no one, today’s freshmen are connecting with fellow students online through Facebook groups and pages prior to setting foot on campus. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, for example, created a 2010 orientation page through Facebook that provides general information and connects newly admitted students in a common virtual space. In addition to offering details about orientation programming and the university itself, the SUNY Facebook orientation page also offers photos of orientation staff and students, relevant videos, and makes use of the “event” function of Facebook, which allows users to see other students who are attending the same orientation session (SUNY Purchase Orientation, 2010). The “wall” section of this group’s page features an assortment of links to events and useful information from the orientation staff along with questions and comments posted by new students themselves. Many of these wall posts aim to connect with other students attending orientation, while other posts pose general questions about the transition to college.

Another variation of Facebook use to promote orientation events and new student connections is the page managed by the orientation staff at Hofstra. Hofstra’s 2010 new student orientation page includes many of the features already mentioned (general and contact information, photos, videos, events), but this page also includes details about common reading and numerous links to information about events well beyond the orientation (Hofstra New Student Orientation, n.d.). Apart from simply engaging students in the early days of the college experience, this page seems to be a tool for keeping the newly admitted students connected and involved throughout their first year, advertising such events as “stress busters” for finals week at the end of the fall semester, alternative spring break trips, guest speakers on campus, local debates, intramural sports, talent show auditions, and providing links to online campus publications detailing other news and events.

In addition to these kinds of groups, Inigral, Inc. recently launched a “Schools” application on Facebook that is a paid service attempting to connect new students with common social and academic interests through a variety of features (Inigral, Inc., 2010). Essentially, this application creates a private community within Facebook that allows new students at a particular institution to interact with each other and make connections prior to arriving on campus (Ellison, 2010; Inigral, Inc., 2010). Since this aspect of Facebook is still quite new, little information apart from client testimonials is available regarding its impact. Certainly, research will be needed to determine how “Schools” affects students differently, if at all, from the traditional Facebook groups already described.

Not only can Facebook pages connect newly admitted students before they arrive on campus, but they can continue to facilitate engagement with other new students and involvement in campus events long after orientation activities have ended. The potential benefits for students include a greater sense of connection and community (Eberhardt, 2007), factors Schlossberg, Waters, & Goodman (1995) identify as crucial in helping students transition successfully to college.

Engaging Current Students

Once students have negotiated the initial transition to college, social networking sites like Facebook can continue to be useful in connecting students with new opportunities, people, and ideas (Eberhardt, 2007). According to EDUCAUSE (2006), one of the most useful features of Facebook may be the ability to efficiently disseminate information to targeted groups (created based on shared interests or affiliations) through the message feature. In addition to the simple message feature, Facebook also offers a “Facebook Flyers” tool that creates advertisements (for a fee) designed to appeal to specific networks or groups of students based on shared characteristics (EDUCAUSE, 2007). These ads may promote campus job openings, elections, local activities, or other events (EDUCAUSE, 2007).

While Facebook is widely thought of as a venue for engaging students in social activities, research (EDUCAUSE, 2007) suggests that users are connecting over more diverse interests, including those political and professional in nature, among others. A search on Facebook for groups and pages related to a variety of student activities returned overwhelming results; colleges and universities of all types are using Facebook to engage students in events that range from social to civic to academic in nature. Like the pages and groups designed to engage newly admitted students, more research is needed to understand how students use Facebook and the impact of initiatives aimed at engaging current students.

Student Activities & Campus Events

Eberhardt (2007) and Olson & Martin (2010) document the increasing use of Facebook by campus activities staff and those associated with athletic teams and intramural sports clubs to promote attendance and participation at sporting and other events. Scholars (Lowery, 2004; Olson & Martin, 2010) also suggest that effective use of social networking holds great potential for increasing participation in these activities – and contributing to more positive college experiences for students.

Athletics. One example of the use of Facebook to engender support for and participation in college athletics is the Michigan State Spartans page. As a Big Ten School, Michigan State University (MSU) certainly places more emphasis on athletics than many other institutions, however, the features of Facebook the institution uses to involve students and general fans alike could be tailored to meet the needs of any college or university. This page, representing all athletic teams at MSU, has nearly 160,000 followers and provides regular announcements about sporting events, links to news features, photos and video clips from games, trivia, game day updates, fan polls, discussion blogs covering a variety of sports-related topics, and it also includes links to support teams through donations, to buy game tickets, and to purchase team apparel (Michigan State Spartans, n.d.).

While it is unclear how many of the followers are students, alumni/ae, or simply fans, it is clear that the institution has maximized the features of Facebook to appeal to as many different types of followers as possible. One downside to the design of this page, however, is that fans can only see a limited number of other fans; a group page or traditional profile would allow members to see other members and establish connections within the group.

Student clubs & intramural sports. On a much smaller scale than Michigan State, small institutions like Saint Joseph’s College of Maine have a modest but informative intramural sports page, covering all intramural opportunities available, including sign up information, times of events, results of contests, and photos of teams in competition (Saint Joe’s Intramurals, n.d.). Still, other institutions like Mount Holyoke College (MHC) promote engagement with specific teams, clubs, or other organizations through individual Facebook pages or groups. Among these are MHC Glee Club, MHC Center for the Environment, MHC Japan Group, MHC Jewish Student Union, MHC Fencing Team, and MHC V8s (an a cappella group). Each organization’s page differs slightly, but all include linked members, general information about membership, events, and in some cases, relevant videos or photos.

Other entertainment. The University of Minnesota promotes a wide variety of non-athletic events and campus activities using its “Student Unions & Activities” Facebook page (Student Unions & Activities, n.d.). In addition to advertising a link to follow “Student Unions” on Twitter, this page also provides a variety of information regarding event programming such as community events, guest lectures, trivia contests with giveaways, movie screenings, and opportunities to get involved with the Student Union planning board (Student Unions & Activities, n.d.). Like other pages, “Student Unions & Activities” also includes general information, photos and videos from events, and opportunities to respond to event invitations and learn of other event attendees.

Civic & Political Engagement

Though Millennial students are often characterized as politically apathetic and uninterested in community involvement unless course credit is involved, some scholars (DeBard, 2004; Levine, 2008) suggest that this generation of students is more politically and civically engaged than it may initially appear, if we are willing to reconsider what is meant by engagement (Heiberger & Harper, 2008). A review of the way students use Facebook to show their support for particular candidates or platforms, learn about candidates, promote their own campaigns, and attempt to encourage active engagement with both campus and community government suggests that students are indeed more involved that it may seem – and that Facebook holds potential for boosting student participation in civic and political activities (Shier, 2005).

Civic Engagement. A search of Facebook for civic engagement or service-learning pages for colleges and universities returned innumerable results, though many of the pages viewed did not appear quite as robust as those for other student activities. Overall, these pages included basic information, a contact person(s), a listing of past and upcoming events in which students were encouraged to participate, some press and photos related to service, and sometimes discussion posts surveying students for service project ideas. Northwestern University’s civic engagement page offers some more depth to the civic engagement process, promoting lectures, film screenings, and readings that inform students about the larger systemic issues creating a need for service (Northwestern University Center for Civic Engagement, n.d.), but this kind of depth seemed to be an exception.

Many of these pages may be effective at increasing student awareness of particular events, yet they do not seem to maximize the features of the site. For example, these pages could be used as a tool to interact with community partners who would like to solicit short-term volunteers, or who would like to pose ideas for long-term sustainable projects. Facebook could also help to facilitate communication between the institution and service sites via private messages or instant messenger whenever face-to-face communication is not possible. As well, more could be done to provide students with a context for service like Northwestern has done, though it is unclear whether students take advantage of these resources.

Political Engagement. Whether undergraduates are interested in campus issues, local issues beyond campus, or are more focused on national concerns, the number of Facebook pages illustrating student involvement in government suggest that apathy may not be an appropriate descriptor of this generation. Innumerable pages for specific institutions’ Republicans, Democrats, and Green Party members exist, as well as pages for larger regional and national groups such as “Maine College Democrats,” or “College Republicans of America.”

At the college level, student government associations’ Facebook pages may include information about student government officers and contact information, pressing issues, ways to get involved, meeting times, sponsored events, and discussion forums. Georgia Tech’s Student Government Association page, for example, attempts to engage students in conversation about important issues, such as those concerning equality on campus, through the discussion feature of the site, but only two or three students posted responses to each question (Georgia Tech, n.d.). Like this page, other student government pages also include information about political rallies or other similar events, but little can be gleaned from the Facebook forum about how many students actually attended. This unknown link between online behavior and real-world behavior points to an important issue that deserves further investigation: How are students using Facebook to learn about issues that matter to them? Though the presence of these kinds of pages and groups on Facebook are promising, unfortunately, they are no guarantee for student involvement.

Overall Engagement

Interestingly, as an alternative to some of the examples above, other schools like University of Maine Orono (UMO) maintain a general student affairs page, which covers a wide variety of events and services, rather than charging each office with creating and maintaining its own Facebook presence. UMO’s page includes information ranging from events and services related to multicultural and LBGT affairs, Greek life, transfer and commuter services, and counseling services, among others (University of Maine Student Affairs, n.d.).

The benefits of such a model for students include having all campus activities and services information in one place, and learning about a wide variety of events and services that they may not have known to seek out otherwise. On the other side, however, the depth of information featured on this page may not be as great as that featured on groups and pages specific to one service or organization. For student affairs professionals, this collaborative model can streamline efforts spent updating page content and can help raise practitioners’ awareness of events and services outside their own divisions. The challenge of using this model for student affairs, however, is that it requires continued collaboration among departments which may not always be feasible or well-supported.

Academic Engagement

Though Facebook is a social networking medium, research studies (Caruso & Salaway, 2008; Ellison, 2010; Selwyn, 2009) suggest that large numbers of students are using the site to communicate about academic coursework and goals. In a study done by Ellison et al. (as cited in Ellison, 2010), undergraduates reported using Facebook to coordinate face-to-face study group meetings, to manage group projects, and to seek help from classmates to aid their understanding of specific concepts or assignments (Selwyn, 2009). In fact, some participants in Ellison’s study suggested that undergraduates would benefit from the availability of more academically-oriented tools on Facebook. Using Facebook as a means for helping support academic goals or supplement classroom time may not be readily accepted, but evidence (Ellison, 2010; Fontana, 2008-2009; Pempek et al., 2009) suggests that it can be an invaluable tool.

A tool for academic support. Ellison (2010) and Fontana (2010) suggest that students’ level of comfort and familiarity with Facebook is one reason it holds such great potential as an academic support tool. Unlike other online tools such as Blackboard, Facebook appeals widely to students, and is a website they are already using – and visiting quite frequently (Fontana, 2010). Facebook also allows students to learn more about their classmates through their profiles, and possibly make connections with other students, something that other online academic tools do not offer (Ellison, 2010). Other research (Selwyn, 2009) suggests that groups could be created to connect students in particular course sections outside of the classroom for extra support from each other and the instructor. By helping students in a course connect on Facebook, faculty can broaden students’ resources for academic assistance, and improve students’ chances of feeling more comfortable at the institution as well. Some scholars (Eberhardt, 2007; Gemmill & Peterson, 2006) propose that increased levels of comfort and well-developed support systems may help reduce anxiety and facilitate better academic performance.

Another way colleges are using Facebook to support students academically is in the advising process. At Holyoke Community College (HCC), the First-Year Student Success program surveys students about preferred methods of contact for the advising process; this year, many students chose Facebook as the best way to communicate (M. Snizek, personal communication, October 18, 2010). This initiative is still in its early stages, but program coordinators noted the flurry of communication with advisors through messages and wall posts on Facebook early in the semester (M. Snizek, personal communication, October 18, 2010).

In addition to connecting with advisors and building relationships among classmates to support academic goals, Facebook can also be used to assist students academically through the creation of student support services pages. Disabilities services, tutoring services, or general student support services offices can use Facebook as a way to promote their services and help make students aware of the supports available to them. Being able to connect with support personnel online – or with other struggling students – may make seeking in-person assistance less intimidating (Eberhardt, 2007).

A tool to engage students beyond the classroom. Apart from using Facebook as a tool to provide students with academic support when they need it, some faculty have incorporated Facebook directly into course requirements. Fontana (2010) originally created a Facebook page for one of his art courses in 2008 in an effort to make students more aware of art events on campus and to provide links to art suppliers on the Web. As the semester progressed, students in the class also contributed to the page, using it as a forum for promoting events, posting links, and sharing relevant photos (Fontana, 2010). This development led to the creation of one page in 2010 (called “Fontana’s Class”) that united all of his art students across courses and required them to post photos of their own in-progress artwork as well as comment on that of others; surprisingly, students began interacting with others in different art courses, even engaging each other in discussion of their artwork when it was not required (Fontana, 2010).

Fontana (2008-2009) does note, however, that this process posed challenges at times. In particular, he reported that student commentary was often lacking in substance when not required as part of a student’s course grade. Such challenges will certainly persist as other faculty attempt to incorporate Facebook or other similar tools, though research (Yan, 2008) suggests that this kind of online collaboration beyond the classroom can create an environment that motivates and empowers both students and faculty.

Engaging Alumni/ae

Finally, use of Facebook can move beyond engaging newly admitted and current students to keeping alumni/ae connected to the institution, to each other, and to current students. In particular, alumni may be valuable resources for current students to learn more about specific career fields or job or internship opportunities (EDUCAUSE, 2007; Pempek et al., 2009). Career services offices would be wise to work closely with alumni relations to maximize such connections, which could be useful in identifying speakers or panelists for career services events. Likewise, companies employing alumni/ae could benefit from such a relationship through free promotion of particular job opportunities.

A common space for alums to connect with each other may also be valuable for networking, reconnecting (EDUCAUSE, 2007), or sharing ideas or resources with colleagues in similar fields (Elling & Brown, 2001). Not only will this common virtual space facilitate relationships among classmates, but it is another vehicle for keeping students connected to the university, which may make them more inclined to be involved in campus activities and to donate to campus causes. Vanderbilt’s Alumni Association Facebook page, for example, includes listings of alumni-sponsored or alumni-relevant events such as reunion, holiday gatherings, and lectures given by alumi/ae. The page also features links to current events at the University, photos and updates from alums, and other opportunities to connect with former Vanderbilt students and to get involved with University events (Vanderbilt Alumni, n.d.).

Challenges and Questions

Alongside the many potential benefits of using Facebook as a tool to engage students, there are, of course, many questions about whether and how Facebook actually promotes engagement and supports student learning (Eberhardt, 2007). Educators and student affairs practitioners have expressed a variety of concerns about the use of Facebook, which center around students’ success and well-being as it relates to time spent online, privacy, and online behavior.

Excessive Time Spent Online

Can students be “addicted” to Facebook? If so, what does this behavior look like, and what can be done about it? (Anderson, 2001; EDUCAUSE, 2006; Heiberger & Harper, 2008). Gemmill & Peterson (2006) suggest that the degree to which technology distracts college students is significant and needs to be further investigated by student affairs practitioners to learn how such an obsession impacts students’ offline interactions and other aspects of their lives (Heiberger & Harper, 2008). Scholars suggest that those working in student affairs will need to encourage students to find a balance between being on- and off-line (Gemmill & Peterson, 2006); to explicitly promote face-to-face interaction through maintaining of physical campus gathering spaces and modeling of this offline interaction (Elling & Brown, 2001); and to provide training to student leaders to help recognize patterns of excessive use (Eberhardt, 2007).

Another concern about excessive time spent online is that students participating in online communities are doing so in isolation (Elling & Brown, 2001). Despite research studies (e.g., Kraut et al., 1998) warning that extensive time online may lead to social isolation and loneliness for users, more recent investigations (e.g., Anderson & Rainie, 2010) suggest that these virtual spaces facilitate connections among users by removing potential barriers. With regard to undergraduates specifically, Heiberger & Harper (2008) report that students who spend more time on social networking sites seem to be more frequently engaged in real-world campus and community organizations. Additionally, in the same study these scholars suggest that students who cultivate relationships online also report more positive feelings about their social life and feel a deeper connection to their respective institutions.

Student Privacy

Because younger students, especially, are less attuned to privacy concerns (Caruso & Salaway, 2008), many faculty and staff worry that students will share information that may be too personal, too specific, or even incriminating – and they stress the importance of educating students about responsible participation in online communities (Cain, 2008; Eberhardt, 2007; Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Kolek & Saunders, 2008). One specific facet of this concern is the need to make known the very public nature of sites like Facebook, which may feel quite private to many users (Cain, 2008). Unintended audiences of Facebook content that students are not likely to consider also should be part of the discussion about the public nature of Facebook (Kolek & Saunders, 2008).

Monitoring Online Behavior

Another question surrounding the promotion of Facebook use is whether administrators should monitor Facebook activity to ensure student safety. If so, how can they effectively address online etiquette and establish enforceable guidelines to govern student behavior in this virtual realm (Cain, 2008; Kleinglass, 2005)? And, how might these efforts conflict with rights to free speech and privacy (Cain, 2008)? Eberhardt (2007) suggests that clear rules for online behavior will need to be established and communicated explicitly to students.

Other Concerns

With the prevalence of newly admitted students using Facebook, concerns are also surfacing that online scrutiny of assigned roommates has led to an unprecedented number of requests to change roommates before students ever meet in person (Eberhardt, 2007; Farrell, 2006). Apart from being an administrative nightmare, certainly this kind of hasty judgment can lead to missed opportunities to connect with others, or opportunities to negotiate challenging relationships, all of which can be important parts of development (Eberhardt, 2007). Finally, what does all of this mean for those students who do not have a Facebook account, or regular, convenient access to the Internet? (Bargh & McKenna, 2004).


Certainly, Facebook holds great potential for engaging many types of students in a variety of different ways, but many questions will need to be answered, and more innovations attempted, to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of Facebook use in higher education to encourage student engagement. Interestingly, students reported using Facebook regardless of how busy they were on a given day (Pempek et al., 2009), which suggests that it has become an enduring fixture in the higher education landscape. This means that faculty and staff, and particularly those in student affairs, will need to learn how to harness the potential of Facebook to help cultivate community among students (Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Shier, 2005).

In addition, faculty and staff will need to take steps to better understand students’ interactions with Facebook, as well as recognize when its use may be prohibitive to academic and social success (Anderson, 2001; Kruger, 2005). Beyond simply observing students’ use of Facebook, staff and faculty will need to be active users of Facebook and similar technologies and engage students via these tools in order to understand students’ expectations and to design programming that meets their needs (Kleinglass, 2005). It will also be essential to include students in discussions about how to use technology most effectively and in evaluation of technology’s current uses on campuses (Juncol & Cole-Avent, 2008). Lastly, those involved with implementing Facebook initiatives for student engagement will need to share their experiences with colleagues (Kleinglass, 2005) through formal and informal conversations and published research in order to clarify the extent of Facebook’s impact on student engagement and success.


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Technologically Capable Armed Forces: Attributes of Graduates of the National Defense University of Malaysia

Dr Jowati binti Juhary
Centre for Liberal and Language Studies
Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia
(National Defense University of Malaysia)
Sungai Besi Camp 57000, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 


Technology plays an important role in today’s lifestyles. In education, technology is facilitating both teachers and students in the teaching and learning processes. Further, technology in education has been in existence for more than four decades. In the 1970s, television was a popular medium of technology in education. Today, scholars talk of digital technologies or Web 2.0 such as e-learning, simulations, blogs, Wikipedia and the like. This paper is a conceptual paper that investigates the use of technology in the first defense university in Malaysia. The main question asked is how the university utilizes new technologies to improve the capabilities of its graduates. Capabilities in this sense refer to the Graduate Student Attributes.

The National Defense University of Malaysia (NDUM) is the 20th public higher learning institution in Malaysia. It is an elite, unique, and boutique university since it caters to a very specific future employer, the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF). The university started as a military academy in 1995, and in 2006, this academy was upgraded to a university. The first batch of the NDUM graduates was awarded their degrees and conferred their military ranks of Captain and equivalent in October 2010. That is why this paper presents only the concepts of how technology could assist in order for future graduates to acquire graduate student attributes.

Because this is a conceptual paper, the methodology used were observations at the NDUM on how the students are trained to attain the graduate attributes and how technology has helped the process. The observations involved activities in classrooms that the author taught, students’ activities on the fields, formal and official students’ activities such as mess or regimental nights, Friday prayers and students’ parades. Further, documents such as speeches and strategic planning papers were also used to provide the guidelines for achieving the graduates’ attributes.

This paper has four main sections including this introduction. The second section discusses the importance of technology in military institutions and the literature on technology in education. At the same time, the general Graduate Student Attributes will also be analysed in the second section. The third section examines the observations at the NDUM; this section acts as the findings and analysis section of the paper. The last section closes the paper with conclusions and recommendations for future undertaking.

Literature on New Technologies and Graduates Students’ Attributes

Between the years 1990 to 2005, most organizations including military institutions have come to a realization that technology can play a huge role in many facets of today’s life. For example, the MAF, Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the U.S. military have grabbed the opportunities by actively engaging in new technologies development.

In August 2002, the MAF started its e-learning program with the first virtual university in Malaysia, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR). This program caters to in-service personnel who are either sent by the MAF or who themselves applied for the program. Upon completion of their studies, they will be awarded undergraduate degrees by UNITAR. It is critical to mention that the practice of e-learning at UNITAR for part-time personnel is a blended one; they still have to attend face-to-face sessions at least for a few hours per semester depending on the faculties’ requirement. By embarking on this program, the MAF has acknowledged that e-learning can help its personnel to advance their careers by improving their academic qualifications. The rest of the MAF’s efforts for e-learning go to its educational institutions namely the Royal Military College (RMC) and single service colleges. The RMC, for instance, uses e-learning to support its face-to-face sessions, and the single service colleges use e-learning to help military trainees hone their mastery of skills. It is interesting to note that the university, when it was previously known as a military academy, was not given the task to adapt e-learning. There is no opportunity to explore this issue here; rather the decision now is that the NDUM would like to utilize new technologies to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Online learning programs have been widely used in Australian military institutions and colleges during the last 14 years. For example, e-learning initiatives were reinforced when the ADF formed an e-Learning Panel of Providers in 1998 to select the best providers and courseware to be used by the ADF. This panel represented a key component of an initiative that will support one of the largest e-learning systems ever to be implemented in Australia (“Catalyst Interactive Helps,” 2004). As part of the initiative, Defense Online Management and Instructional Network (DOMAIN) will be developed. DOMAIN is expected to reduce the time spent in learning and training and enhance the availability of many learning and training courses in the ADF (“Catalyst Interactive Helps,” 2004). It has also been suggested that commercially-available war games used by the ADF were growing significantly due to the need for modeling and simulation support and scarce alternative teaching resources (Carpenter & White, 2005). As commercial games are accessible and cheap, they have been frequently used to teach military personnel about the history of military and war tactics. These games also provide a useful supplement to conventional live training in the ADF (Morrison et al., 2005). Therefore, the ADF is continuously trying to find the best Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) computer games by evaluating them for the purposes of using them as tools for the learning and training of its personnel. In this way the ADF seeks to also contain the costs of developing new Information Communication Technology (ICT) training materials and also the costs of in-field military exercises.

The story is different for the U.S. military. In the early 1990s, the U.S. military began to transform its educational programs at all levels through the application of ICT. These technologies include stand-alone multimedia CD-ROMs or networked materials. Before this transformation of learning strategies, the traditional method of face-to-face teaching was used. It was the face-to-face teaching approach that saw the rise of the U.S military power after WWII. Nonetheless, the capacity of e-learning to prepare reservists in a timely manner was a primary motive behind the changes that stressed the need for training to be feasible at anytime and anywhere (TRADOC, 2001). In fact, the U.S. military has always been a global trendsetter with most learning initiatives, including e-learning (Rosenberg, 2001). This is hardly a surprising characteristic given the nature of the military-industrial complex that has increasingly defined the U.S. economy in the post-WWII era (Johnson, 2004). Rigorous training had been the hallmark of the U.S. military and it has historically always depended on highly trained personnel. According to a report by Staples (2003), e-learning has proven to be an effective training tool for the U.S. military.

The relation between military organizations and new technologies seems strong. What about the link between education and technology? In actual fact, both have strong connections too. For instance, since Schank’s (1997) work in the late 1990s, other researchers have commented on the different values of new technologies in the learning environment. For Prensky (2001), having fun was less important than the capacity of students to easily absorb new information through digital technologies. When students were given the choices to learn with new technologies, they assumed more responsibility for their learning and thus became more active participants. For Dzuiban et al. (2006), bringing digital technologies into the classrooms reduced boredom for a generation brought up on the internet and video games. These students, known as Digital Natives or Net Gen students (or Net Generation), born after about 1981, found other forms of learning, including television and computers. These frequently offered more active intellectual stimulus than lecture-based teaching. Such students may therefore have problems with old-fashioned learning approaches that tended to give a privileged position to the teacher as the source of knowledge and wisdom that had to be imparted to relatively passive students. According to Tastle, White and Shackleton (2005), digital technologies compelled teachers to keep up with the students’ command of technology. All these technological pressures on the classrooms from the outside world were, according to Laurillard (1993), Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) and Bonk and Dennen (2005), moving the general learning environment into a direction that focused increasingly on the students’ active engagement with learning rather than a fixed quantum of curriculum. Students were also receiving information about the world from outside formal schooling. The older training approaches were increasingly superseded; new technologies, they argued, undermined the authority of ‘old-fashioned’ teachers.

The above literature on technology and its importance to the military institutions are irrelevant if the NDUM fails to incorporate the Graduate Student Attributes proposed by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE) in its curriculum. Introduced in 2006, these special attributes are seen as the answers to the issues of graduates’ lack of marketability. There are nine attributes as required for all Malaysian graduates. They are explained as per below.

  1. Knowledge – graduates must be knowledgeable and this knowledge must go beyond what they learn in classrooms. This suggests that a wider exposure through extra co-curricular activities could further enhance graduates’ knowledge.
  2. Technical/Practical/Psychomotor Skills – graduates must be able to demonstrate their abilities to use these skills in their daily life.
  3. Thinking and Scientific Competency – graduates must be able to think ‘outside the box’ in facing the challenges of this century. At the same time, they must also be able to give scientific reasoning for problems that arise.
  4. Communication Skills – graduates must be able to carry and present themselves confidently. They must also be able to speak and deliver ideas; synthesize and defend opinions and articulate their thoughts effectively.
  5. Social Responsibility and Competency – graduates must be able to ‘blend’ themselves in society. Apart from understanding how society functions, they must be able to take responsibilities given by society and be accountable for their actions.
  6. Professionalism, Values, Attitudes and Ethics – graduates must demonstrate professionalism at all time; practice positive values and attitudes and posses a high ethics in all undertakings.
  7. Lifelong Learning and Information Management – graduates must embrace the concept of lifelong learning and at the same time, they must be able to search, store, retrieve and use appropriate information when needed. This is where ICT plays a critical role and graduates must be comfortable using it.
  8. Management and Entrepreneurship Skills – graduates must be able to manage their time, resources and most importantly, graduates must not only rely on securing jobs at companies, firms or industry. They must be comfortable to take charge and start to become entrepreneurs themselves.
  9. Leadership Competency – graduates must demonstrate their ability to lead; most importantly to lead themselves rather than others. This is critical because without leadership skills to lead oneself, personal values such as self discipline and self esteem would be absent.

The NDUM has embedded these attributes in its curriculum across the university. Notwithstanding this, it is found that the future graduates of the NDUM should be categorized differently simply because they are tailored to specific requirements by their parent services. These NDUM graduate attributes define what these graduates represent. The next section discusses this in detail.

The NDUM Graduate Attributes

Because technology appears to support every aspect of humans’ life, how does technology play its role in achieving Graduate Student Attributes? This section attempts to answer this question. Reflecting on the general Graduate Student Attributes outlined by the MOHE, the NDUM feels strongly that the attributes of the NDUM’s graduates should be ‘slightly’ different. Therefore, in many of the second Vice Chancellor’s speeches, he has outlined six suggested attributes for the NDUM graduates to attain: graduate officers, commissioned officers, sportsmen/women, masters of an unarmed combat, Imams/Khatibs, and gentlemen/ ladies. This section examines the six attributes by listing them, together with the observations on how these attributes are supported by technology at the NDUM.

The First Attribute – Graduate Officers

This attribute is the most important attribute because it is one of the two main reasons why students attend tertiary education at the NDUM. Knowledge as well as thinking and scientific competency from the general student attributes by the MOHE are amalgamated to create this attribute. In order to increase military professionalism, academic qualification is a must. Sarkesian (1981) argues that consistent academic achievement leads to educated officers who are the foundation of military professionalism. By academic achievement, this author further argues that students must be comfortable in their quest for knowledge at the university.

The Use of Technology – At the NDUM, new technologies such as e-learning and simulations are at its infancy. The university obtained its Learning Management System in 2009, and at present, content development for courses is in progress. Nonetheless, there is one academic program that could be the internal technological leader, which is, the Maritime Technology Program. This program uses Computer-Based Training (CBT) Laboratories and a Ship Simulator to train its students in various core courses.

One may wonder why this program could have ‘secured’ the use of technology earlier than the rest of the academic programs at the NDUM. The answer is rather obvious: The NDUM’s failure to shift into new learning technologies reflects the lack of pressure from the parent services or international organizations – the kind of pressures that resulted in the introduction of the Maritime Technology Program, because in order for the graduates of this program to be allowed to navigate naval ships, they must first be trained in the simulator and achieve a certain level of competency. Only then can they proceed on board a ship.

The Second Attribute – Commissioned Officers

The graduates of the NDUM must obtain their academic degrees first before they can be commissioned to Captains or equivalent. It is expected that once graduates have obtained their academic degrees, they will be commissioned military officers. The training for becoming military officers at the NDUM is divided into three phases and these will be explained together with the use of technology next.

The Use of Technology – Three phases of military training at the NDUM are the Induction Phase or ‘Tunas Wira,’ General Military Training and Single Service Training. The use of technology is apparent in the last two phases of military training. For the Induction Phase, the utilization of technology is zero. This is because this phase is a physical phase where new cadets are transformed from boys to men. Marching, parading and other stamina and discipline builder activities dominate. On the other hand, the General Military Training and Single Service Training will use technology to the maximum. Activities such as 3-D simulator trainings will dominate. Tactical and strategic levels of training employ a lot of technology. At the same time, communication training on battlefields, for example, requires the students to understand the principles of digital technologies. However, it needs to be highlighted that these two phases are conducted outside of the NDUM; the students will be trained at military camps based on their military services. Therefore, the management of the university may want to revisit the use of technology for military training on campus since it could benefit the students. This, together with more use of technology in more academic programs at the NDUM will be the next challenge of the young university.

The Third Attribute – Sportsmen/women

The graduating students of the NDUM must master one type of sports. The university accommodates this by scheduling from 5.00 to 6.30 p.m. as physical activity slots from Monday to Thursday. Students are allowed to choose whether they want to join a group or individual sports. They are not only mastering the sports physically, but more importantly they are trained to understand the history, rules and strategies behind the chosen sports. The measure of this mastery is the certificate given to students that authorize them to be sports coaches or umpires.

The Use of Technology – Unfortunately for this attribute, little use of technology is employed. This is because as most of the hours allocated for these activities are spent on the fields, students get to ‘do the real thing’ hands-on. At this rate, their mistakes may be costly since they may not be able to anticipate them. Unlike the use of sports simulations, where players can learn without fatal consequences, students have to learn the hard way in mastering the sports of their choice.

The Fourth Attribute – Masters of an Unarmed Combat

In military institutions, unarmed combats mean that personnel must be able to demonstrate the ability to defend themselves without the assistance of any weapons. Therefore, graduates of the NDUM are also required to obtain black belts for Taekwondo. Every Friday from 3:00 to 6:30 p.m., they will be trained by qualified taekwondo coaches. Since students enter the NDUM at different levels of this martial art, they will be divided into groups based on the results of their placement test.

The Use of Technology - Similar to the third attribute, the use of technology for this attribute is non existence. The live demonstrations by the trainers are of the utmost importance for the students to master taekwondo. Although at times, the trainers have their theory sessions by using slide presentations and CD-ROM demonstrations, the hours for these are only about 10 percent of the total learning hours for taekwondo.

The Fifth Attribute – Imams/Khatibs

The Muslim male students of the NDUM must exit the university with a qualification as Imam and Khatibs. This training is a huge responsibility, because the university must train about 85 percent of the students’ population in this aspect of leading prayers and reading sermons, because the defense university has only 15 percent female students. Thus, the Military Training Academy of the NDUM has arranged for all final year students to be given the roles and task as Imams for all prayers, as well as Khatibs for Friday prayers. The rationale behind this arrangement is simple, but yet very crucial. Should the future Captains be given the responsibilities to lead a platoon, they must be able to lead the ‘spiritual’ aspect for the members of the platoon as well. Thus, they must be effective leaders of the prayers, as much as effective leaders in the battlefields.

For the Muslim female students, they are required to understand all aspects of becoming good Muslim leaders too. The Non-Muslim students are not neglected; they are expected to attend churches or temples. As future leaders of the military institutions, all students must believe in God and practice good moral values. This attribute is in line with two general values listed by the MOHE namely values, attitudes and ethics as well as leadership competency.

The Use of Technology – As any other normal theory sessions at the NDUM, the use of technology in lecture presentations is currently lacking. Notwithstanding this, the case is different with Friday sermons. At the NDUM, the delivery of Friday sermons by Khatibs has been enhanced by using power point slides. Whatever is being read by Khatibs is now displayed on the white screens. Readings in Arabic are translated on the screens to Malay or English language. Key points from the sermons are also shown on the screens. This familiarity with technology allows future defenders of the nation to become more confident in all aspects of their lives.

It needs to be emphasized that the content of the sermons are not prepared by the students. Rather, the contents are given by the Religious Office, Kuala Lumpur. The only thing controlled by the NDUM is the way Khatibs deliver the sermons. This compulsory exercise gives good exposure and experience to students since it is practical in nature, and at the same time, it boosts the confidence of the students.

The Sixth Attribute – Officers and Gentlemen/Ladies

This last attribute is the most difficult and complex attribute to be achieved by the graduates of the NDUM. It encompasses several general attributes listed by the MOHE such as communication skills, technical/practical/psychomotor skills, social responsibility and competency, thinking and scientific skills, professionalism, lifelong learning and leadership competency.

The training for this begins as early as their first minute of enrolling at the university. Students are exposed to the ethics in the dining hall, socialising and the like.

One may wonder why this is a difficult attribute to acquire. Trained as defenders to a country, the values that these students carry may conflict with becoming gentlemen or ladies. These students must ensure that they are able to assess what is required of them. The most important thing is they must have positive ego; this is something that could be mistaken for arrogance.

The NDUM wants to ensure that graduates are capable of making wise decisions on their own. The gaps that the management is trying to fill are whether students are able to assimilate the motto of the university, which is ‘Duty, Honour, Integrity’ anytime, anyplace. This suggests that given some freedom allocated to the students in their daily timetable, are they going to spend the time wisely and responsibly? This is something that could not be discerned at this stage.

The Use of Technology – Although new technologies could have a lot of potential in many facets of students’ life, little technology is used to achieve this attribute. It is reasonable to assume that students need real life role models in order for them to achieve this attribute. This could be supplied by appropriate numbers of military officers on campus that could lead the students in terms of life as military personnel.


Students should be well prepared to enter a world that is greatly influenced by technology. By introducing them to the appropriate technologies at the NDUM, the graduating cadets would be more confident in their skills base. Thompson and Bieger (2006) also stress that students need to be able to succeed in a competitive environment so as to progress both during and after their studies; exposure to new technologies during their student years gives them a competitive edge.

However, not all attributes of the NDUM graduates are supported by technology currently. Certainly, the lack of technological support for this could be contributed by two reasons. First, the management is still grappling to find the best way to integrate technology into activities and programmes that support the attributes or maybe, the management finds that the best approach for the students to acquire the attributes is by not using technology, at all. It appears that the concept of blending the approaches to academic teaching and learning could be well replicated in achieving the attributes of the NDUM graduates.

To conclude, the philosophy of the NDUM which highlights on producing prominent intellectual leaders of characters is not only critical but it must also be achieved. As the first batch of the NDUM’s graduates makes its entrance to the real world last October, the stakeholders such as the MAF and society are now assessing whether the NDUM has succeeded in equipping its graduates with the NDUM graduate attributes, which are unique to the university. Future research must then take up these assessments and feedback for further improvement of the learning environment at the NDUM.


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The Use of an Online Social Network to Introduce and Connect Newly Admitted International Students

William Mallett, Ed.D.
Office of International Affairs
East Carolina University 


This article is a review of what East Carolina University’s (ECU) Office of International Affairs (OIA) carries out in regards to assisting new international students transitioning to the institution, prior to their arrival on campus. The use of an online social network has been a successful method for assisting and welcoming international students before each semester begins.


Online social networks are, in large part, an immediate method to disseminate and share information. These special networks are also considered, by many in higher education, to be the most popular sites visited by students. While growth in numerous websites (e.g., Yahoo, America Online, and MSN) has been tapering off, the continuing evolution of websites like Facebook, MySpace, and Linkedln are increasing (Bausch & Han, 2006). For example, Facebook users post over 55 million updates a day with 70% of those users living outside the United States (Osmond, 2010). A recent survey at ECU found that over 80% of all international students utilize at least one of the numerous online social networks available to the public. Some studies have seen promise for administrators in the connective nature of online social networks, as well. In her article on integrating technology into the university student life setting, Shier (2005) writes that online social networks contribute to the academic community. This is accomplished by helping students link up and communicate, as well as allowing them to become a part of a larger group within the institution.

According to data from the Institute of International Education, the number of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities is breaking previous records and representing the largest increases for this student population in decades. Furthermore, over 670,000 students earning a degree in the United States come from outside its borders (Bhandari & Chow, 2009). The challenge for higher education administrators is to meet the needs of incoming international students who are adapting to a new culture and a different academic environment. Today’s institutions must continue to provide consistent, meaningful connections for newly arriving international students and enhance the delivery of pre-orientation services. This being said, utilizing popular student-friendly technology can help bridge the gap and improve delivery of vital information to new international students in a unique fashion. Many administrators in this country believe that the essence of higher education is to extend the boundaries of everyday life. Online social networks can be employed to meet this objective.


In the past at ECU, the only way incoming international students had the opportunity to meet each other, as well as the OIA staff, was during mandatory orientation sessions held prior to the start of each semester. This was satisfactory, at the time, since it was the first opportunity these students had to connect with the university community and each other. The primary objective of orientation is to familiarize new international students with the campus and its services, to make them aware of university and immigration service policies, and to register them for classes. Two years ago, the OIA began to explore electronic strategies to assist incoming international students and give them the ability to interact in a low pressure setting. It is also essential to allow these students online access to detailed information such as how to apply for a student visa, what to expect when moving into their residence hall, and how to complete required student health services paperwork.

In the Summer of 2008, the OIA set-up an online social network for newly admitted and matriculating international undergraduate and exchange students on the Ning Network. The purpose of this private social networking website was to create a short-term online community. This was done two months before these new students actually arrived on campus.

The OIA felt it was necessary to set into motion the development of a system for new international students to learn about the campus community and for them to begin to form an attachment to ECU (or at least some part of it). Whether it is with other new incoming international students, the IOA staff, or some combination thereof, building a sense of belonging is a needed first step for a successful collegiate experience. Research has found that almost all positive outcomes associated with student success stem from students’ ability to feel socially integrated to the academic community – meaning that they felt strong social connections (Tinto, 1993). There is no single method to achieve a sense of belonging to the institution but it was believed that ECU International: Supporting and Engaging Future ECU International Students, as it is called on Ning, is a sound beginning to this process.

ECU International initially provides new international students with OIA staff pictures and biographies, airport pick-up information, and what to expect upon arrival to the university and city. It also includes a detailed orientation schedule, an invitation and application to join the First Friends peer mentoring program, how to obtain a university email address, and how to make arrangements for the payment of tuition and fees. ECU International has a chat room and a selection of videos that highlight and introduce the university to new students, as well. Students who register on ECU International are encouraged to post a picture, provide a brief biography, ask questions or make comments on the message board, and chat with online ECU Internationalcommunity friends.

After the semester begins, announcements and emails are sent to the international students currently on ECU International making them aware that that the social network will close down for their particular group – since it is offered for only entering international students. These newly enrolled students are then given information regarding the OIA peer mentoring program, First Friends, as well as information on how to contact the International Student Association on campus. It is hoped the international students who just started at ECU will begin to make other connections at the university, although they may certainly take advantage of all available services the OIA offers.


ECU International is a helpful and informal way to communicate with new international students, as well as a means for them to make contacts with others before they arrive to the United States. The transition to university life can be a stressful time for any student, and can be especially stressful for new international students. ECU International helps ease the transition by preparing incoming international students on what to expect when they arrive on campus, and by encouraging students and staff get to know each other through social networking.


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Tinto, V. 1993. Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Are They Listening? Social Media on Campuses of Higher Education

Amy F. Ratliff
The University of Alabama 


Communication with students on campuses of higher education continues to drastically change. The social media phenomenon sweeping across the world creates a picturesque environment for the technologically savvy student, but often an intimidating outlook for administrators and faculty. While some higher education professionals embrace this opportunity to engage students through a new outlet, others struggle to adapt to new demands of the constantly connected, digital college student. Understanding social media and preferences of today’s college student are inherent to identifying the best practices to encourage student engagement and foster student development on college campuses.

Keywords: Social Media, Higher Education, Engagement, Communication, Technology


The news of the earthquake and pending tsunami on Japan flooded the status updates of the popular social media site, Facebook on the early morning of March 11, 2011. In the days that followed, YouTube videos posted to this same site shared images of the horrific event and devastation of the landscape. Individuals across the world received instantaneous news at their fingertips as if they were there. Technology and social media create an atmosphere that encourages engagement and connectivity more than ever with college students. Students on campuses of higher education, often called millennials, are accustomed to using technology in almost every facet of their daily life (Underwood, Austin & Giroir, 2010). These students are technologically savvy and require immediate connectivity as well as access to resources and information. Engaging these students in campus programs and activities through social media communication requires a closer look by higher education administrators, staff, and faculty.

The year two thousand eleven seems the same as the year before, but is it? People still travel in cars, watch television, and go to the ballpark. They even still read a novel and play solitaire. The difference in this year, from last, or ten years before is individuals now communicate differently, research differently, and socialize differently. Drastic changes are occurring with how college students learn and communicate. Higher education faculty and administrators have adjusted slowly, adapting as necessary and often without a choice, but now is the time to embrace the opportunity to reach students in a new more effective manner. Student engagement can be accomplished but staff and administrators must no longer plan mediocre attempts to achieve, but excel through incorporation of social media in programs.

Higher education professionals face challenges every day, some forced upon them, others may be the same scenario but with a different generation. Creating a culture of learning and an environment that encourages student development and involvement is one consistent challenge, and today’s digital students present a new twist. First, understanding social media and all it offers to the technologically savvy student is crucial to developing a successful strategy to reach these students. Secondly, higher education professionals must identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as their needs and expectations. Finally, to assess the needs of your students and to create an environment that encourages growth requires uncovering how students are communicating differently and what they expect from higher education professionals in return.

Social Media – What Is It?

The prevalent terms used to describe social media include: information sharing, electronic communication, and social interaction. Visit the World Wide Web, conduct a search on social media and a multitude of definitions are presented. Interactive dialogue within the crossroads of web-based and mobile technologies classify social media’s true description. A relatively inexpensive outlet, social media provides a dynamic blend of technology and social interaction as well as accessibility to individuals of all backgrounds, educational status, and socioeconomic background.

Social media, in the beginning, was used as a means for individuals to communicate on personal interest and stay connected with friends, family, and co-horts. Now information is disseminated through these avenues to educate, inform, survey, assemble, and protest everything from classroom curriculum, family updates, to breaking news. It is no longer necessary to watch the 5:30 news broadcast to get up-to-date on community and national headlines. Nor is it necessary to pick up a phone and call to confirm a dinner reservation, a date, or communicate with professors or a fellow student. Social media takes communicating to an entirely new dimension.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter

The most dominant social media sites surfacing in the news include: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace, and this is not an exhausted list. Whether a higher education professional has a Facebook account, chances are they have heard the reference. Facebook is used by both individuals and organizations to share information that is both work related and for personal interest (Ewbank, Foulger, & Carter, 2010). Individuals, groups, organizations, businesses, etc. may disseminate information in a text, link, photo, or video, and share with whom they like; all through their personal account. Also, Facebook provides a resource for individuals to carry on instantaneous messaging, and internal email without leaving the site.

In addition, “groups and organizations can establish collective pages,” (Ewbank, Foulger, & Carter, 2010, p. 26) which provides two additional avenues to reach others with the same interest. Users can create a group page, or a fan page. The group page allows a platform for those of shared interest, any user, to converse and share information. The fan page is an opportunity to establish a professional presence, mainly by an official representative. Often campus programs and services will host a Facebook page or group; however, administrators struggle to identify how much presence is needed, what type of information to disseminate and how often they need to update their Facebook “status.”

Twitter, another leading contender in the social media favorites among college students, is a little more difficult to explain. Jeff Jackson (n.d.), author on the website, geared to current news in the student affairs profession, best explains Twitter as a microblog, because you let others know what you are thinking, but limits your thoughts to 140 characters. These microburst of information are often referred to as, “tweets.” Twitter provides access to share and interact with individuals whom otherwise you would not know, but share the same interest. In addition, users can filter their personal interest, as well as their own tweets, with hash-tags (#). Hash-tags provide one more avenue for users to filter the information they are receiving. For instance, the hash-tag, #SALead, is dedicated to topics relating to leadership theory and practice in the field of student affairs.

A study by Pearson Education (2010), “Social Media in Higher Education,” found YouTube as the most common social media service used to communicate with students. Not surprising, this communication tool provides an alternative to traditional methods of sharing information, including lectures, podcasts, and current news. Over 100 million videos currently reside on the servers of YouTube and educators and higher education professional are just a few of the users who take advantage of these free video sharing site. Simply stated, YouTube is a website where videos are uploaded and shared relating to opposing end of spectrum, personal to professional, comical to news worthy. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are noted as the most recognizable social media; however, the number of professionals actually using these technologies in higher education is much lower (Bart, 2010).

Administrator Understanding, Involvement, and Challenges

Visible in many classrooms, social media is present on campuses of higher education; however, the process of incorporation has been slow. Faculty members are utilizing media outlets to communicate with students, while significantly increasing its incorporation in curriculum dissemination. These outlets appear to present excellent avenues for encouraging student engagement and involvement, but administrators are often caught in the struggle of knowledge of usage and opportunity versus time commitment to making social media work.

Campus administrators and faculty as well, struggle to identify with college students and perhaps find themselves resembling a “digital immigrant” as noted by Marc Prensky (2001). Digital immigrants did not grow up in an Internet household, and may look to the Internet as a secondary source of information as opposed to the first and primary source. These individuals have “adopted most aspects of new technology,” but often continue to implement methods and strategies that have always worked (Prensky, 2001. para. 6). Unfortunately, digital immigrants are now under pressure not only to adapt to new learning and communication styles of digital natives but also to restructure their own thought process to maximize student development.

Faced with the challenges to constantly evaluate their programs and their effectiveness when communicating with students, administrators are exploring innovative ways to enhance student engagement with technology, specifically social media. Educators are using interactive technology within the classroom in a variety of methods, such as online discussion boards, wiki pages to encourage creative collaboration, and web-based conferencing options such as Skype. Strengthening student engagement on campus requires an active approach to uncovering the emerging trends and continually adapting practices to meet the needs of students (Olson & Martin, 2010).

An outsider to higher education may think that campuses of higher learning would be a haven for social media use; however, that is not the case. Ewbank, Foulger, and Carter (2010) remarked that teachers used social media primarily for personal communications, not those of an academic nature. In reviewing one campus’ Facebook page, the authors determined that a majority of communication referred to accomplishments, press releases, and that the fans were mostly its own faculty and staff.

While faculty and administrators are slowly embracing social media and incorporating uses into daily practices, many concerns and challenges continue to exist. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging are very interactive mediums. Rachel Reuben’s (2008) Guide for Professionals in Higher Education noted that the four top concerns of administrators were loss of control, time commitment, information overload, and the openness of these programs to allow creation of an “official” account without formal channels. Many sites allow comments that are immediately posted and therefore not screened for content, which can cause distress about potential negative comments. Involvement in any type of social media requires a great deal of time for establishing frequent updates, responses, and release of current information. Social media outlets can create an environment conducive to information overload and can cause users to feel bombarded with responsibilities to keep up. On a campus of higher education, often duplication of presence through social media sites by varieties of campus programs and users can create confusion. Administrators show concern for program identity and the reflection of this resource as official means of communication.

Students – How They Communicate, What They Expect

Students walking about today’s campus of higher education are different from students of twenty, or even ten, years ago. Incredible technological advances have emerged in their lifetimes and have become everyday conveniences. Prensky (2001) refers to these students as “Digital Natives,” who grew up with computers in the home, had constant access to the Internet, and had cell phones that were not attached to chargers in bags that had to be left in their personal vehicles and were small enough to carry in their pockets. These students are more digitally connected than previous generations.

S. Craig Watkins, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, when questioned, noted that these students are now “walking in armed with technology, from their mobile phone to laptops” (Beja, 2009, para 3). College students are now expecting communication with their academic and extra-curricular program to mimic the communication in the rest of the lives. They want to be connected constantly, informed instantaneously, and selective of what they find suitable for immediate, if any, response.

Technology offers college students an array of options to socialize, network, stay informed and connected. Students are now using technology to communicate more than face-to-face interaction. Many have lost the art of maintaining eye contact while speaking in person; instead they continually consult their phone for updates, text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets. While faculty on campuses of higher education struggle to identify how digital students learn differently, higher education professionals struggle to identify their preferred methods for communication. There is limited research on social media usage by campus programs and administrators and the success with students; however, many colleges are reaching students this way. Research on social media usage in the classroom abounds, although this research does not provide accurate information when comparing communication of faculty to higher education professionals and campus programs.

According to Gemmill and Peterson (as cited in Heiberger & Harper, 2008, p. 22), “three-quarters of college student spend between one and three hours per week using the Internet for social communication; the remaining one-quarter spend three or more hours per week communication socially online.” According to Facebook, of the active college network users, an average of twenty minutes per day is spent on the site and during this time over fifty pages are viewed (Heiberger & Harper, 2008). The students are engaged through social networks; they are connected. Choosing to utilize social media outlets to reach this population seems inevitable; yet, higher education professionals must develop a strategy that will not pollute their resources.

How Administrators Communicate with Students

Regardless of the time spent online by students, administrators must be mindful to find “positive ways to use the technologies most popular with students” (Heiberger & Harper, 2008, p. 29). Staying abreast of the current technologies and preferences of students is crucial to ensure the most effective incorporation of social media in communicating with students. The ultimate goal is to increase involvement and knowledge of campus programs. Poor planning and utilization could result in negative participation and response rates from students.

A variety of opportunities exist for higher education administrators to disseminate information and engage students through social media. Facebook can be used to encourage a sense of community with campus programs by creating groups where members can join and communicate with others of the same interest. The group page is an excellent way to share program news, updates, and event information. Before any plan of action is developed, the target audience must be identified, as well as the demographics of the followers. Develop a strategic plan and commit to this method, because students have a “high expectation about the speed and quality of campus connection” (Heiberger & Harper, 2008, p. 31).

Twitter provides a micro-blogging platform which serves as an exceptional resource for marketing campus programs and opportunities for involvement. Utilizing one-hundred forty characters to share current news, campus happenings, and useful tips is one additional method for distributing content in a non-aggressive manner. Informational podcasts and instructional videos shared through YouTube provide one additional outlet for getting the message to students. YouTube also has the option to create sub-channels that are content specific, so this avenue presents another opportunity to make information available to students. In addition, with video sharing, campus programs and administrators can use creativity, music, graphics, and current trends to capture their audience.


According to Eric Stoller (2011), “a prevalent theme for 2011 is how higher education can capitalize on social media as a way to create relationships, student retention, and engagement” (para. 5). To communicate effectively with students, higher education professionals must embrace new technologies, explore opportunities to implement a social media presence, and most importantly develop a plan that constantly re-evaluates trends and adapts to the changing needs of students. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the preferred social media outlets for socializing and networking. Current research shows students are online, engaged, and desire to be connected to their campus. They are listening, but choosing the appropriate message and outlet depends on the commitment to success.


Bart, M. (2010). Social media usage among college faculty, Trends in Higher Education, Faculty Focus. Retrieved from trends-in-higher-education/social-media-usage-among-college-faculty/

Beja, M. (2009). How students, professors, and colleges are, and should be, using social media. Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from areshould-be- using-social-media/7787 

Ewbank, A., Foulger, T. S., & Carter, H. L. (2010). Red Bull, Starbucks, and the changing face of teacher education. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(2), 25-28. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Heiberger, G., & Harper, R. (2008). Have you Facebooked Astin lately? Using technology to increase student involvement. New Directions for Student Services, (124), 19-35. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Jackson, J. (n.d.) What is Twitter. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from 

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College Cyberbullying: The Virtual Bathroom Wall

Quincy Martin III, Ed.D.
Dean of Student Services
Triton College

Doug Olson
Vice President of Student Affairs
Triton College

With the tremendous growth of teens and young adults utilizing various social media networks, e-mail and electronic messaging systems, it is almost inevitable for them to steer clear of cyberbullying (Tegeler, 2010). While online aggression among youth tends to peak in high school, according to cyberbullying experts, there is increasing spillover among college students (Belsey, 2004; Chapell, De la Cruz, Ferrell, Forman, & Lipkin, 2004; Daniloff, 2009; Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009; Parsonson, 2009).

According to Englander, Mills, and McCoy (2009), the eruption of user-generated content has changed the social, political, and emotional landscape in which America and like countries exist. They go on to explain user-generated content as, “content created and published online by any willing individual, with no qualification requirements, and subject to no editing or editorial control” (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 213). Moreover, the authors describe two key fundamentals of the change that affect institutions of higher education and the students they serve. First, user-generated content has employed overwhelming degrees of vicious cyberbullying. Second, the exploitation of information exposure is “…a seemingly bizarre phenomenon whereby individuals freely and deliberately disseminate confidential or personally damaging information (including incriminating facts) to the widest possible audience, apparently without concern for any consequences” (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 214).

What is Cyberbullying?

Coined “cyberbullying” by Bill Belsey in 1999, victims of online abuse can be attacked via websites, chat rooms, instant messages, online journals, blogs, or cell phone text messages. Cyberbullying has no boundaries or limitations and is the perfect bullying crime.

It is very hurtful, yet (generally) does not kill its victims; it is extremely simple and easy; it does not require significant planning or thought; it similarly does not require self-confidence or social finesse; and the perpetrator is extremely unlikely to be caught or disciplined. The victim is always accessible (e.g., you can blog about someone online without their physical presence. (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 215)

Moreover, a damaging characteristic of cyberbullying is that with a click of a button, deprecating statements, threats, and humiliating pictures or videos of individuals can be sent to hundreds of viewers within a moment’s notice (Daniloff, 2009; Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). Since these attacks can occur at all hours of the day to millions of people worldwide in an instant, cyberbullies can easily extend the network of abuse their victims experience in minutes.

The most significant part of cyberbullying, which sets it apart from traditional bullying, is the fact that cyberbullies can remain anonymous and say things online that they would never say to someone in person (Keith & Martin, 2005; Sparling, 2004). Physical size and strength does not matter. While cyberbullies can remain anonymous, the impact of repeatedly harassing, bullying, or sending messages can cause physical and psychological damage to the recipient that endures long after the incidents of ridicule have ceased (Willard, 2007). Aside from sending messages, victims of cyberbullying may experience it from having personal images and information posted online at various sources, such as college gossip websites.

College Gossip Websites

College gossip websites can be perceived as a rich breeding ground for the purpose of discussing other people. Unfortunately, these websites have been created to produce and elicit damaging information (whether true or untrue) to engage its viewers in witnessing embarrassing activities of unsuspecting victims. Sites such as, (Anonymous Confession Board), and are just a few websites geared towards college students that produce damaging comments, videos, and photos of their peers. Most college gossip websites offer their users anonymity, which in turn creates an explosion of opportunities for culprits to use the sites for malicious purposes.

What about Faculty and Staff?

The damage college gossip websites causes students may seem almost irreparable. Understandably so, victims of cyberbullying worry about the lasting impact and virtual presence their comments, photo, video, etc. may have throughout their lifetime. But, what about faculty and staff? Although not as widespread as college students, faculty and staff have also been victims of cyberbullying. Outside of e-mails and blogs, many times without notice, faculty and staff are victims of cyberbullying through the same gossip websites as college students. There is, however, at least one exception. The most popular site for cyberbullying of faculty members occurs on (Daniloff, 2009). is a website that allows students to learn more about their professors and the courses they plan to take prior to attending class. The site also allows students to give their opinions (both positive and negative) of the classes and the instructors they have taken previously. Although carefully constructed, negative comments that students post can be damaging. Even though the website provides guidelines that prohibit threats, violence, intimidation, and other inflammatory remarks, the website offers professors a rebuttal system.


As students become more adept at accessing and navigating the Internet, colleges and universities must become more active to help educate their communities about cyberbullying and how to help prevent such abuse. Student affairs professionals and higher education administrators may so often be out of touch that they may be unaware of the frequency of cyberbullying or the types that exist (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). Even more importantly, they may face difficulties and be unaware of how to control or reduce it.

Some higher education institutions are taking action to reduce the prevalence of cyberbullying on their campuses. For instance, in January 2011, the University of Northern Iowa opened a new Center for Violence Prevention and Intervention. The center is devoted to preventing violence in a number of areas, including cyberbullying. Annette Lynch, the center's director exclaimed, "It's naive to think that cyberbullying isn't happening on college campuses” (Tegeler, 2010, para. 26). Furthermore, Urs Gasser, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University affirms that the most important step is “to make cyberbullying an audible part of the campus conversation” (Daniloff, 2009, p. 25). Moreover, Boston University administers a policy on computer ethics and restricts the use of offensive or harassing materials. A code of ethics for faculty and staff and similar guidelines exist for students (Daniloff, 2009). Finally, at some colleges and universities, students have asked campus IT to block bullying websites (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). The aforementioned measures are not intended to completely repair cyberbullying issues, but rather are means to create awareness and begin dialogue on how to address cyberbullying should a student, faculty, or staff fall victim to it.


With the evolution of cell phone capabilities to record and download information and videos to the Internet, e-mail, and various electronic messaging systems, institutions of higher education will face added pressure to combat cyberbullying, since such electronic communications can be easily placed on the Internet for many to see. As technology advances, so must colleges and universities with respect to how they educate and attempt to address cyberbullying. Previous researchers have focused on the effects of cyberbullying, what cyberbullying means, and how cyberbullying occurs, but have not fully discussed the disruption it causes on college campuses. Conversely, with the advancement of technology, there is a gap in the literature on cyberbullying on college campuses. Although this analysis represents an overview of cyberbullying, it underscores the need for student affairs professionals to take action for education and awareness. Moreover, there is no conceivable alternative to such preparation, as people will continue to actively engage at least some aspect of their lives online (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009).


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Daniloff, C. (2009, Spring). Cyberbullying goes to college. Bostonia. Retrieved from 

Englander, E., Mills, E., & McCoy, M. (2009). Cyberbullying and information exposure: Usergenerated content in post-secondary education. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 46(2), 213-230. Retrieved from marc/usergenerated%20data%20englander %20mills%20mccoy.pdf

Keith, S., and Martin, M.E. (2005). Cyber-bullying: Creating a culture of respect in a cyber world. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 13(4), 224-28.

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Sparling, P. (2004). Mean machines: New technologies let the neighborhood bully taunt you anywhere, anytime. But you can fight back. Current Health, 28(8), 18–20.

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Willard, N. (2007). Cyber bullying and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats, and distress. Champaign, IL: Research Press.