Student Affairs

The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs


Editor's Note

In this issue, we have published the winning three articles from our recent contest for graduate student authors. In an effort to allow our readers to see the papers as they were submitted, we made very minor edits to the manuscripts. In rank-order, our winners were as follows: First Place – Amy Lueck, Second Place – Kristin Tarantino, Jessica McDonough, and Ma Hua, Third Place – Paul G. Brown. We wish to extend our congratulations to these authors. Our contest was a great success, and we plan to have another contest next year. Thanks to all who participated.

Gary D. Malaney

Featured Articles by Our Contest Winners

Amy J. Lueck writes about the use of technology to serve graduate students in the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies at the University of Louisville in Available Technologies for Changing Student Needs: Using Technology to Reach Graduate Students on our Campuses.

In Effects of Student Engagement with Social Media on Student Learning: A Review of Literature, Kristen Tarantino, Jessica McDonough, and Ma Hua discuss several studies that investigated the connection between the use of social media and student learning.

Paul G. Brown analyzes his use of Twitter while teaching in An Experiment in Using Twitter in Teaching a Student Affairs Practicum Course.

Also in This Issue

Emily R. Green and Pamela A. Havice conduct a phenomenological study on understanding the social and academic experiences of virtual high school graduates as they transition to traditional colleges in Virtual High School Graduates: A Study on Transitions to Postsecondary Environments and Implications for Student Affairs.

Available Technologies for Changing Student Needs: Using Technology to Reach Graduate Students on our Campuses

Amy J. Lueck
Doctoral Student
University of Louisville


This paper advocates for increased attention to graduate students in student affairs research and reports on the ways the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies at the University of Louisville has used technology to support graduate student learning. The technologies reported on here are familiar and accessible to most all student affairs professionals; this report is intended to highlight the presence of these technologies, which may be taken for granted in our practice, and to encourage less tech-savvy practitioners to consider the ways they can build on existing tools to help their students reach their learning outcomes. It encourages an approach to technology integration that is responsive to a particular need or use and considers the affordances and limitations of particular technologies rather than embracing new technologies on account of their "newness." Although technology trends among college students are a popular topic in higher education, the tangential outcomes related to campus IT infrastructure remain a relatively untouched area of discussion. This article reviews technology trends at one higher education institution in the Southeastern United States. Through the longitudinal tracking of residential student perception surveys, a campus environment continues to evolve its capacity to meet student technology expectations. The use of historical documents and the identified expertise of campus staff provide practical considerations for student affairs professionals.

Though student affairs scholarship often focuses on the undergraduate experience, attention is being paid more recently to the needs of graduate students on our campuses as well.1 While indeed the task of socializing and preparing graduate students has and continues to fall largely to students’ own academic departments, through close mentoring relationships with faculty and fellow students, the changes to graduate education posed by globalization, federal and institutional financial constraints, a dire job market, and increased interest in interdisciplinary research and alternative careers have prompted more graduate schools and student affairs professionals alike to think seriously about what universities can do to enhance graduate student life and development on their campuses (Helm, Campa, & Moretto, 2012).

It is broadly acknowledged that graduate student needs differ from those of undergraduates (Keeling, 2004), but understanding what those needs are and how to meet them can still be a challenge, and it is too often true that graduate students are simply not considered in student affairs programming decisions. On our campus, we are often told by other offices that graduate students are “welcome to join” in existing events and programs; this approach is inadequate, as it does not acknowledge the fact that such programming has been designed with undergraduates in mind, not graduate students and their unique needs.

This is a serious issue for universities to address, as some 40-50% of doctoral students are currently not finishing their degrees, and their attrition costs the university, the program, the community, and most importantly the student dearly in terms of time, money, and emotional investment (Nettles & Millett, 2006). Persistence and academic achievement are crucial outcomes for doctoral study, since the achievement of other learning outcomes relies on the presence of students on our campuses. In the case of the nearly half of our nation’s doctoral students who are not completing their degrees, graduate student learning outside the classroom is clearly not being adequately supported (CGS, 2010). Though the focus of this article is on PhD students in particular, I refer throughout to “graduate students” and “graduate education” because the needs of students and the gaps in programming appear to be similar at both the Master’s and PhD levels. As Cheryl J. Polson (2003) has described it:

Graduate students were once seen simply as an extension of their undergraduate counterparts. It was assumed that because they were mature, well-focused, goal oriented, and college graduates, they were capable of handing the responsibilities of graduate study without needing special services. Alarming attrition rates (Baird, 1993; Bowen and Rudenstine, 1992; Golde, 1998) have challenged that assumption and stimulated a reexamination of how institutions might better serve their graduate student clientele. (p. 59)

Polson goes on to argue for the importance of “rethinking and restructuring student services” in response to the changing graduate student experience, outlining programs that provide key support for students at different stages of adjustment to academic life--from socialization and orientation, to managing multiple roles and being mentored, to career searching. The Council of Graduate Schools (2010) provides a list of similar recommendations that focus on the importance of making connections with other graduate students and faculty, supporting students with families, and integrating students into their home department.

Again, these recommendations differ importantly from most undergraduate best practices. Susan K. Gardner (2010), drawing on the mentoring research of Chris Golde, has explained that “graduate student socialization is unique in that the student is becoming socialized not only to the graduate school environment and the role of student but simultaneously to the professional role (Golde, 1998)” (p. 63). This statement highlights how graduate education is already necessarily responsive to the “whole” student and her development as an individual--synthesizing her personal and professional experiences as she is socialized into her life’s profession--yet in need of more support from student affairs. In other words, graduate education supports the definition of learning as “a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates academic learning and student development,” as forwarded by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the American College Personnel Association (NASPA and ACPA, 2010, p. 2). Student affairs needs to theorize practices that respond specifically to graduate students as both students and early-career professionals if we hope to facilitate transformative education for these students.

One of the unique challenges posed to student affairs practitioners working with graduate students, though, becomes how to communicate with and bring together these students, who often do not reside on and sometimes do not even come to campus in the later stages of study, and whose experiences tend to be highly centered on their home department. At our university, we continue to think about how technology can help us to accomplish this.

In this article, we will discuss how the Program Manager and Graduate Research Assistant at University of Louisville’s School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies have used technology not only to communicate to but to dialogue with graduate students from across the university, and to map interconnected learning across campus resources (NASPA and ACPA, 2010)

Though our individual competencies vary, we would not consider ours to be a particularly tech-savvy campus, and we have found that enhancing technology can be a scary--even threatening--topic for those offices with limited support or resources. Operating with limited funding and technology support ourselves, we want to recognize the incremental ways student affairs professionals can integrate technology recommendations into their praxis and illustrate how we have used well-established technologies and systems resourcefully to reach our student learning outcomes. While we have ambitions towards much more innovation in the future, our case demonstrates how familiar technologies can be used in more inventive ways.

We also want to highlight in this account that effective use of new media in student affairs involves serious consideration of both the affordances and limitations of new technologies for achieving and enhancing pedagogical goals, some of which may be well-defined in advance while others may be open to redefinition as we use new media. Drawing on the TPACK model for technology integration (Mishra & Koehler, 2006), which prompts teachers to critically consider the interactions among technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge, we illustrate the benefits that this reflective approach has for purposefully integrating new media into student affairs. We use this theoretical framework in deciding what technologies we want to adopt, for considering how we want to adapt them to our program goals, and for assessing the usefulness of the technologies in a cyclical and reflective process.

Building on this framework, we offer a model for other student affairs professionals who may be just beginning to integrate new electronic media into their praxis. In discussing our own modest situation, we hope to give others an idea of how to draw on the affordances of key technologies, even with minimal resources and staff support.

And, while the focus here on graduate education should continue as an important strand within student affairs conversations, we should note that these strategies might benefit any non-traditional student population, especially part-time and distance learners.

Program Background

In 2009, the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS) at University of Louisville started a conversation about the needs of international students. The question was posed by then-Research Assistant to the Dean, Shyam Sharma, as to how international graduate students could be better integrated into the academic culture of the U.S. As an international student himself, Sharma knew the challenges of this cultural transition well, and Dean Boehm was familiar with the issue through her work with the increasing number of non-domestic graduate students attending the university. But almost as soon as the question was asked, it was deemed insufficient. Why, they realized, aren’t we supporting the socialization and professional development -- the holistic learning--of all graduate students?

From this seed grew the PLAN professional development program, a framework for thinking about graduate student development in terms of four core areas: Professional development, Life skills, Academic skills, and Networking. SIGS has offered a series of workshops and events in collaboration with campus partners, built significantly upon connections with the Graduate Student Council and the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning on campus, provided funding opportunities to support graduate students, and worked in many other ways to develop programs and partnerships for graduate student development.

The PLAN, now in its fourth year, has become a model for graduate student development, as well as the core of an enhanced focus on graduate education across our university. At this time, SIGS hosts some 25-30 workshops each semester, has established a Graduate Teaching Academy with focused pedagogy workshops, has developed a program and resources for faculty and peer mentoring, and co-sponsors a Program Manager position that is dedicated to graduate student affairs.

But as the program establishes itself and expands, we also identify new challenges and new frontiers. In particular, we have recognized the need to consider multiple delivery techniques for information and instruction, better ways of mitigating the “silo-effect” of departmental culture, better ways of reaching the non-traditional, part-time and extended time-to-degree students who might need our support the most, and the overall need for more attention to the graduate student as an individual and as a whole. That the answers to such challenges are increasingly found in technology is now almost a truism, but what we would like to explore here is not some new-fangled technology that solved all of our woes, but how we purposefully and strategically drew on the affordances of existing technologies and systems at our university to grow our program and support our students’ learning. The remainder of this article will be dedicated to discussing some of the technologies we have utilized to meet the unique needs of graduate students at our university.

Website as Instructional Delivery and Engagement

One of the primary uses of technology in our office is the ongoing development of our websites. While many institutions have web space dedicated to graduate students, few have a concentrated space focused on responding to graduate student professional development needs. The primary website we use is the main PLAN page, which includes information about the PLAN framework, a calendar of events, the registration form, and links to other video and web resources. As we continue to develop this website, we hope to add more video clips from workshops and to increase access to materials from those workshops. However, we have had to think hard about the role we envision for our web-based materials, and to reflect on our beliefs and assumptions about the relationship between online and face-to-face interactions. Namely, we have limited the materials we make available online in order to encourage students to come to campus to attend the workshops in person, believing that the community fostered in such synchronous interactions in a shared physical space is an important and sometimes rare opportunity for graduate students (especially across disciplines).

The possibility of providing materials from workshops online has also had to be negotiated with the faculty workshop presenters as well. As we considered increasing the materials we provide online, we were met with resistance from some faculty, who had a strong sense of intellectual ownership over their workshop materials. These faculty expressed discomfort with having their materials available to a broad online community, but were often more amenable to the option of posting materials in a password-protected online space for our students to access. We will continue to work with our Dean and faculty presenters to develop our online materials in ways that continue to support our in-person learning outcomes.

With minimal options for self-exploration or interaction on this website, then, the content has been designed instead to help students think about professional development strategically, to think about their own strengths and needs, and to access appropriate opportunities and resources. Students are encouraged to think of their professional development needs in terms of their own socialization into graduate school. Our stages—Getting Started, Moving On, and Moving Beyond—echo the sequential phases of graduate student adjustment theorized by Beeler (1991), Polson (2003), and others, and help students to prioritize educational opportunities suited to their level of graduate study while keeping the long-view of the development process in sight.

But while the uses of the PLAN website remain limited, we are beginning to recognize the affordances of online spaces not only for content management, but also for instructional delivery and engagement for students unable to come to campus due to full-time work, family, or distance. In this way, we have been experimenting with increased online content and interaction on our MentorCenter webpage, which is dedicated to resources for faculty and peer mentoring.

The MentorCenter page features frequently-asked questions about mentoring for both faculty and graduate students, as well as a resource page with contact information for University-based offices and web-based resources from within and outside the University. Most important, though, is MentorConnect, our online system for connecting faculty and students with award-winning mentors from across our campus. With MentorConnect, users can ask questions of our local “experts” on mentoring, or request to be connected with a mentor at our university. This system helps physically distanced or otherwise disconnected students to interact with and learn from established faculty mentors online. We hope to build more opportunities for online discussions and knowledge-building in this space as we move forward.


Facebook and other social media sites are a great place to establish a self-selected community of students with shared concerns. We use our Facebook page to connect graduate students with opportunities and resources, but also to connect them to each other. Community pages such as ours are a great way for students to identify and interact with others with shared interests and experiences online.

Emails and Listservs

Of course, emails and listservs are a well-established and hardly innovative technology on campuses. At the same time, they should not be overlooked as an important mechanism for marketing to discrete interest groups, especially those whose comfort level may be more attuned to more traditional technologies. While social networking sites like Facebook are effective at getting a message out to a larger community of students, we find programming to have the most impact when it is targeted towards individuals or groups based on their own special interests. For instance, while we do use general graduate student listservs to advertise graduate student-centered events, we also collect data on students’ past participation and degree level to target late-stage graduate students for our career series workshops, or advertise a teaching with technology workshop to attendees of past workshops on teaching. While forms and spreadsheets help us manage some of this data, we often find analogue ways to supplement the digital, by assembling lists of attendees from sign-in sheets to compose a new specialized email group. And, of course, we utilize existing communication channels like our University news mailer, the student news mailer, the Graduate Student Council mailer, and the lists composed by other offices and centers that serve graduate students, providing a network of inter-related communications channels.

Text Messages

As cell phones and mobile devices become increasingly central to students’ lives, we have tried to develop ways to utilize them to meet our program goals. By adding an optional entry for cell phone numbers and service providers in our event registration form, we are now able to email students workshop reminders that are received as SMS messages on students’ phones. This strategy is in part responsible for our 13% increase in workshop attendance by registrants, since it is responsive to students’ busy lab and research schedules by providing a timely reminder in a useful, immediately accessible form. Since our workshops are part of an extra-curriculum of professional development, helping students remember to attend is crucial to meeting the learning outcomes of the workshops that they select.

Simple Forms as Data Management and Networking

The website interface provided by our university allows us to create forms that will collate student-entered data for planning and analysis. Other free resources, such as Google Forms, exist for these purposes as well. We use these forms for workshop registration primarily, but have also begun to explore their use for facilitating networking opportunities between students and faculty. For instance, the MentorConnect area within the MentorCenter connects students and faculty to established faculty mentors through the completion of a simple web form. We hope to facilitate meaningful exchanges about mentoring to support students’ understanding of this flagship pedagogy of graduate education, and to support a campus-wide interest in such conversations. In the future, we hope to extend this online platform to include opportunities for users to identify and connect with faculty and students with shared research interests for interdisciplinary projects, which are increasingly important for graduate student work and development.


While much of graduate education takes place within a student’s home department and in a close research relationship with a mentor, supporting the professional development of graduate students campus-wide is central to educating the whole student. While many students develop strong mentoring relationships with multiple faculty, staff, and students, not all students find the relationships, training, and support they need to develop as students, citizens and professionals within their departments and programs. It is important that universities and student affairs professionals provide centralized mechanisms to support the development of all students.

The PLAN framework is a program designed to meet those unique needs of graduate students, but it relies for its success on the use of technology to reach its target audience and help them establish connections with other student resources across campus. The technology we have used is not ground-breaking, but our case provides an example of how the affordances of key technologies can be used rather simply to support and enhance graduate student learning outcomes.

Though we are not technology experts, we are continually researching new ways to use technology to reach our program goals and to help our students develop. Some of the next steps that we are in the process of developing include:

  • Overhauling our websites to make them more navigable and more responsive to student needs. This will involve drawing on a series of student focus groups which will provide feedback about what aspects of the website are most useful to them, and about how they interact (effectively or ineffectively) with the current site design and content.
  • Increasing online resources to include virtual workshops and links to resources both on campus and on the web. While interdisciplinary, in-person workshops will continue to be our flagship pedagogy, we acknowledge the material limitations of some graduate students that foreclose the option of attending, and are continuing to consider ways to extend the valuable interdisciplinary learning that occurs on-site to students unable to attend in person.
  • Providing online tools to allow students to assess their professional development competencies, track their participation in graduate student professional development opportunities, and present evidence of their professional development growth in a professional portfolio for future employers.
  • Streamlining our data management processes to ensure that we have sound program data to analyze the effectiveness of our student learning outcomes.
  • Exploring the affordances of Twitter and other social networking tools to increase student involvement and learning outside the classroom, and to continue to build collegial interdisciplinary communities.
  • Continually learning from the strategies of other universities and student affairs professionals to consider what strategies might help students meet their learning outcomes in our localized context.

As technology becomes more of a central aspect of student affairs work, it is important to remember that “technology” is any object or system that helps us accomplish our goals and reach our student learning outcomes, and is not about embracing cutting-edge software for its own sake. We have many technologies that are already well within reach (in terms of budget as well as accessibility) of any program. Programs do not need limitless budgets or technology experts to draw on the affordances of new media to meet their goals. What they need is a thoughtful consideration of their own goals and the existing technologies that can help them meet those goals more efficiently and effectively for their students.

1 For evidence of the elision of graduate students in foundational student affairs literature, see the American College Personnel Association (1996) The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs and the American Council on Education (1949) The Student Personnel Point of View. For student affairs work attending to graduate students, see Polson (2003).


American College Personnel Association. (1994/1996). Student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Washington, D.C.: Author.

American Council on Education. (1949). The student personnel point of view [American Council on Education Studies, Series VI, No. 13]. Washington, D.C.: Author. Retrieved from

Beeler, K. D. (1991). Graduate student adjustment to academic life: A four-stage framework. NASPA Journal, 28 (2), 163-171.

Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). (2010). PhD completion and attrition: Policies and practices to promote student success. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Gardner, S. K. (2010). Contrasting the socialization experiences of doctoral students in high-and low completing departments: A qualitative analysis of disciplinary contexts at one institution. The Journal of Higher Education, 81 (1), 61-81.

Helm, M., Campa, H., III, & Moretto, K. (2012). Professional socialization for the Ph.D.: An exploration of career and professional development preparedness and readiness for Ph.D. candidates. The Journal of Faculty Development, 26(2), 5-23.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, & American College Personnel Association.

Nettles, M. T. & Millett, C. M. (2006). Three magic letters. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.

Polson, C. J. (2003). Adult graduate students challenge institutions to change. In D. Kilgore & P. J. Rice (Eds.), Meeting the needs of adult students (pp. 59-68), New Directions for Student Services, no. 102. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Effects of Student Engagement with Social Media on Student Learning: A Review of Literature

Kristen Tarantino
Doctoral Student
The College of William and Mary

Jessica McDonough
Doctoral Student
The College of William and Mary

Ma Hua
Doctoral Student
The College of William and Mary


Social media, Internet-based tools that promote collaboration and information sharing (Junco, Helbergert, & Loken, 2011), can be used in academic settings to promote student engagement and facilitate better student learning (Kabilan, Ahmad, & Abidin, 2010). Because student engagement represents the time and effort that students invest in collaborative and educational activities (Kuh, 2001), it is often linked with the achievement of positive student learning outcomes, such as critical thinking and individual student development (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Kuh, 1993). This review discusses the connections between student engagement and student learning, followed by the prevalence of social media use and how it can impact peer interactions, collaboration, and knowledge creation. Finally, recommendations for educators on how to incorporate social media in course content are presented.

The rapid development of information and communication technologies has sparked the creative incorporation of social media into current pedagogical applications and processes. Social media includes a variety of web-based tools and services that are designed to promote community development through collaboration and information sharing (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Junco, Helbergert, & Loken, 2011). These tools provide opportunities for individual expression as well as interactions with other users (Arnold & Paulus, 2010). Social media can include blogs, wikis, media (audio, photo, video, text), sharing tools, networking platforms (including Facebook), and virtual worlds. Current research has indicated that using social media as an educational tool can lead to increased student engagement (Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009; Chen, Lambert, & Guidry, 2010; Junco, 2012a; Junco et al., 2011; Patera, Draper, & Naef, 2008). By encouraging engagement with social media, students develop connections with peers, establish a virtual community of learners and ultimately increase their overall learning (Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Jackson, 2011; Kuh, 1993; Liu, Liu, Chen, Lin & Chen, 2011; Nelson Laird & Kuh, 2005; Yu, Tian, Vogel, & Kwok, 2010). This literature review will explore the dimensions of student engagement through social media as a means of fostering increased student learning and implications for educators on how to incorporate social media with academic course content. Student engagement represents both the time and energy students invest in interactions with others through educationally purposeful activities (Kuh, 2001). Nelson Laird and Kuh (2005) reported that students who use information technology for academics also have a higher likelihood of contributing and participating in active, academic collaboration with other students. This collaboration indicates that as engagement with technology increases, engagement with academics also increases, promoting a deeper connection between the students, educators, and course content (Mehdinezhad, 2011). By participating in a community of learners, students become more engaged with the course content which increases the achievement of popular learning outcomes, such as critical thinking and individual student development (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Kuh, 1993, 2009; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinsie, & Gonyea, 2008; Pike, Kuh, & McCormick, 2011). Therefore, student engagement through social media can increase connections to create a virtual community that leads to better content learning.

Significance of Review

Social media use has increased in recent years across all age levels. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that although 73% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social media, the rates of social media use are even higher (83%) for young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010; Madden & Zickuhr, 2011). Due to age restrictions and limited access to social media, pre-adolescent students do not appear to have the same level of social media use as older students (Lenhart et al., 2010). In addition to the number of teens and young adults using social media, two-thirds of adult Internet users are also using social media (Madden & Zickhur, 2011). Social media has also been implemented in academic settings to motivate students to participate, share, and learn with other collaborators (Kabilan, Ahmad, & Abidin, 2010). Nelson Laird and Kuh (2005) found that students use information technology regularly in both their academic and personal lives. However, students use social media more than other course related technologies because they are already familiar with the features and settings (Appel, 2012; Hurt et al., 2012; Liu, 2010).

Social and Collaborative Learning

Nowadays, most researchers agree that knowledge not only exists in individual minds but also in the discourse and interactions between individuals. Such interactions support active participation, which is an essential element in student learning (Hrastinski, 2009). Learners need to develop skills to share knowledge and to learn with others, both in face-to-face situations and through technology including social media. Kabilan et al. (2010) found that students build learning communities by working collaboratively to construct knowledge. Social media serves as a tool to facilitate the development of these learning communities by encouraging collaboration and communication. Moreover, these interactions reinforce the achievement of desirable learning outcomes (Yu et al., 2010).

As a result, social media supports collaborative learning, which in turn helps to strengthen the creative learning process (Shoshani & Rose Braun, 2007). Collaborative learning is characterized by student interactions and connections with course content. Social media provides an opportunity for students to expand their learning environment since only a portion of student learning occurs within the confines of a classroom (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Friesen & Lowe, 2012; Wodzicki, Schwämmlein, & Moskaliuk, 2012). Fewkes and McCabe (2012) further argued that it is the responsibility of educators to find ways to incorporate current social media into their classrooms. Educators can use social media to develop creativity in their students by encouraging them to explore the content material in new ways (Frye, Trathen, & Koppenhaver, 2010; Lamb & Johnson, 2010). For example, social media provides students with options for creating authentic, creative products through tools such as blogs, YouTube, and podcasts (Frye et al., 2010; Lamb & Johnson, 2010). Students can also use social media to research content material in order to develop new knowledge (Frye et al., 2010; Lamb & Johnson, 2010). By allowing the needs of creative learners to be met through a cooperative learning environment, students are better able to balance their individualism with the need for contact with others, allowing new ideas to flourish (Garrett, 2011; Shoshani & Rose Braun, 2007).

Technology, when used independently, does not necessarily contribute to learning. Aguilar-Roca, Williams, and O’Dowd (2012) found that students who take notes by hand achieve higher test scores when compared to students who use laptops to take notes. Additionally, prior computer knowledge plays a factor in a student’s perceived learning through online methods of instruction (Appel, 2012; Top, 2012). However, the Internet can provide a rich environment for hosting the educational and learning activities for students. Chen et al. (2010) found that students who primarily take online courses also spend more time using online tools and social media as supplementary learning tools when compared to students who primarily take face-to-face courses. By supplementing student course work with outside materials as well as creating and sharing knowledge among peers, social media creates an environment where increased critical thinking and collaboration are possible (Carini et al., 2006; Kuh, 1993; Mazman & Usluel, 2010; Shoshani & Rose Braun, 2007). Thus, the active engagement and establishment of virtual relationships through social media offers opportunities for increased learning by encouraging students to build on established connections with other sources beyond the classroom (Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Yu et al., 2010).

Using Social Media to Connect to a Virtual Community of Learners

Students who participate in social media as part of a class feel more connected to their peers that those students who do not participate in social media (Annetta et al., 2009; Jackson, 2011; Tomai, Rosa, Mebane, D’Acunti, Benedetti, & Francescato, 2010). Social media allows students to not only group themselves with peers who are similar, but also to enhance and link existing peer groups (Jackson, 2011; Mazman & Usluel, 2010; Wodzicki et al., 2012). In addition to enhancing established peer groups, social media can bridge the diversity that exists in classrooms by establishing a neutral zone in which students can interact with one another (Junco et al., 2011; Krause & Coates, 2008; Kuh, 1993, 2009; Mehdinezhad, 2011; Pike et al., 2011). Tomai et al. (2010) found that students who used social media felt more emotionally connected to their peers because they felt as though they had people to talk to if they had a problem or if they needed help. Further, these peer connections encouraged participation by students who initially felt intimidated by in-class discussions (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Junco et al., 2011; Rambe, 2008).

The connections that students make with classmates through social media can impact the learning environment that is created. Participation in social media creates a more collaborative and communicative learning environment for students by providing opportunities for discussions and interactions with their peers (Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Jackson, 2011; Liu et al., 2011). By collaborating with peers on a given topic, social media offers opportunities to develop a stronger sense of community among students (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Dawson, 2008; Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Hurt et al., 2012; Jones et al., 2009; Top, 2012). Although Dawson (2008) found that the degree to which a student feels a sense of community might be influenced by the presence and experiences of pre-existing social networks, students who interact with higher numbers of learners also exhibit a higher sense of community. The use of social media also contributes to a sense of community among students by allowing personalization of profiles, including the addition of pictures and other identifying information (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Stevens, 2009). This personalization, coupled with the critical examination of course topics, supports an authentic relationship between students by encouraging openness and sharing of information, which also increases students’ perceived learning (Hurt et al., 2012; Top, 2012).

Social Media and Integrating Course Content

Although collaborating with classmates through social media builds a system of relationships between students, it also provides instant pathways for disseminating and enhancing course-related knowledge outside the confines of the traditional classroom (Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Hurt et al., 2012; Junco et al., 2011; Top, 2012). In using social media for academic purposes, namely group discussions, multiple students can discuss a class in general and interact with the same content at the same time (Patera et al., 2008; Rambe, 2008). The ability to communicate with each other in one location allows students to build on conversations, whether related to course content or not. This increases the likelihood of having greater learning because students are adding to the dialogue beyond that of the prescribed topic, including discussions that were originally posted by a moderator or professor (Hurt et al., 2012). Furthermore, sharing and co-creating information through social media merely requires a student to understand its appropriateness for a given topic (Lin, Hou, Wang, & Chang, 2013). By providing students with a common experience within a virtual community, they are able to dig deeper for content and make connections across multiple sources (Annetta et al., 2009; Frye et al., 2010). This ability produces a network of opportunities to increase student learning beyond the traditional classroom setting.

Social Media and Student Learning Achievements

The use of social media in academic coursework can increase the learning achieved by an individual student. Students who participate in coursework that utilize social media demonstrate an increase in overall GPA when compared with students who do not participate in social media (Junco, 2012b; Junco et al., 2011). Social media usage within the academic setting not only increases students’ GPA, but also facilitates peer feedback on assignments and thoughtful student reflections on course content because of the ability for students to openly communicate with each other and develop strong relationships among peers (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Ebner, Leinhardt, Rohs, & Meyer, 2010; Kuh, 1993). Furthermore, using social media fosters long-term retention of information and develops a deeper understanding of content that is discussed in a class (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008). This research indicates that students who use social media are better able to connect course content with out-of-class peer interactions, ultimately supporting their learning within the classroom.

Challenges for Social Media Use

Though social media can increase student learning through student interactions, challenges arise when social media are incorporated into an academic course. The assumption that students are familiar with and agreeable to using certain types of social media can cause educators to inadvertently fail to provide the resources or encouragement necessary to support student usage and learning (Cole, 2009; Väljataga & Fiedler, 2009). Arnold and Paulus (2010) found that even when social media is used for an educational purpose, students incorporate the technology into their lives in a way that may differ from the intentions of the course instructor. For example, off-topic or non-academic discussions occur on social media because of its primary design as a social networking tool (Lin et al., 2013). Further, as a student’s age increases, the frequency of off-topic discussions also increases (Lin et al., 2013). This indicates that while social media may encourage broader discussions of course content, older students may spend more time than younger students engaging in unrelated discussions. Social media can also negatively impact student GPA as well as the amount of time students spend preparing for class (Annetta et al., 2009; Junco, 2012b). One explanation for this impact is that social media provides too much stimulation and therefore can distract students from completing their coursework (Hurt et al., 2012; Patera et al., 2008). Another reason for this may be that students who spend more time on social media may have difficulty balancing their online activities and their academic preparation.

Social media can also be a challenging instructional strategy to incorporate because it attempts to balance the authority of the educator with the active participation of the students. Collaboration through social media supports more of a constructivist approach to learning, where students and educators can work together to co-create understanding of a particular topic, rather than an approach that emphasizes individual contributions (Stevens, 2009). As a result, students and educators become equal participants in the knowledge sharing process. Though this seems beneficial for creating and disseminating knowledge, social media can also become a privacy concern (i.e. cyber-plagiarism) as well as an outlet for abuse and cyber-bullying (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Frye et al., 2010; Jackson, 2011; Smailes & Gannon-Leary, 2011). This suggests that establishing standards for social media use should include behavior and attitude guidelines similar to those enforced in the classroom.

Providing Instructional Support for Social Media Use

When using social media, educators must be able to play an active role in the collaborative process. Educators must not only promote creativity and assess student activities but also inform and clarify misunderstandings that occur involving the content area and subsequent knowledge creation in order to maintain the integrity of the learning environment (Frye et al., 2010; Garrett, 2011; Liu, 2010). In order to support these roles, educators must be provided with professional development that demonstrates how to incorporate social media into their classrooms in order for it to be used to effectively promote student learning (An & Reigeluth, 2012; Stevens, 2009). Even though educators are supportive of using social media and may receive professional development, educators report that they do not know how to effectively incorporate it into their classroom (An & Reigeluth, 2012; Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008). These educators are unfamiliar with the time constraints involved in creating lessons that utilize social media while at the same time creating lessons that do not use social media (Hur & Oh, 2012). However, educators are more likely to incorporate social media activities into their classroom that they have created because they are able to creatively control the content that is included; for example, content that may be assessed on state mandated tests (Annetta et al., 2009; Hur & Oh, 2012).

While some educators have found ways to include social media into their lessons, other educators are not utilizing social media for instructional purposes (Fewkes & McCabe, 2012). The use of social media must be purposeful and as a result should be applied in situations that are the most appropriate for learning and student understanding to occur (Liu, 2010, Väljataga & Fiedler, 2009). For example, social media is best used as an introductory tool for review and collaboration, not merely as a method of advertising class reminders (Annetta et al., 2009; Fewkes & McCabe, 2012). Therefore, educators who are considering incorporating social media into their academic courses should ensure that the specific type of social media used matches the learning outcomes for the students.


Using social media for educational purposes can be beneficial for student learning in multiple ways. First, social media enhances peer interactions, which can bridge diversity in the classroom and establish open lines of communication between students and educators (Annetta et al., 2009; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Hrastinski, 2009; Jackson, 2011; Liu et al., 2011; Tomai et al., 2010). Social media also facilitates discussion and knowledge transfer between students, creating a deeper sense of understanding of the course material (Carini et al., 2006; Chen & Bryer, 2012; Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Garrett, 2011; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Kuh, 1993; Mazman & Usluel, 2010; Shoshani & Rose Braun, 2007; Yu et al., 2010). Thus, students who use social media are able to move beyond the memorization of material and create products that represent their own voices (Frye et al., 2010; Lamb & Johnson, 2010). Finally, social media can aid in the achievement of both general and content specific student learning outcomes (Carini et al., 2006; Junco, 2012b; Junco et al., 2011). Therefore, overall student learning can increase when educators incorporate social media into academic course content.


Educators who want to use social media in their academic courses to promote student learning should be prepared to support students and be active participants in the collaborative learning community. Assuming that students already know how to use social media may disadvantage those students who may need closer supervision and guidance (Cole, 2009; Jackson, 2011; Väljataga & Fiedler, 2009). Furthermore, educators need to recognize the potential for distractions and overstimulation that is associated with certain types of social media (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Hurt et al., 2012; Patera et al., 2008). Other complications that should be planned for include student access to technology, privacy issues, cyber-plagiarism, and cyber-bullying (An & Reigeluth, 2011; Chen & Bryer, 2012; Frye et al., 2010; Jackson, 2011; Smailes & Gannon-Leary, 2011).

Educational institutions must also consider the financial and policy commitments involved with adopting social media. First, administrators may need to consider realigning assessment and evaluation strategies to effectively gauge student learning in classrooms that use social media (Annetta et al., 2009; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Hur & Oh, 2012). Strategies that do not adequately reflect student learning should be discarded or revised. Administrators should also consider the policy implications associated with academic integrity as well as out-of-class interactions between students and educators (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Frye et al., 2010; Jackson, 2011; Smailes & Gannon-Leary, 2011). Finally, the financial responsibilities of incorporating social media must be addressed. Not only do institutions need to ensure that the appropriate equipment and Internet access are available, they also need to ensure that educators have been adequately trained or have opportunities for training before implementing social media as a curriculum strategy (An & Reigeluth, 2012; Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Hur & Oh, 2012; Patera et al., 2008; Stevens, 2009).

While there is evidence that social media enhances student learning (Carini et al., 2006; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Junco, 2012b; Junco et al., 2011), future research needs to build on this finding, specifically addressing assessments of social media use in particular classrooms (i.e. science, math, and language arts). Currently, there is little research to show whether social media use varies based on course content type. Researchers should also investigate best practices for educators in how to effectively incorporate social media into the classroom. This research could provide insights on how students assume the role as co-creators of knowledge as well as how social media increases creativity. Finally, researchers should also consider the role that gender plays in social media use. Since females are more likely to use social media (Madden & Zickuhr, 2011), gender may affect the degree to which students are engaged in course collaborations, thus affecting their overall student learning. Since students vary in their level of engagement, it is imperative that further assessments of social media supported student learning consider multiple explanations for increased student learning.


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An Experiment in Using Twitter in Teaching a Student Affairs Practicum Course

Paul G. Brown
PhD Student
Boston College

Author’s Note

Paul G. Brown is a current PhD student in the Higher Education Program at Boston College. More information about him and his work can be found at The author would like to thank his students for their support and encouragement in experimenting with new teaching methods. He would also like to thank Jessica Pesce and David Millman for providing the space and support for this writing.


Social media and related Web 2.0 technologies provide the opportunity to rethink our practice and how we engage college students in the learning process. This article reviews an experiment using Twitter to engage Higher Education Master’s degree students in a supervised practicum course. Background information, research, guiding goals, implications for practice, and suggestions for future implementations are shared.

The rapid development of information and communication technologies has sparked the creative incorporation of social media into current pedagogical applications and processes. Social media includes a variety of web-based tools and services that are designed to promote community development through collaboration and information sharing (Arnold & Paulus, 2010; Junco, Helbergert, & Loken, 2011). These tools provide opportunities for individual expression as well as interactions with other users (Arnold & Paulus, 2010). Social media can include blogs, wikis, media (audio, photo, video, text), sharing tools, networking platforms (including Facebook), and virtual worlds. Current research has indicated that using social media as an educational tool can lead to increased student engagement (Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009; Chen, Lambert, & Guidry, 2010; Junco, 2012a; Junco et al., 2011; Patera, Draper, & Naef, 2008). By encouraging engagement with social media, students develop connections with peers, establish a virtual community of learners and ultimately increase their overall learning (Fewkes & McCabe, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008; Jackson, 2011; Kuh, 1993; Liu, Liu, Chen, Lin & Chen, 2011; Nelson Laird & Kuh, 2005; Yu, Tian, Vogel, & Kwok, 2010). This literature review will explore the dimensions of student engagement through social media as a means of fostering increased student learning and implications for educators on how to incorporate social media with academic course content. Student engagement represents both the time and energy students invest in interactions with others through educationally purposeful activities (Kuh, 2001). Nelson Laird and Kuh (2005) reported that students who use information technology for academics also have a higher likelihood of contributing and participating in active, academic collaboration with other students. This collaboration indicates that as engagement with technology increases, engagement with academics also increases, promoting a deeper connection between the students, educators, and course content (Mehdinezhad, 2011). By participating in a community of learners, students become more engaged with the course content which increases the achievement of popular learning outcomes, such as critical thinking and individual student development (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Kuh, 1993, 2009; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinsie, & Gonyea, 2008; Pike, Kuh, & McCormick, 2011). Therefore, student engagement through social media can increase connections to create a virtual community that leads to better content learning.


Social media applications and their usage by and effect on students are changing the nature of the learning environment in colleges and universities. In the spring of 2011, I experimented with the use of Twitter in a Higher Education supervised practicum course I teach. In attempting to engage with the students differently and encourage their own development in the use of social media in professional settings, I created a requirement for Twitter usage as a portion of their participation grade. In the following article, I will outline my experiences and perceptions throughout this process. Although this experiment was not a formal empirical study, it nevertheless may provide a guide for others in their attempts to integrate social media in formal training and classroom settings.

Review of Literature

As college student educators seek to improve their teaching practice, the use of social media is becoming an increasingly important means of student engagement. The Higher Education Research Institute (2007) reports that 94% of first year students in U.S. colleges use social media at least weekly. Additionally, in her 2010 work, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupeneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, Anya Kamenetz argues that students’ increasing use of online technologies, such as social media, are changing the way students engage in the learning process. College and university faculty, in order to become more effective in their teaching, need to face the reality that social media presents a unique and promising opportunity for fostering a more engaged learning process. The use of social media in the classroom has become increasingly common and of greater interest to faculty in higher education (Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience, 2009; Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011). A recent Pearson research report indicated that 38.8% of college and university faculty reported using social media in the classroom (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2012). Although social media use by faculty presents many opportunities, there are still a number of perceived and real barriers to its integration in the classroom. Concerns about these barriers, however, have decreased over time. The top 5 concerns faculty cited in the 2012 Pearson study were (a) the integrity of student submissions, (b) concerns about privacy, (c) separate course and personal accounts (d) grading and assessment, and (e) the inability to measure effectiveness (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2012). In choosing to conduct my social media experiment, I confronted many of these challenges, but also encountered growing research on the benefits of using social media in the classroom. Research has documented heavy use of social media by undergraduate students (Higher Education Research Institute, 2007) and my higher education graduate students repeatedly express a desire to learn more about the technology and how it can be applied to their work with their own students. In examining their needs and in choosing which social media technology best fit the course, I decided to use Twitter, the second most popular social media site on both desktop and mobile platforms in the United States (NM Incite & Nielsen, 2012). Additionally, there is a growing body of research regarding Twitter’s importance as a tool in classroom settings. In a 2011 article, Junco, Heiberger, and Loken demonstrated that Twitter usage increased faculty-student interactions, promoted collaboration amongst the students, developed interpersonal relationships, allowed for prompt feedback, and promoted active student learning. With these benefits and best practices in mind, I constructed the course.

The Course

I currently teach the Advanced Field Experience course in the Boston College Higher Education Master’s degree program. Advanced Field Experience is a supervised practice course, similar to those in many higher education and student affairs programs, where students participate in a fellowship or internship outside the classroom with accompanying course content that encourages reflective practice and discussion around common issues found in the workplace. At Boston College, Advanced Field Experience is a spring semester course that is a continuation of the supervised practicum course in the fall. Because of the timing of the course, much of the course content is focused on preparing the students for their job search. The course is 1 credit hour and meets five times for three-hour sessions over the course of the semester. The majority of the course sessions are front-loaded in the semester to occur before the start of the main student affairs job placement services: ACPA—College Student Educators International’s Career Central at Convention (C3) and The Placement Exchange (TPE).

The Motivation

My decision to experiment with social media, specifically Twitter, in this course was motivated by a number of factors. Silius, Kailanto, and Tevakari (2011) note that, in general, students report that the use of social media should “provide clear added value” to the course if it is being used (p.25). In addition to the general benefits of using social media in the classroom, I specifically chose to use Twitter in this course for the following reasons:

  1. Professional associations and hiring departments are increasingly using social media as a means for job search communication (Brotherton, 2012; Hunt, 2010). The two main student affairs placement services tweet under the handles of @ACPAJobs and @TPEcanserv. Additionally, many individuals and organizations also post to the hashtags #sasearch and #sajobs. For the purposes of this course, I wanted to ensure my students were exposed to it and proficient in its use.
  2. Professional development for student affairs educators is increasingly becoming available online. Junco et al.’s (2010) study of the #sachat online community discusses the benefits and the nature of the community that professionals are building online. Additionally, more professional conferences are establishing Twitter hashtags or backchannels so even those not physically present at events can engage in the conversation.
  3. Because the Field Experience course only meets intermittently throughout the semester, Twitter provides a means of engaging students continuously between course meetings. The ability to engage in asynchronous communication throughout the semester allowed myself, as the instructor, to remain aware of the students’ experiences.

The Experience

Junco, Elavsky, and Heiberger (2012) outline three best practices for Twitter integration in a college course: make it required, make it purposive and relevant, and ensure the teaching faculty member is actively engaged. Since this was my first semester teaching with required social media usage, I decided to make Twitter use required, but low stakes and with a loose structure. To ensure participation, it was included as a portion of the students’ class participation score, which was 10% of the overall course grade. The following is how it was described in the syllabus:

We will be experimenting with using Twitter to stay in communication over the course of the semester. An overview of Twitter will be provided during our first class meeting. Students may use a current Twitter account they may have or create a special one for use in this course. Students are expected to post to Twitter at least once a week with the hashtag #bcfieldexp. Students may use their posting to share articles, job postings, advice, support and questions for their peers. Please remember that these tweets are public! (Brown, 2012, p. 3)

During the first session of the course, I explained Twitter, how it worked, and my goals for using it in the course. Approximately half of the students in the class already had Twitter accounts, and for the others it was an entirely new experience. Some students expressed moderate concerns about using Twitter, many of which were similar to those that faculty members expressed about using social media in the classroom including concerns about privacy and maintaining separate personal and professional accounts (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2012). All students, however, participated in the Twitter experiment.


Overall, I found a moderate level of success with using Twitter. Because this was my first experiment using Twitter in the classroom, I attempted to leave its use open to organically evolve as the course progressed. This allowed the students and me to learn together. Through course evaluations, informal feedback, and my own reflections, I found the following:

  1. Students who had not previously used Twitter reported that they found it useful to learn a new social media tool. Those who attended the ACPA and NASPA national conventions found this particularly useful given the frequent use of Twitter in those settings.
  2. Students desired a higher degree of structure around how Twitter was used and how to integrate it into their daily routines. Without providing enough structure I believe this hindered our ability to achieve some of the desired outcomes for the experiment. For instance, I had hoped for more interactions between classmates, but many of the posts to Twitter were one-way communications sharing interesting articles about the job search process or postings of job opportunities. Very few students posed questions for their peers to answer. Students utilized a more professional tone in their posts and did not use Twitter to encourage each other or engage in more interpersonal conversations about their job search process. Since this was the first time I was using Twitter in the classroom, however, I would still stand by my decision to use a loosely structured, low stakes approach. In subsequent semesters, if I continue to use Twitter, I will build in more structure (requirements) and integrate it more tightly with the course content. Alternative methods, such as using blogs and other technologies, could also prove useful.
  3. A sizeable minority of students had privacy concerns about using social media. For those using social media in their courses, I would think about alternative ways one could keep students engaged but still respect their desires for privacy. Students can also be encouraged to create course-specific accounts that can be easily canceled afterwards. Other ideas may include using more private or closed communication sites, such as through the use of a Facebook group.
  4. Students appreciated the idea of “doing something different.” By presenting this as a learning opportunity for all of us, it allowed me to create a flatter classroom hierarchy and to encourage student exploration. It also allowed me to engage with my students in a more personal way between course sessions. This was particularly useful in a practicum course that centers on the job search process. Each student’s search is unique and personal. Developing strong interpersonal relationships with the students is a key to success and Twitter helped facilitate this.

Implications and Recommendations for Future Practice

Although this experiment was limited in scope, it nevertheless highlighted some important thoughts and considerations one should take into account when using social media in a higher education and student affairs course. First, there are numerous benefits to using social media in the classroom. Asynchronous communication, or the ability to stay in contact with one’s students intermittently between class meetings, allows the instructor to stay more actively engaged with his or her students. This is especially useful for a practicum course that may not meet regularly. It also allows the instructor to address or be aware of work issues or concerns as they arise. The ability to stay in contact with students this way also flattens the teacher-student dynamic allowing for more engaging and meaningful partnerships. The encouragement of sharing in social media most clearly facilitates the ability of both the teacher and the student to “define learning as mutually constructed meaning” and “share expertise and authority” (Baxter Magolda & King, 2004, p. 41).

In addition to the development of the teacher-student relationship, social media also has many direct benefits for the students themselves. As previously mentioned, social media use is near ubiquitous amongst undergraduate students in the United States. The use of social media and related technologies represents an important new competency area for emerging professionals in the student affairs field. Interest in this subject matter has sparked numerous innovative professional development opportunities including NASPA’s Knowledge Community on Technology and the #NASPAtech: Student Affairs Technology Conference. In addition to learning how to engage their students with technology and social media, student affairs professionals are also turning to technology for their own professional development. Podcast series such as and the #sachat twitter stream are providing career advancement and education (Junco et al., 2010).

Although there are numerous benefits to social media usage, there remain some concerns regarding its implementation and its effectiveness. As cited from the Pearson report earlier, the most prevalent concerns are about privacy and the blurring of “personal” versus “professional” accounts online (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2012). As with any change to the teacher-student dynamic, social media challenges us to re-envision the nature and boundaries of this relationship. As social media tools and our savviness in using them have become more sophisticated, however, the ability to overcome these obstacles through specialized accounts and settings is mitigating some of these concerns. Nevertheless, social media will continue to challenge the way one constructs the learning process.

An additional concern about social media usage also relates to what the Pearson report identified as concerns about student submission integrity (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2012). The World Wide Web has consistently challenged the notions of intellectual property, authorship, and the boundaries of sharing and re-use. Entirely new schemes of copyright protection such as Creative Commons licensing have been developed to promote the more open and liberal sharing of information online (Creative Commons, n.d.). Within the academic context, this can be more problematic when students are called upon to produce original work. As the Web evolves, our answers to these very fundamental questions will change. As a result, it requires students and teachers alike to continuously engage in discussions and understanding about what constitutes copyright, ownership and original work.

Lastly, the cited concern about student assessment and measuring the effectiveness of social media in the classroom remains difficult. As it relates to social media usage, the way an instructor uses technology in the classroom largely determines to what extent student evaluation is possible. Although within my own experiment I did not use social media as a formal means of assessment, these concerns become very real for those that attempt to do so. Social media, in many ways, is not just another tool in the classroom like an overhead projector or laptop. Social media is a platform that allows for rich communication. As such, it is better to conceptualize social media as a new approach to teaching as opposed to just another tool used in teaching. Therefore it seems likely that more effective assessments of social media should look at the learning process holistically. Student outcomes derived from social media use are more likely to be dispersed throughout the course rather than as discrete measurable outcomes in and of themselves.

Within my own context, the experiment of using of social media in the classroom was compelling enough for me to continue to experiment with its use in the future. Instead of focusing on Twitter over the course of the semester, however, I have decided to use a mixture of different social media and Web 2.0 technologies to engage my students and introduce them to new platforms. With a course that meets as few times as the one I teach, it was difficult to create a sustained Twitter presence. Instead, in the coming semester, I have developed a class session on professional branding and online engagement. Additionally, throughout the semester, the students will write and respond to blog posts, watch podcasts, develop their own professional website, and practice live tweeting during a panel presentation, much like one would during a conference. If I were to revise my outcomes for students, I would focus more on their introduction to new technologies while allowing them to choose how they wish to engage with them.


There is definitely a place for social media usage in the classrooms of higher education and student affairs programs. As social media becomes increasingly entrenched in undergraduate student culture and practice, it is imperative that social media engagement and technology be established as an important competency to teach in higher education and student affairs graduate programs. Through modeling its usage in the classroom, instructors have a unique opportunity to engage in co-constructed learning experiences with their students. One of the unique benefits of social media is its ability to blur and span boundaries. Much as student affairs work has traditionally attempted to bridge in and out of classroom learning, social media allows or a more organic and holistic learning experience. For those looking to enact these values in their teaching, experimenting with social media presents a compelling opportunity.


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Virtual High School Graduates: A Study on Transitions to Postsecondary Environments and Implications for Student Affairs

Emily R. Green
Ph.D. Candidate
Clemson University

Pamela A. Havice, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Clemson University


As education systems continue to grow and evolve with new advancements in technology, so do methods of instruction. Technological advancements have helped to further distributed learning, making instruction available to students in various geographic locations and times. Virtual secondary education is a form of distributed learning where secondary students complete their high school diplomas fully online, outside of a brick-and-mortar school. Although virtual education is growing rapidly there is a lack of information regarding the experiences of these students as they transition to traditional colleges and universities after attending virtual high schools. This phenomenological study sought to describe and understand the social and academic experiences of virtual high school graduates as they transition to traditional colleges and universities. The study was completed in the fall semester of 2012, with12 virtual high school graduates from South Carolina virtual high schools being interviewed. The overarching essence of the study revealed a need for more support and understanding of graduates of virtual high school students. Specifically, participants perceived a lack of understanding about their backgrounds. Professors, higher education administrators, as well as other students could benefit from learning about virtual education. Additional studies following virtual high school graduates throughout their college experiences are needed. Further, forming support networks or programs for students who graduate from virtual high schools would be beneficial for this student group.


Education in the 21st century is changing rapidly due to advancements in technology, changing methods of communication, and learning preferences. The PEW Report stated that the Millennial Generation valued technology and believed that technology itself sets the generation apart (PEW, 2010). Millennial learners outpaced other generations in Internet and cell phone use (PEW, 2010). The quick and readily available acquisition of knowledge translates into Millennial student’s preferences for education. Lowery (2004) reported that these changes require educators to update information systems and programs on a regular basis. In addition to updating systems, educators also have the opportunity to distribute knowledge across different mediums, which improves student access to an education.

Students’ interest in technology that exists outside of the school day can be leveraged in a way that will facilitate collaboration and learning. Educators can benefit from training programs that prepare them to engage students in the 21st century learning environment. Dede (2011) recommended a new form of education, where learning is distributed along different formats and delivery systems. He stated, “In such a 21st century educational system, schools of education would prepare, license, and provide professional support for teachers, tutors, coaches, and mentors who were trained to orchestrate their coordinated activities through the use of a sophisticated technology infrastructure” (p. 4). Virtual secondary education is a growing method of learning. It is one way to facilitate new forms of learning, and encompassed some of Dede’s (2011) recommendations. This study investigated the experiences of virtual secondary school graduates as they transition to traditional brick and mortar institutions of higher education.

Forming an understanding of the transition of virtual high school graduates to traditional colleges is crucial for student affairs professionals and educators. The transition period to college, particularly the first six weeks of college, is relevant in regards to retention (Tinto, 1988). This study describes the transition period of an emerging population, virtual high school graduates, in order to better understand the changing characteristics of college students. Social and academic issues were examined by utilizing phenomenological research methods to understand the overarching experience.

Literature Review

Virtual secondary education began in Canada in 1995, where services were extended to rural students. In the United States, the first virtual school opened in Florida in 1997 (Barbour, 2009). The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) was created through a grant from the state on a 5-year contract. Within the first five years of the FLVS opening, more than 30 states had adopted some form of online program (Barbour, 2009). The growth has continued. By 2005, there were 27 states that had state-level policies concerning virtual education, in addition to other states that operated for-profit or university virtual secondary education systems (Barbour, 2009). In 2006, there were 24 state-level virtual secondary education systems. Michigan was the first state to mandate beginning in 2006 that all high school students must successfully complete one online course in order to graduate (Barbour, 2009). Virtual secondary schooling is a growing field of education and varies according to many complex policies and standards. This trend in education has emerged over the past decade and has continued to grow exponentially in enrollments and options (Picciano & Seaman, 2009).

Presently, students may enroll in public online secondary programs free of charge through state education programs or through public charter schools in most states (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2012). Students also have the option to take courses that are not available at their high school through virtual schools (Watson, et al., 2012). Though several studies have focused on virtual students and achievement, no studies were found that examined virtual high school graduates as they transition to traditional colleges (Swicord, 2010; Lary, 2002). Predictions for virtual high school enrollment indicate that there will continue to be an increase (Watson, et. al, 2012; Picciano & Seaman, 2009).

Transition from high school to college is a difficult and emotional process (Cummings et al., 2006). Change in geographic location, change in social group, and separation from parents were only a few factors that impacted students during this transition period (Cummings, Lee & Kraut, 2006). Providing a supportive and structured atmosphere along with student programs helps with the college transition (Keup, 2007). Several theoretical models may be useful in the process of developing a strategy to understand the college transition experiences of virtual high school graduates (Schlossberg, 1982; Tinto, 1988; Astin, 1984). Social support, interaction among peers and successful intervention strategies assist in a smooth transition period from high school to college (Brown, 2009; Locks, Hurtado, Bowman & Osugera, 2008; Compas, Wagner, Slavin, Vannatta, 1986). Given the complicated nature of the transition process, investigation into the experiences of virtual high school graduates was warranted in order to form a full understanding of an emerging group of students. This study focused on 2012 graduates of South Carolina virtual charter high schools. Appendix A provides detailed information on the schools.


Phenomenology requires that individuals engage with their environment and make sense of it (Creswell, 1988). The individuals considered in this study, have engaged in a distinct phenomenon, and had a unique transition experience because of this phenomenon. As stipulated by Moustakas (1994), the researchers used bracketing to outline all preconceived notions and beliefs as well as kept notes throughout the interview process. Then the researchers engaged in horizontalization of the data to form themes or clusters of meaning (Moustakas, 1994).

Participants included in the study had graduated from a virtual high school in South Carolina and were currently in their first year of a traditional college. Interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone with a variety of students who graduated from one of the four recognized virtual high schools in South Carolina (See Appendix A) and who were in their first year of college (See Appendix B for detailed participant information). A total of 12 participants were interviewed during the fall semester of 2012. Participants were given pseudonyms to protect confidentiality. The participants were currently enrolled in nine different colleges or universities. Two universities were large, Southeastern research institutions. Three were small, liberal arts colleges and three students were enrolled in technical colleges hoping to transfer to public research institutions. One school was a for-profit campus of an out-of-state university. Since there was a time lapse from the first participants’ interviews, at a sensitive time of transition for college students, follow-up interviews were conducted with the first eight participants in order to assess any changes or new issues. In order to ensure trustworthiness, the researchers engaged in member checks, peer debriefing and collected artifacts (Creswell, 1998).

After analyzing the transcripts and themes, one unifying finding emerged: A need for more understanding and support for graduates of virtual high schools as they transition to a traditional college. The participants mentioned in one way or another, both academically and socially, that more support and understanding was needed.


Academically, students did not report many challenges, but did express some concerns regarding other’s understanding of their educational backgrounds. Samuel’s statement reflected the meaning of the overall essence. He stated that professors could learn more about virtual high school graduates: “I think just having an awareness of online schooling and what actually occurs with online schooling would help colleges. A lot of times the teachers of classes don’t fully grasp the idea of online high school.” Karima felt that the lack of understanding negatively impacted her college applications when she stated: “I think when I applied to some colleges, and say you went to online school they automatically think, they look down on it. It’s nothing to look down on, it’s actually a lot, it’s more rigorous than public school because you are constantly having to keep up.” Participants also had to explain their past to students in social situations.

Socially, participants discussed in detail the means to which they go to explain their educational backgrounds and the differences in homeschooling and virtual education. Participants did indicate that many of their peers did not understand their educational backgrounds and equated them to homeschooling. Participants hoped that others could understand their backgrounds better, because according to their viewpoints, attending virtual high schools was very different compared to homeschooling. The supporting comments related to the themes were evaluated for commonalities among each participant and for any bridging information across themes.

All participants agreed that support for the virtual high school graduates as they transition to college would be helpful. Even the participants who were transitioning easily indicated that mentors or organizations could be helpful.

Merrel stated that he was not having trouble with his transition, but that mentors and advisors would definitely help. Jielu said that having someone to talk to could help virtual high school graduates as they transition. She stated: “if they can go to a counselor or mentor, someone who understands them when they feel lonely or upset, the counselor could help the students get involved without singling them out. Being involved on campus helped me the most.” Samuel went into greater detail about this topic when he explained:

If there could be some organization like a club of students that were in online high school so that they could connect on campus to sort of have someone to communicate with that is familiar with online so there could be a mentorship with upperclassmen who help out incoming Freshmen and Sophomores that are stull trying to get used to campus.

Mortezza discussed a possible mentor program for virtual high school graduates. Mortezza’s statement reflected a need for understanding and support, both academically and socially for students. When asked if anything could be done at technical colleges to help students from nontraditional backgrounds, she stated:

I was so lost, if they had a transition, I don’t want to say counselor, but someone to help you emotionally and mentally cope with the big change. Also, I think it would be a good idea to have tutors to meet in person and online.

Some of the participants were not in a situation where they needed extra support, but they indicated that it would be helpful to others. Savannah expressed these sentiments when she said:

Definitely it would be helpful for colleges to understand that the number of virtual students is growing. So many people I talked with knew very little about my school other than its name. I had to explain how it worked and everything about it. Having advisors in the high schools and colleges who can just help with the basic transition is important.

The overarching essence, a need for more understanding and support was revealed through the analysis. Participants indicated in several ways that peers, the general public, professors and higher education administrators could form a better understanding of their backgrounds. Additionally, current students could benefit from support at colleges in the form of organizations or mentors who could aid in their transition.


The information age has created a society where postsecondary education is a necessity for many individuals to find employment. Successful transitions throughout the educational process are especially important to assure that students transition from one milestone to another and continue to advance their education (Krueger & Rainwater, 2003; Sacks, 2007; Pitre, 2011). Many of the participants noted that professors and peers did not have a correct understanding of their educational backgrounds. Colleges and universities need to be aware that the group of virtual high school graduates is growing, and that they may need specialized assistance as they enter college.

Virtual high school graduates may require different student service strategies in order to ensure a successful college transition period. These services could include, but are not limited to, orientation, career and/or academic counseling information sessions. Student affairs professionals need to develop these services and programs in a variety of formats, both in-person and online, to benefit students (Lowery, 2004). For example, providing specialized advising and financial aid sessions for the virtual high school graduate could be developed as both synchronous and asynchronous sessions online thus allowing for interaction with professionals but also providing ways for students to access information anytime or as often as needed. In addition, student affairs professionals need to create targeted opportunities for virtual high school graduates to meet other students and to become engaged in the college thus assisting these students in transitioning to a traditional college environment (Hornak, Akweks and Jeffs ,2010).

Student affairs professionals need to become more familiar with the virtual learning experience so they can more adequately design services and programs for virtual high school graduates. This familiarity needs to include an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of asynchronous and synchronous delivery methods of information so that purposeful services and programs can be developed. In addition, higher education professionals need to have an understanding of the virtual high school graduate’s academic and social experiences when transitioning to college so that this student population’s needs are met. These services and programs have the potential to provide different outlets of information for students that are aimed at their generational upbringing and sophistication with technology as well as assisting them in their successful transition to higher education (Lowery, 2004).


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Brown, E. A. (2009). Florida virtual high school leads way for online learning. Education Daily, 42(177), 2-2.

Compas, B. E., Wagner, B. M., Slavin, L. A., & Vannatta, K. (1986). A prospective study of life events, social support, and psychological symptomatology during the transition from high school to college. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14(3), 241-257.

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Cummings, J., Lee, J., & Kraut, R. (2006). Communication technology and friendship during the transition from high school to college. Computers, phones, and the Internet: Domesticating information technology, 265-278.

Dede, C. (2011). Emerging technologies, ubiquitous learning, and educational transformation. Towards Ubiquitous Learning, 6964, 1-8.

Hornak, A. M., Akweks, K., & Jeffs, M. (2010). Online student services at the community college. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2010(150), 79-87.

Krueger, C. Rainwater, T. (2003). P-16: Building a Cohesive Education System from Preschool through Postsecondary. Peer Review, 5(2) 4-8.

Lary, L. (2002). Online learning: Student and environmental factors and their relationship to secondary school student success in online courses. (PhD Dissertation) Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. University of Oregon, Eugene.

Lowery, J. W. (2004), Student affairs for a new generation. New Directions for Student Services, 87–99.

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Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 online learning. The Sloan Consortium. Sloan-C Publications.

Pitre, P. E. (2011). P-20 Education Policy: School to College Transition Policy in Washington State. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 19(5).

Repetto, J., Cavanaugh, C., Feng, L. (2010). Virtual high schools: Improving outcomes for students with disabilities. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(2), 91-104.

Sacks, P. (2007). Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1981). A model for analyzing human adaptation to transition. The Counseling Psychologist, 9(2), 2.

Swicord, B. (2010). A phenomenological study of gifted adolescents and their engagement with one on-line learning system. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. Rutgers, New Brunswick.

Tinto, V. (1988). Stages of student departure: Reflections on the longitudinal character of student leaving. The Journal of Higher Education, 59(4), 438-455.

Watson, J. F., Winograd, K., & Kalmon, S. (2004). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: A snapshot of state-level policy and practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates. Retrieved from:

Watson, J. F., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., Rapp, C. (2012). Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice. Evergreen Education Group.

Watson, J. F., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., Rapp, C. (2011). Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice. Evergreen Education Group.

Appendix A

Appendix B

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