Student Affairs

The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs Summer 2015 Edition

Executive Editor's Note:

On a personal note, this is Gary Malaney's last edition as Editor. Gary began editing the Journal of Technology in Student Affairs 13 years ago. It was one of the first ejournals for our profession and the only publication-online or hard copy-that dealt specifically with technology in student affairs. Gary, as a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, was able to share his research expertise, nurture budding authors and give the fledgling ejournal credence. Everyone at StudentAffairs.com says thank you.

Stuart Brown
Executive Editor

Featured Articles:

Kristin Muller is our award winner for the best student paper competition this year. In Electronic Portfolios in Student Affairs, she suggests that the use of electronic portfolios guided by self-regulated learning theory can be used to enhance student learning in the co-curriculum.

Eric Snyder and Kristina M. Navarro study the impact of the use of social media on academic and co-curricular engagement of student-athletes in Social Media, Academics, and Co-Curricular Activities: A Qualitative Examination of the Impact of Social Media on Division I Student-Athlete Engagement.

In Connecting a Global Student Community Using Social Media, Nick Jensen and Caroline Osse look at how a division of student affairs uses social media to engage and interact with students in their space and on their time.


Electronic Portfolios in Student Affairs

Kristyn Muller
Doctoral Student
University at Albany
kmuller@albany.edu

Abstract

As the field of student affairs has developed over time, its mission has changed from providing student services to providing educational experiences. As a result, student affairs professionals are now being more intentional about facilitating and assessing student learning outside the classroom. This article suggests that electronic portfolios (e-portfolios), guided by self-regulated learning theory, can be used to enhance student learning in the co-curriculum. Starting with a brief history of student affairs, this article explains e-portfolios, introduces self-regulated learning theory, and then describes how student affairs professionals could use both to improve student learning.

The field of student affairs, which began in the early twentieth century, has grown and evolved rapidly over time. The number of student affairs professionals and roles that they fulfill has expanded greatly, and at the same time, the student affairs mission has shifted focus. In the past few decades, facilitating and assessing student learning has become a central responsibility for student affairs professionals. In an attempt to offer an additional way for student affairs professionals to practice and articulate their work, this article will show how electronic portfolios (e-portfolios), guided by self-regulated learning theory, could be used to enhance student learning outside the classroom (in the co-curriculum).

Student Affairs Professionals as Educators

In 1936, The Student Personnel Point of View, emphasized the fact that college students need more than just academic knowledge to be successful in life (ACE, 1937). This document, along with its revised version in 1949, established that student affairs was responsible for providing services to students and creating environments on campus that give students opportunities to develop holistically. It was believed that student affairs supported the academic mission by helping students navigate personal matters and reducing obstacles outside the classroom. The idea of student affairs actually facilitating educational co-curricular experiences, however, was not explicitly mentioned. In the next few decades, psychosocial and identity theories emerged and were applied to the development of college students. Student affairs professionals adopted these “student development theories” to guide their practice and to help better articulate their role on campus. It was now possible to explain that student affairs professionals not only provide student services, but also help students develop their personal identities and characteristics.

The Student Learning Imperative (ACPA, 1996) was one of the first documents to highlight student affairs’ educational impact on students. Eight years later, Learning Reconsidered motivated student affairs units to change how they approach their practices (Keeling, 2004). The authors encouraged student affairs professionals to stop separating student development theories from cognitive theories in order to re-define the learning opportunities that they offer to students. Learning Reconsidered 2 provided recommendations on how to implement the ideas from the original document (Keeling, 2006). The authors claimed that student affairs professionals have always helped students learn, but they have not paid much attention to this work because they lacked the terminology to describe it. Learning Reconsidered 2 gave them the necessary language to articulate their contributions to student learning (Keeling, 2006). These documents also encouraged student affairs professionals to begin assessing student learning outcomes. Prior to this, most assessment efforts that did exist focused primarily on evaluating students’ needs and satisfaction. While conducting different types of assessments is beneficial for understanding students and improving student affairs units, assessing student learning outcomes is particularly useful for facilitating and enhancing learning.

The brief historical overview provided above demonstrates how the student affairs mission has changed over time. Student affairs professionals are now adopting new practices like the ones listed in Learning Reconsidered 2. Although student learning outside the classroom is becoming more deliberate, the degree to which learning actually occurs and can be documented depends on the quality of the co-curricular programs and the assessment conducted. Student affairs professionals tend to use quantitative assessment methods, like surveys, more often than qualitative methods. Some argue, however, that this is not beneficial because quantitative approaches cannot accurately measure the complexities of co-curricular student learning (Fried, 2012). Electronic portfolios (e-portfolios), which are not commonly implemented within student affairs yet, have the potential to be a qualitative method that can facilitate and capture student learning outside the classroom. This article asserts that e-portfolios, framed by self-regulated learning theory, could be used by student affairs professionals to further their role as educators.

Electronic Portfolios

Portfolios are generally defined as a collection of work that is deliberately compiled to showcase a person’s abilities. The use of web platforms to create e-portfolios allows individuals to include multimedia artifacts, such as videos and pictures, and also allows them to personalize the format and overall presentation of the portfolio. When used as a pedagogical tool, e-portfolios should also contain students’ reflections about their learning process and achievement. E-portfolios are gaining in popularity because they can be an effective teaching and learning tool as well as an effective assessment tool. In 2009, a study of undergraduate degree-granting institutions in the United States found that less than ten percent of institutions were using portfolios as an assessment tool. But in 2013, a similar study revealed that over forty percent were using portfolios, which is a drastic increase (Kuh, Jankowski, Ikenberry, & Kinzie, 2014).

At this time, it seems that e-portfolios are being used more frequently on the academic side. Yet e-portfolio initiatives do currently exist within student affairs as well. For example, Florida State University has a Career Portfolio Program, developed in 2002, that showcases students’ employment potential. The e-portfolio system allows students to create a “skills matrix” to display how their curricular and co-curricular experiences align with nine particular skills. Within the e-portfolio, students can reflect on their abilities, and include a personal profile, resume, list of references, and artifacts or samples of their work (Reardon, Lumsden, & Meyer, 2005). In 2009, it was reported that over 62,000 students had used the system in some capacity. In a study of faculty, employers, and students’ perceptions about the e-portfolios, findings revealed that, on average, most of the participants rated the co-curricular experiences as more valuable than the curricular experiences (Ford, Lumsden, & Lulgjuraj, 2009), which is a promising perspective for student affairs. Although this example is inclusive of curricular and co-curricular experiences, and required the support of faculty, it demonstrates the ability of a student affairs unit to successfully establish an e-portfolio program. The next section will introduce self-regulated learning theory as a framework that could potentially be used to guide the implementation of e-portfolios.

Self-Regulated Learning Theory

Self-regulated learning theory explains the process that humans undergo in order to be active participants in their own learning. There are several different iterations of the theory based on various social science perspectives, but this article uses the social cognitive perspective. Within this lens, self-regulated learning occurs when individuals engage in the following three stages: forethought, performance control, and self-reflection (Schunk, 2001). Forethought involves setting goals, determining one’s initial self-efficacy, and deciding how to proceed with an educational task. Students are more likely to commit to attainment of self-set goals, and when goals are assigned to them, they are more likely to engage in self-regulated learning when given proximal, rather than distant, goals. During the performance control stage, individuals may compare their efforts with others and/or evaluate feedback they receive about their efforts. The self-reflection stage is comprised of self-monitoring and self-evaluation. In this stage, students must be able to assess how well they are doing and determine if they need to adjust their learning strategies. The three stages do not need to occur sequentially and may sometimes occur simultaneously (Schunk, 2001). Zimmerman (2001) explains that self-regulated learning is “neither a mental ability nor an academic performance skill” (p. 1). It is a process by which individuals intentionally approach learning, rather than being passive recipients of knowledge.

In general, researchers suggest that self-regulated learning has positive impacts on students’ academic success (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). By engaging in self-regulatory strategies, students are more responsible for their learning outcomes. While this is important for students of all levels, it is arguably even more essential for college students since they are expected to be proactive and independent learners (Bembenutty, 2011). In a study of first-year college students, Black (2008) found that students who reported higher levels of self-regulated learning strategies were more likely to persist to their second year. Also, Wolters (2010) examined the body of literature on 21st century skills and found that most of these skills align with those required for self-regulated learning.

Educators can create learning environments and develop coursework that support the use of self-regulated learning. Well-designed assignments should give students the opportunity to choose learning strategies, manage their time, communicate their progress, and reflect on their efforts (Boekaets, 1997). Portfolios are one pedagogical tool that can be used to promote self-regulated learning (Abrami & Barrett, 2005; Paris & Paris, 2001), and e-portfolios can be especially useful due to their accessibility and increased functionality (Kitsantas & Dabbaugh, 2011). Educators can use e-portfolios to scaffold assignments, integrate content, and provide timely feedback. Research on the extent to which e-portfolios influence students’ use of self-regulated learning in higher education is still emerging, but the results so far have been promising (see Alexiou & Paraskeva, 2010, 2013; Chau & Cheng, 2010; Jenson, 2011).

Applying Theory to Practice in Student Affairs

E-portfolios have the potential to deepen students’ co-curricular learning, make students more aware of their learning, and allow student affairs professionals to assess this learning. Employers are more recently expressing a desire for college graduates who possess skills that cannot be solely taught in the classroom, such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning, the ability to apply content knowledge to real-world settings, ethical decision-making, teamwork, and creativity (Hart Research Associates, 2010). E-portfolios can help students recognize how these skills are manifested outside the classroom and encourage them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in these areas. This section will describe what an e-portfolio, guided by self-regulated learning theory, could look like in a co-curricular setting.

E-portfolios could be used by student affairs professionals to enhance a variety of out of classroom experiences, whether collectively, like the Florida State University career e-portfolio, or individually (within one program or department). If e-portfolios are not part of the institutional culture, it could be challenging to convince students to complete them. Therefore, it might be practical at first for student affairs professionals to focus their e-portfolio program toward students who are engaged in particular co-curricular experiences, such as living-learning communities, student government, residence life staff, or honor societies. Students who choose to belong to these groups usually complete certain obligations in order to maintain their membership or position, so student affairs professionals could easily implement an e-portfolio requirement. Also, starting at the program or department level and scaling up later has been shown to be an effective approach for institutionalizing e-portfolios (Bass, 2014). The hypothetical example presented below will adhere to this logic and presume that students who are completing the e-portfolio have been asked to do so based on their membership in a particular student group or position. It will also be given that these students work closely with a student affairs professional (as their advisor or supervisor), who can provide guidance and feedback throughout the e-portfolio process.

Prior to beginning an e-portfolio initiative, it is important for the facilitator(s) to define the purpose(s) of the e-portfolio, which could be aligned with existing division or departmental student learning outcomes or program-related objectives. When the e-portfolio project is introduced, these expectations should be explained to the students. The following suggestions can be used to structure the e-portfolio in order to prompt the three self-regulated learning stages:

Forethought

Goal setting is the first step to engaging students in the forethought stage. Student affairs professionals should help students create personally relevant goals that not only fit with the purpose(s) of the e-portfolio, but also fit with the students’ interests (Penny Light, Chen, & Ittelson, 2012). For example, one purpose of the e-portfolio could be to demonstrate students’ ability to make ethical decisions. A Resident Assistant could set a goal to become more comfortable addressing policy violations in their residence hall, while a student government officer could set a goal to learn how to balance the needs of different student groups. If students can personalize their e-portfolios, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to complete them. Quality goal setting is essential to promoting self-regulated learning (Chang, Tseng, Liang, & Liao, 2013). During the goal setting process, students should also be encouraged to be honest about their self-efficacy so they can set appropriate goal that are challenging and attainable. The goals can be adjusted throughout the semester, but the goals should always be present to guide the development of the e-portfolio process and the conversations that student affairs professionals have with students regarding their co-curricular involvement.

Performance Control

Performance control is exhibited when students select artifacts to include in their e-portfolio (Cheng & Chau, 2013). Depending on the students’ particular experiences and goals, artifacts could include pictures from events they hosted, samples of agendas from meetings they conducted, poems or songs they wrote, de-identified descriptions of residence hall incidents they handled, videos they created, or anything else that showcases their skills. Student affairs professionals should give students feedback about their selected artifacts in order to promote self-reflection, which can encourage students to improve their future behaviors or responses to situations.

Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is an integral component to the e-portfolio process. Student affairs professionals should develop self-reflective prompts or questions that can be given to students to guide their thoughts and e-portfolio entries. Some self-reflection should be written and formally included in the e-portfolio, but self-reflection can and should also occur informally and more frequently. Self-reflection is intended to encourage students to find ways to improve their abilities and achieve their goals. Penny Light, Chen, and Ittelson (2012) used the phrase folio thinking to describe this process; they explained that self-reflection within e-portfolios should “encourage students to integrate discrete learning experiences, enhance their self-understanding, promote responsibility for learning, and support them in developing an intellectual identity” (p. 10). Depending on the context of the e-portfolio program, self-reflective prompts could be developed by student affairs professionals at the beginning of the semester or throughout the semester, and they could be generically applicable to all students or personalized for each individual student. As students continue to use e-portfolios, they will develop the habit of engaging in self-reflection on their own (Penny Light et al., 2012).

During and after the process, e-portfolios can also be used as an assessment tool. Preset criteria or rubrics for certain desired competencies or outcomes can be used to evaluate artifacts and/or reflection statements (Bresciani, 2005). Penny Light et al. (2012) differentiate between assessment of learning and assessment for learning, in which the former refers to summative assessment done at the conclusion of a learning experience and the latter refers to formative assessment done during the learning experience. The authors claim that assessment for learning is more beneficial to students and that e-portfolios are perfect for this purpose. Student affairs professionals can use e-portfolios for formative assessment to enhance student learning during the e-portfolio process, and they can use them for summative assessment to gain an understanding of students’ overall achievements at the end of the semester or year.

The recommendations above are intended to show how an e-portfolio program, guided by self-regulated learning, has the potential to be used by student affairs professionals to facilitate learning in the co-curriculum. It is also important to note that resources and support from leadership are necessary in order to move forward with an e-portfolio initiative. Since e-portfolios require the use of technology, the student affairs professionals who plan to implement e–portfolios need to decide on a platform to use based on several factors, which may include desired functionality, campus technology policies, and costs. Institutions may choose to develop a homegrown system or purchase an e-portfolio platform through a company like Taskstream, eFolio, or Digication. Also, depending on the scale of the program, there will likely be several student affairs professionals involved with the process, so obtaining buy-in and offering training is important. An e-portfolio program will certainly take time to develop, but the results should ultimately be beneficial to students and student affairs professionals.

Conclusion

Throughout the twentieth century, the field of student affairs has shifted away from the notion of simply providing student support services and moved toward a mission of facilitating educational opportunities outside the classroom. Co-curricular experiences have always been educational, but student affairs professionals are now making greater efforts to help students make meaning of these learning experiences and apply them to other contexts. This article suggests that by using e-portfolios, guided by self-regulated learning theory, student affairs professionals can intentionally enhance and demonstrate students’ co-curricular learning. Since the use of e-portfolios by student affairs professionals is not yet a common practice, there is a need for empirical research to determine its effectiveness. Although this may seem like a limitation, it can also be viewed as a great opportunity. Student affairs professionals may find that e-portfolios are an excellent tool for facilitating and assessing student learning.

References

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Alexiou, A., & Paraskeva, F. (2010). Enhancing self-regulated learning skills through the implementation of an e-portfolio tool. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3048-3054.

Alexiou, A., & Paraskeva, F. (2013) Exploiting motivation and self-efficacy through the implementation of a self-regulated oriented eportfolio. The International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace.

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Bass, R. (2014). Scaling strategies and eportfolio as a catalyst for change Retrieved from http://c2l.mcnrc.org/scaling/scaling-analysis

Bembenutty, H. (2011). Introduction: Self-regulation of learning in postsecondary education. In H. Bembenutty (ed), New Directions for Teaching and Learning: Self-Regulated Learning, Number 126, (3-8). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Black, K. R. (2008). Self-regulated learning as a predictor of persistence among first year students. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Northern Colorado.

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Chang, C. C., Tseng, K. H., Liang, C., & Liao, Y. M. (2013). Constructing and evaluating online goal-setting mechanisms in web-based portfolio assessment system for facilitating self- regulated learning. Computers & Education, 69, 237-249.

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Cheng, G., & Chau, J. (2013). Exploring the relationship between students' self-regulated learning ability and their ePortfolio achievement. The Internet and Higher Education, 17, 9-15.

Fried, J. (2012). Transformative learning through engagement: Student affairs practice as experiential pedagogy. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Ford, C.M., Lumsden, J.A. & Lulgjuraj, B. (2009). Reactions to curricular and co-curricular learning as documented in an eportfolio: Technical report number 48. The Inter/National Coalition for Electronic Portfolio Research.

Hart Research Associates. (2010). Raising the bar: Employers’ views on college learning in the wake of the economic downturn – A survey among employers conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Jenson, J. (2011). Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio. International Journal of ePortfolio, 1(1), 49-60.

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Kitsantas, A., & Dabbagh, N. (2011). The role of Web 2.0 technologies in self-regulated learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 126, 99-106.

Kuh, G. D., Jankowski, N., Ikenberry, S. O., & Kinzie, J. (2014). Knowing what students know and can do: The current state of student learning outcomes assessment in US colleges and universities. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

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Penny Light, T., Chen, H. L., & Ittelson, J. C. (2012). Documenting learning with ePortfolios: A guide for college instructors. John Wiley & Sons.

Reardon, R. C., Lumsden, J. A., & Meyer, K. E. (2005). Developing an e-portfolio program: Providing a comprehensive tool for student development, reflection, and integration. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 42(3), 630-642.

Schunk, D. H. (2001). Social cognitive theory and self-regulated learning. In B.J. Zimmerman and D.H. Schunk (eds.), Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: Theoretical Perspectives (125-151). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wolters, C. A., & Taylor, D. J. (2012). A self-regulated learning perspective on student engagement. In S.I. Christianson et al. (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 635-651). Springer.

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Zimmerman, B.J. & Schunk, D.H. (2001). Reflection of theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement. In B.J. Zimmerman and D.H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: Theoretical Perspectives (289-307). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Social Media, Academics, and Co-Curricular Activities: A Qualitative Examination of the Impact of Social Media on Division I Student-Athlete Engagement

Eric M. Snyder, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Adult and Higher Education
Intercollegiate Athletics Administration Graduate Program
University of Oklahoma
Eric.Snyder@ou.edu

Kristina M. Navarro, Ph.D., CSCS
Assistant Professor, HPERC
Director of Student-Athlete Engagement
Warhawk Athletics Coordinator
Higher Education Leadership/Athletic Administration
navarrok@uww.edu

Abstract

Social media use has resulted in an amalgamation of both positive and negative outcomes for student-athletes. As such, athletic department administrators and student-affairs practitioners are interested in further understanding the impact of social media on the student-athlete population. This paper fills a gap in the literature by collecting qualitative data through a focus group with student-athletes to identify the impact of social media on academic and co-curricular engagement. Results indicate social media use was prevalent among the student-athletes in the group. Social media negatively impacted academic engagement but positively impacted co-curricular engagement. Implications for practitioners are discussed.

Throughout the late 1900s and early 21st century, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I intercollegiate athletic departments have emerged as multimillion dollar operations nested within institutions of higher education (Lapchick, 2006). In turn, this emergence of Division I athletic departments as big-business entities poses challenges for contemporary student-athletes and those who work with this population subset. Today, the Division I student-athletes are placed in challenging positions as they must balance dual roles as both students and athletes (Adler & Adler, 1987; Brewer, Raalte, & Linder, 1993; Harrison, Stone, Shapiro, Yee, Boyd, & Rullan, 2009; Snyder, 1985). While tensions between athletic and academic systems vary across institutions and divisions, the experiences of Division I student-athletes collectively are of heightened interest in 21st century student affairs literature (Bowen & Levin, 2003; Croissant, 2001).

Purposeful Engagement and the Undergraduate Student-Athlete Experience

Throughout college, undergraduate students experience intense, multifaceted psychosocial and personal development processes as they not only adjust to a new environment, but establish an enhanced sense of personal identity (Reason, Domingo, & Terenzini, 2008). Gayles and Hu (2009) suggest purposeful college experiences not only shape students’ personal identities, but prepare students for positive outcomes in life after graduation. While current literature posits the college experience is crucial for students to prepare to develop a sense of personal identity and engage across campus, there has been little exploration of how social media influence processes of co-curricular engagement or identity development. In turn, contemporary student affairs scholars and practitioners must consider the unique needs and experiences of student-athletes at the Division I level. Continued discussion and research is necessary to further identify how student affairs professionals can best assist Division I student-athletes to purposefully engage with campus and utilize social media to enhance, rather than detract from personal development, identity development and co-curricular engagement. This topic is of increased interest as student-athletes are often under the watchful eye of the media as both students and players within the highly commercialized entity of college athletics (Croissant, 2001).

Social Media and the Student Experience

Today, social media usage continues to shape the college experiences of undergraduate students. The impact of such usage is profound. Social media, as defined by Boyd and Ellison (2007), are web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and traverse their list of connections. These technologies have attracted interest of administration and faculty members looking for new and innovative ways to engage and motivate individuals (Hughes, 2009). A recent PEW Research Center Report titled Social Media Update 2013, found that of the 1,445 Internet users surveyed, between 73% and 78% of adults who have taken college courses reported using social media. The popularity of the communication medium can be recognized through user stats such as: Facebook registered 1.32 billion users (Prigg, 2014), Twitter registered 271 million users (Twitter, 2014), and Instagram registered 200 million current active users (Instagram, 2014).

Review of Literature

In response to the increase in social media use, higher education scholars’ interests in the impact of various social media platforms on student engagement in college has amplified (Abramson, 2011; Batts, 2013; Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Junco, 2012; Junco, Heiberger & Loken, 2010 ; Morrin, 2007; Stoller, 2012;). Despite this amplification, no research exists investigating student-athletes’ social media use and the subsequent impact of the technology on student engagement. This is especially interesting given calls from the higher education community to integrate social networking into the teaching and advising processes (Davis, Deil-Amen, Rios-Aguilar, Gonzalez Canche, 2012; HERI, 2007).

Student Engagement and Social Media

Astin (1984) proposed and developed a theory of involvement for college students which was later named the theory of student engagement. According to Kuh (2009), engagement is defined as the time and effort students invest in educational activities that are linked to desired college outcomes. Recent research has identified various dimensions that encompass the engagement construct including the folowing: academic engagement, faculty engagement, co-curricular engagement and peer engagement (Kuh 2009; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Of the various dimensions Kuh (2009) identified two critical components of engagement: academic and co-curricular.

Academic and Co-Curricular Engagement

Studies investigating engagement among the student-athlete subset have confirmed academic and co-curricular engagement as climacteric to the educational experience (Bell, 2009; Comeaux & Harrison, 2011; Gayles & Huh, 2009; Mamerow & Navarro, 2014). The utilization of these empirical findings has resulted in athletic department programming that can increase student engagement among a variety of populations. Yet, athletic departments have failed to consider the impact social media can have on academic and co-curricular engagement.

To date, five studies have investigated the role of social media use and student-engagement among the general student population (Creighton, Foster, Klingssmith & Withey; 2013; Heiberger, 2007; HERI, 2007; Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2010; Junco, 2012). Heiberger (2007) obtained information from 377 undergraduate students at a Midwestern institution and found 92% of those who used Facebook more than one hour a day rated their connection with friends as high or very high. Conversely, 43.4% of students felt connected to their institution when they used Facebook less than one hour per day. These findings suggest that students who are more engaged in social media are also more engaged overall in their academics.

Social Media and Influences on Student Engagement

The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) distributed the Your First College Year measure to over 31,000 students at 114 institutions. The findings indicate a positive correlation between social networking website use and college student engagement. Those individuals who spent more time using social media reported stronger connections and increased interaction with friends (HERI, 2007). In 2010, Junco, Heiberger, and Loken examined the effect of Twitter on student engagement. This study utilized an experimental design where an experimental group of students utilized Twitter for various academic and co-curricular discussions. Of the 125 participants (70 in experimental group, 55 in control group), the results indicated significant increases in engagement within the experimental group, resulting in higher end-of-semester grades.

An additional study by Junco (2012) examined Facebook usage and the relationship between frequency and student engagement among 2,368 college students. Contrary to other studies that investigate social media use, this study found a negative relationship between Facebook use and academic engagement and a positive relationship between Facebook and campus involvement. Some of the positive predictors of campus engagement were students who spent time on Facebook creating or RSVPing to events and commenting or viewing photos. A recently published study by Creighton, Foster, Klingsmith, and Withey (2013) found that student social media are commonly utilized to facilitate academic success. The authors found that many students utilized social media to organize group projects and to maintain relationships with peers and faculty.

To summarize, the literature indicates that social media can both positively and negatively impact academic performance. Conversely, of the studies that investigate co-curricular engagement, the findings indicate positive associations between social media use and co-curricular activities. While research on social media’s impact on student engagement remains in its infancy, investigating if findings hold true among the student-athlete population is critical for administrators and academic support services in intercollegiate athletic departments.

Purpose and Research Questions

Although recent research has been conducted on the effects of social media on student engagement, the majority of these studies were quantitative, cross-sectional investigations of the topic (Creighton, Foster, Klingsmith, & Withey, 2013; Heiberger, 2007; HERI, 2007; Junco, Heigberger, & Loken, 2010; Junco, 2012). More specifically, completed studies were concerned with students in general and did not disaggregate the data to analyze group differences specifically (e.g., student-athletes). The current study serves to provide additional information by using a qualitative design to examine Division I student-athletes social media use and their feelings about its impact on their academic development, personal development and engagement with campus. The research questions examined were as follows:

RQ1: How, if at all has participating in intercollegiate athletics shaped your usage of social media?

RQ1: How, if at all has the usage of social media shaped your personal identity?

RQ3: How, if at all, has social media impacted your academic engagement?

RQ4: How, if at all, has social media impacted your co-curricular activities/engagement with campus?

Methodology

Description of Sample Selection

To further understand how undergraduate student-athletes at a large, highly selective institution utilize social media, we selected study participants based on three main criteria. First, participants were required to attend the same large Division I University. Second, each participant was required to be a current/active student-athlete within the institution’s athletic department. For this institution, a student-athlete was defined as a student who maintained active membership on the varsity roster throughout his/hers undergraduate experience. Third, student-athletes were representatives of a similar student group: the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

For this study, participants were recruited via snowball sampling to be interviewed in a group about their Twitter use; a technique that utilizes participants to generate interest based on common selection criteria and group affiliation (Creswell, 1998; 2014). Upon IRB approval, one of the researchers contacted the SAAC at the participating institution. Finally, the researchers provided information about the study and asked the SAAC committee representative to recruit fellow student-athletes to attend the focus group session for this pilot study. A total of eight student-athletes participated in the study including one football player, three golfers, two wrestlers, one track and field student-athlete, and one member of the rowing team. The average age of the student-athletes was 19 years with two juniors, four sophomores, and two freshman participants. Four student-athletes maintained a GPA within the 3.5-4.0 range, two reported 3.0-3.49, one reported 2.5-2.99 and one reported 2.0-2.49.

The University from which the sample was drawn is a large highly-selective institution comprised of approximately 30,000 students (NCES, 2012). At the time of study, student enrollment was comprised of 21,000 undergraduate and 9,000 graduate students (NCES, 2012). The population of interest to this study (undergraduates) was 51% female and 49% male at the time of study. This institution is considered a Predominately White Institution (PWI) and reports a graduation rate of 83% for undergraduate students (NCES, 2012).

Research Design and Data Collection

Because this study involved understanding the specific ways social media informed engagement, we employed a multiple semi-structured focus group design as the primary method of data collection. To contact student-athlete participants, we employed a purposeful sampling technique (Patton, 2002). We distributed an initial email including a written consent form and outline of the study to an email list provided by the Office of Student-Athlete Support Services. This email extended an invitation to all potential participants meeting selection criteria. Student-athletes who responded to the initial email received a second email listing potential dates and times for interviews. We provided a one-week time frame for potential student-athlete participants to respond. To obtain a greater response rate, we sent two additional email reminders.

From this recruitment process, eight student-athletes agreed to participate. These individuals were slotted for 75 minute semi-structured individual interviews. At the beginning of each interview session, we distributed a short demographic survey to participants. Using this as a guide, we then employed a semi-structured guiding interview protocol to frame the focus group interview. Within this guiding protocol, we asked student-athletes to recall how they utilized social media and how this influenced different activities throughout their college experience. In addition, we asked participants to describe specific ways social media influence engagement with academics and co-curricular activities. Participants were able to expound upon these guiding questions as they saw fit.

Data Analysis

Within this study, we bracketed our individual presumptions and knowledge of the field to allow solely the perceptions of student-athletes to construct meaning (Crotty, 2010). Our intent in doing this was to allow themes to emerge from detailed responses offered solely by the focus group members. We then utilized the themes to develop a deeper understanding of how individual student-athletes utilize social media and how this influences engagement with academics and the campus.

Following all interviews, we utilized the assistance of a secure transcription service to transcribe all audio files. Final transcripts were sent to focus group participants for approval prior to analysis. Once member checks were completed, we employed three data analysis techniques including process coding, pattern coding and analytic memoing. In the first round of coding, we employed a process coding technique to search for ongoing actions, interactions or emotions in response to life experiences as individuals discussed their process of narrowing major choice alternatives (Saldaña, 2009). We utilized this form of coding, which assigned action oriented “ing” words to themes, to produce an individual storyline for the focus group.

Ethical Considerations

We took specific and detailed measures to ensure the privacy and rights of all participants in this study. First, we reminded participants in the consent form as well as at the beginning of each interview session that participation was completely voluntary and had no bearing on athletic participation. Coaches were not informed of participation and the names of student-athletes were known only by the specific members of the University athletic academic support staff who assisted with collection of sample population data. These individuals were asked to keep all information confidential. Next, within the actual reporting of data, we removed student-athletes’ names and replaced these with pseudonyms to increase confidentiality. Furthermore, to ensure confidentiality, we did not ask individuals to identify themselves before speaking while the audio recorder was on. This made it impossible for anyone other than the interviewer to link student-athletes with responses on audio tapes and transcription. Finally, all interview protocols received IRB approval prior to any human subject interaction.

Limitations

While this study relied on member checking to enhance trustworthiness, findings must be considered within the context of a larger Division I institution. This study reflects the in-depth personal experiences of individuals attending a common university and findings cannot be widely generalized beyond the specific environment in which the study was conducted. However, findings can suggest areas for future inquiry at similar size institutions.

Findings

Social Media Usage

The majority of the student-athletes who participated in the focus group indicated that they constantly use social media. The resulting emotional attachment was evident throughout the session with most student-athletes admitting that social media caused them time management issues. The most popular form of social media was Twitter with mentions of IG (which is vernacular for Instagram among college students), Snapchat, and Facebook. The consensus of the group was that Facebook was a platform for “life events” and “older people or marriages,” even though the majority of the participants admitted that they arrived to campus with only a Facebook account. Pressures to adopt other forms of social media were present during the discussion. One student-athlete talked about how a teammate questioned why they did not have Twitter, and then proceeded to make an account for her. An additional student-athlete elaborated on their newly adopted social media usage:

I’m from the stone-age because I just got Twitter in the last month and just got Instagram yesterday and since getting—like before I didn’t want to get them because I didn’t just want to waste my time on them but after getting them I feel a lot more connected like I know what’s going on and I can update people about events. Throughout the day I feel like I know what everyone else is doing even though I may never see them.

The majority of the participants used social media to look at pictures and take “selfies,” and this comment prompted a follow-up question regarding how participating in intercollegiate athletics shaped their use of social media. One participant responded as follows:

Being an athlete, whenever you post something on Twitter, you’re like oh, hang on, who’s all going to see this? How are people going to take this? What is compliance going to say? Am I going to have to take this down in the next 30 minutes? Am I going to be judged? There are just so many more things that go into “What am I about to post?” verses just being a regular everyday person.

As an elaboration of the above comment, consensus was reached that social media provided a “platform” for them to influence public opinion. Several participants discussed their “careful” nature when using social media and the fact that what they posted could impact their standing at the university. Many of them felt having a social media presence was difficult because they could not “be normal like friends who don’t play sports.” Comments like these indicate the participants have an intrinsic understanding of appropriate behavior but also face the reality that they experience vastly different social media experiences than the general student body.

As an example, one participant from a revenue-generating sport complained that they oftentimes could not mention certain brands or products they like because of the implications of promoting a brand. For instance:

I was just at the Big 12 and a lot of athletes are talking about they can’t post something and be like, “Oh I love my new something clothes,” because it’s targeting a brand that other people will see and be like, “Oh they are promoting that brand.” So we have to take down the posts. Like, “Oh I just had the best wings at Buffalo Wild Wings.” “Oh you can’t promote Buffalo Wild Wings.” Why can’t I post about food that I love? You know what I mean?

This comment was mentioned by the revenue producing student-athletes and agreed with by other non-revenue student-athletes. Another participant added, “You can’t say ‘I love my new skirt I just bought for my vacation.’ You can’t even say that.” Frustration was evident on the participants’ faces when they were discussing the inability to post certain things. Some admitted to having created “fake accounts” so compliance could not monitor their activities. All participants in the session indicated that the team an individual belongs to “absolutely” impacts the way in which social media is used. Football was accepted as the “top dog” where the participants mentioned that some of their fellow student-athletes have over 10,000 followers and they are Twitter “verified.”

When asked how social media impacts their relationship with teammates, the participants felt it was beneficial. They liked seeing what their teammates were doing and often time re-posted images or tweets. One participant discussed how her peer was an inspiration on social media:

My roommate does a really excellent job of using it really well. And she’ll post so many things that are just so inspirational and like she has so many like kids and people in the community looking up to her because of her social media.

The connection with teammates through social media also allowed the participant to get to know their future teammates better. One participant discussed how social media allowed her to “meet future teammates virtually” before meeting them in person. This helped her build a bond with certain individuals.

Academic Engagement

Because of the prevalent nature of social media in the lives of the participants, it was critical to investigate their thoughts on the influence of social media on their academic engagement. When asked “how social media impacts their ability to complete course requirements?” the responses varied. Multiple student-athletes mentioned that it helped them “procrastinate” on academic assignments. Another participant replied, “I don’t pay attention in class when I have my phone out” followed by an “Oh my god, no (smile)” from another participant. Since her arrival at the university, one student athlete confessed to the importance of paying attention in the classroom:

This year, just this year, I have not pulled my phone out. Because my teachers say, “I don’t care, it’s your own time” And I’m like “Yeah it is!” And then I get on, but then I realized this year that I actually need to focus.

The ease of access to the social media realm coupled with academic settings that are conducive to certain learning styles prompted comments of, “Twenty minutes go by, and you check like twenty pictures and you’re done and then you’ve missed ten slides (in the PowerPoint presentation).” Or “I think when you get addicted to a game you’re like, “I’d rather play this than listen to her talk so…”

In some classes, the participants indicated that Ipads were provided. One participant commented, “It’s a good idea but a bad concept because you’ve got apps on there, so it’s like too many apps.” When asked if they use apps in class, the participants felt it depended on the situations but did indicate that they put the same apps on their classroom technology that they have on their personal devices. The result was an additional distraction that enabled the student-athlete to lose focus during class time. When expressing thoughts on how to curb distractions, participant consensus was to adopt self-governing strategies regarding personal technology usage in class. Some of the preventative methods mentioned were “leaving their phones in lockers,” “back-packs,” or “upside-down” on the desk/table in front of them.

Many of the participants felt that social media use by instructors helped them remain on task. They also felt that their faculty members were receptive to social media indicating that “most of them have accounts.” They noted that some classes required them to have certain social media accounts where the instructors would post classroom changes and upcoming assignments. The student athletes liked when their instructors had a social media presence because they felt like they got to know the faculty member more. For example:

And like I followed him on twitter and you like actually got to know him. But like when you saw him like you kind of had a look into like his life also like what he was doing and like pictures and stuff like that. So you get to know your teachers and professors.

Others suggested that they enjoyed using social media for assignments because it allowed them to find current events. The addition of certain “news stations” as “followers” on social media allowed them access a plethora of articles that they could use in discussions.

When discussing social media’s impact on classroom interactions, the participants felt it hurt their ability especially if they had friends in the same classroom. One student-athlete revealed that they actually “FaceTime” with other student-athletes during class. Large class sizes and “dimming of the lights” seemed to be the mitigating factor for these occurrences. Complaints regarding the size of classes were voiced because the student-athletes felt the faculty member was not “focusing” on them. The result was the student-athletes to sitting in the back of the classroom to evade being “called on (laughter)” by the instructor.

Co-Curricular Engagement

All participants felt social media was “helpful (excited tone)” in reminding them of activities on campus. From sporting events, to pep rallies, to free “snow cones (smiles)” and other food between classes, the use of Instagram and Twitter newsfeeds seemed especially important to the student-athletes extra-curricular engagement. One participant explained a common hashtag used at the institution:

We do one with our student-athletes. Just it’s #athletes4athletes. And, so if you go to a sporting event, you hashtag athletes for athletes. And that’s how they go and do like Life Skills and stuff cause they see how many—who’s—hashtagged athletes for athletes cause that’s just the easiest way to do it.

Another student-athlete in the room explained the success of the athletes for athletes hashtag: “like we have to rebrand it now because it’s such a big thing that we have to put like [university name] in it. So it’s like it’s grown through social media.”

Given that “every event has a Twitter account” the connectivity of the a few individuals in the participant group expanded beyond athletic events into the general university community. According to one participant, “It’s helped, it’s helped me like meet up. And then so I’ll go to that place and I’ll go do that activity and then I’ll meet new people.” As the conversation expanded, multiple participants discussed how social media also assisted their grandparents, parents, brothers, and friends in connecting with campus and athletic events.

As for increasing the physical activity of the participants outside of athletics, most found the use of social media improved their likelihood of being active. Social media was reported as an excellent motivational tool for them as long as the material they were viewing was positive and “empowering.” One participant explained how it was a motivational tool:

Like I know I follow like NFL players (inaudible) it makes me want to work like he talking about the inspirational aspect it just makes me want to work hard sometimes. Like go do some extra stuff like outside of what we have to do for football.

Another participant used social media as a reward to prompt her to complete additional workouts: “I can go home or I can go do like 30 minutes on the treadmill and then check my Instagram for two hours.” This finding could promote the use of social media as a “reward” for certain students athletes.

Discussion and Implications

Research calling for increased student-athlete engagement on higher education campuses has become amplified in recent years with a determination by scholars and practitioners alike to improve the student-athlete experience (Bell, 2009; Comeaux & Harrison, 2011; Gayles & Huh, 2009; Mamerow & Navarro, 2014). At the Division I level, large athletic department budgets in conjunction with NCAA’s resources, can be utilized to create positive opportunities to foster and improve the academic and co-curricular engagement of student-athletes on campuses.

When discussing student-athletes’ use of social media, the findings indicate that student-athletes are emotionally attached and constantly interacting using virtual communication platforms. This is consistent with other social media research of the student-athlete population and supports the fact that interconnectivity continues to increase (Butts, 2008; Browning & Sanderson, 2012; Havard, Eddy, Reams, Stewart, & Ahmad, 2012; Snyder, 2014). In the current study, social media was found to build relationships suggesting that team and individual accounts should be encouraged by athletic department personnel. This finding supports the work of the HERI (2007) who found social media to improve peer relationships among the general student population. Uniquely this study found that some student-athletes actually experience an element of “peer pressure” from within the student-athlete population to adopt new communication tools that are most often used to view images and announcements by friends, family, teammates, and campus organizations. As such, it is suggested that athletic administrators should always ruminate the idea of adopting new technologies to stay ahead of the curve.

Further investigation of social media use revealed the “careful” nature in which student-athletes managed their accounts. Multiple athletes discussed the concern of athletic department compliance officers, coaches, and other athletic department personnel monitoring their daily activities. This finding is consistent with other research conducted by Snyder (2014),as well as Sanderson and Browning (2013) and supports the fact that student-athletes are held to a different standard than the general student population. Additionally, it became evident that the student-athletes in this study were clearly unhappy with certain NCAA regulations prohibiting them from discussing their favorite brands or restaurants. As a result, a few athletes indicated that they would create fake social media accounts where they could develop relationships with close friends who would handle their personal thoughts without compromise. For athletic department administrators it is important to be aware of these practices. Rather than monitoring social media accounts, the researchers feel a revamping of those efforts into social media education will improve the student-athlete experience. As for the disagreement with NCAA regulations, athletic department administrators should place on the agenda a discussion of “brand endorsements” between the members of the Power 5 conferences.

With the student-athletes in this focus group, social media clearly had a negative impact on academic engagement. The use of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook was given as a cause for procrastination on academic assignments. This finding was consistent with a Junco (2012) study but inconsistent with the findings of Creighton et al. (2013) and Heiberger (2007) who found social media to facilitate academic success. The student-athletes in this study openly admitted to “not paying attention” when their phones were out in class. They also felt it was difficult to communicate with their peers in class when access to social media was readily available. For example, providing ipads resulted in the student-athletes downloading social media apps and subsequently disconnecting from the classroom experience. Athletic department personnel and faculty in higher education need to recognize this potential for distractions and overstimulation. Based on these findings, it may be appropriate for faculty to politely ask that cell phones and other technological devices remain in a specific location during class.

Another finding of this study was that student-athletes faculty presence on social media to be positive. The student-athletes were optimistic about the use of social media to remind them of course readings, assignments, and exams. More importantly, they enjoyed when a faculty member utilized social media to interact with them outside of the classroom environment. This is consistent with Creighton et al. (2013) who found social media positively impacted faculty engagement. Faculty members should consider this finding and embrace a social media presence that abides by university and athletic department policy while portraying a professional image.

Social media use among the student-athlete population proved to positively impact co-curricular engagement. The ability to interact with peers and the campus community resulted in notifications of campus events and activities. This finding aligns with the Junco (2012) study wherein RSVP’ing to events and viewing images on Facebook positively impacted co-curricular engagement. Specifically, the student-athletes in this study felt social media increased the bond between fellow student-athletes by allowing them to attend other athletic events and stay up to date regarding other team performances. One student-athlete discussed how social media helped her interact and “meet up” with other individuals who were not athletes. An additional athlete described how it helped connect family members to campus who then interact and stay current on campus and athletic activities.

A few of the student-athletes felt that social media improved participation in other activities outside of athletics. They utilized the medium as a motivational tool that influenced their actions and engagement with campus. One student-athlete mentioned the Life Skills program demonstrating social media’s impact on collaborative programming efforts among NCAA member institutions to commit to holistic development of the student-athlete. Athletic department administrations should embrace this and encourage administrators who work with student-athletes to utilize social media as a resource to help student-athletes balance engagement in academic and co-curricular events.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Over time, the NCAA has attempted to require member institutions to more intentionally prepare Division I student-athletes for life after sport via life-skills programs that include social media training. In 1991, this organization first issued a mandate which required all Division I athletic departments to support and sustain holistic academic, career, and personal development training (e.g., CHAMPS/Life Skills programming). In theory, each Division I college campus is now required to provide some form of personal and career development curriculum for student-athletes in addition to academic support. However, this NCAA policy continues to exist today without specific benchmarks or desired learning objectives around social media (NCAA, 2003).

The year 2010 marked additional reform as the NCAA developed a Division of Student Athlete Affairs. However, even with this recent restructuring, development programs internal to athletics continue to exist without national regulation or assessment. Therefore, campus-level athletic administrators must work to ensure programs do not simply exacerbate tensions between academic and athletic systems, but enable student-athletes to intentionally prepare for meaningful career paths. Collaboration must continue between NCAA student-athlete welfare officials and campus- based athletics student support personnel to develop clear program learning objectives and assessment measures surrounding social media training and usage. It is imperative that policy makers at both national and campus levels consider the student-athlete voice as they craft programmatic initiatives and benchmarks for social media use.

Future Research

Based on the conclusions drawn, the researchers offer the following recommendations for further study regarding student-athletes, social media, and engagement. First, researchers should consider conducting focus groups and individual interviews with student-athletes at additional institutions of higher education. Such efforts would help to build a body of knowledge for athletic practitioners. Second, conducting the study at different levels of intercollegiate athletic competition (e.g., Division II, Division III, NAIA, etc.) could yield different experiences. The high-stakes culture of Division I athletics attracts additional media attention and thus athletic departments may treat student-athlete usage of social media differently at other institutions. Finally, to further our knowledge of how student-athletes perceive social media to impact academic and co-curricular engagement, a quantitative survey should be conducted to provide generalizable information.

Conclusion

Astin’s (1984) Theory of Student Engagement has been utilized in student affairs research for more than 30 years. Studies investigating engagement among the student-athlete subset confirmed academic and co-curricular engagement as climacteric to the educational experience (Bell, 2009; Comeaux & Harrison, 2011; Gayles & Huh, 2009; Mamerow & Navarro, 2014). While these studies support the increase in student-athlete engagement, they fail to take into consideration the proliferation of social media in higher education and student affairs practice.

The current study provides a foundation from which future research regarding social media’s impact on student-athlete engagement should be completed. The findings suggest social media use was prevalent in the group. The researchers provided evidence that social media negatively impacted academic engagement but positively impact co-curricular engagement among the student-athletes interviewed. Athletic department administrators and student affairs practitioners should consider the findings and begin to discuss programs and services for student-athletes regarding social media. Dedication of resources to further improve campus connectivity to events and classroom experiences is warranted.

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Connecting a Global Student Community Using Social Media

Nick Jensen
Manager of Marketing, Communications, & Web-Based Technologies
Office of Interactive Media
New York University
nick.jensen@nyu.edu

Caroline Osse
Social Media & Communications Manager
Office of Interactive Media
New York University
caroline.osse@nyu.edu

Abstract

The NYU Office of Interactive Media, as well as its public persona HashtagNYU, was created within NYU’s Division of Student Affairs as a deliberate way to engage and interact with our students — in their space and on their time — with two key goals in mind: a) Connect students to the university and its services, and b) Connect students to one another. This article discusses the purpose, process, and projects of this office, which is dedicated to digital student communications, and specifically looks at its key initiative HashtagNYU.

Purpose

With 50,000+ students, 16,000+ employees, and study abroad programs in more than 25 countries spanning six continents, New York University (NYU) is the world's largest private university. Our buildings are situated on city blocks and identified by flags, with no campus gates enclosing the community. Naturally, challenges arise in both communicating with students across multiple continents, as well creating channels for students to engage one another across geographic barriers.

Our students use mobile technologies more prolifically than ever. In fact, 70% of U.S. teens own a smartphone (“Ring the bells,” 2013). Despite email being the main communication method of most universities, teens only use email 6% of the time in daily communication (Lenhart, 2012). Research suggests that online social networking helps students "develop satisfying relationships with peers, as well as fosters integrity and commitment to their universities," while also improving student's psychological well- being and skill development (Yu et al., 2010).

Clearly, interactive media has become key in communicating directly with students, and has provided a way to transcend physical and geographic boundaries. And so, in 2011, we sought out how to more effectively communicate to the global student body by embracing digital spaces.

We challenged the status quo of "What if someone posts something negative about our school on social media? Maybe we shouldn't give them a platform to complain." We answered, "What if we don't? Aren't students our customers? Why wouldn't we want to engage with them where they already are? What's the worst that can happen: dialogue or input on how we can do things better?" Our objective was to take the conversations that we, as Student Affairs professionals, do so well "off line" and put them online.

The NYU Office of Interactive Media, as well as its public persona HashtagNYU, was created within the Division of Student Affairs as a deliberate way to engage and interact with our students — in their space and on their time — with two key goals in mind: a) Connect students to the university and its services, and b) Connect students to one another.

Consistent with the NYU Division of Student Affairs' mission to "provide students with a superior learning experience in an environment that fosters community... and demonstrates innovation," HashtagNYU celebrates community by utilizing emerging interactive media platforms. Both the size and locations of the university in the heart of New York City can pose barriers to traditional community formation; the lack of a fenced-in campus and common core experiences, like football games, adds to the complexity of the "college community" pop culture promised to incoming students. Further complicating NYU's student experience is our global network of campuses through which NYU students can circulate over their time at NYU. Through its interactive platforms, HashtagNYU provides a common space — a "digital quad" — where students can learn about events, stay in touch with their home campus, connect with other students, and revel in the excitement of life at NYU.

By sharing the NYU story one GIF, photo, tweet, video, and post at a time, HashtagNYU helps students discover community and resources that might otherwise remain unearthed in the vastness of the University. It tackles the issue of community head on by providing a digital space for students to connect and discuss issues, broadcast events, share stories, and feel a sense of pride for their university. HashtagNYU has become common experience for ALL students, regardless of location, background, or area of study.

Process

Innovative and integrated, HashtagNYU brings together a slew of social media platforms, and a team of socially-savvy interns, to create a digital and global community — a community that is sustainable and replicable at any university even with limited finances. It just takes a culture shift.

HashtagNYU currently spans nine social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare, Spotify, YouTube, and Google+). Apart from the advanced social media integration, we utilize other emerging technologies and find

novel uses for new tools, including Nestivity, IFTTT (If This, Then That), CrowdBooster, TypeForm, and a number of other emerging tech products from start-up companies.

Vigilance is necessary in order to keep up with all of these technologies and sustain HashtagNYU’s online presence. By hiring around a dozen student interns every semester, we maintain the sustainability of HashtagNYU and are truly bottom up, not top down. All of HashtagNYU’s content is created or curated by students, for students, which fundamentally shifts how university communications are typically handled. By integrating students into HashtagNYU’s workflow and projects, we implore students to guide our communication methods (social media), as well as our content, presence, tone, and brevity. Our internship program has become a coveted position for any student interested in content production and social media strategy. This past fall, 500+ students applied to seven open positions, demonstrating strong interest and demand.

Even the Office of Interactive Media’s full-time staff is unique in comparison to the typical Student Affairs office. Now a team of four, all are NYU grads with an average age of 27. Utilizing both student and young alumni talent is something many institutions fear, but it has proved itself as extremely effective in communicating to students on social media. After all, who would know what students want to hear—and how—better than the students themselves?

HashtagNYU builds student community through fascinating content and espouses a sense of belonging and pride by sharing the NYU story. To make our mission and goals explicit, we created a culture code that guides our work and aspirations. It reinforces the fact that we exist to delight students and build university pride. Besides being featured alongside codes by Spotify and Netflix, our culture code has created more efficient internal communications, productive partnerships and collaborations, and a comfortable workplace environment where we not only stay productive, but also have fun and enjoy our work.

Projects

As its awareness increases among the student body, HashtagNYU has “informed the students it has connected about important events and information regarding their school that they may not have known about otherwise,” according to a recent NYU graduate. Yet, beyond daily content, HashtagNYU has hosted a wide array of projects — with the same goals in mind — on a larger scale.

To shrink NYU’s psychological size and personalize the institution, 71-year-old NYU President John Sexton took over the HashtagNYU Instagram account on October 1st. Students were instantly able to visualize and connect to a high-level administrator who may have been perceived as hands off or bureaucratic from afar. Instead, through the unfiltered use of social media, NYU's president was viewed as down to earth and endearingly human (as documented by students). HashtagNYU’s Instagram account received 2,500 likes that day — a 900% increase on our average daily likes.

To welcome students, and help prepare them for NYU, HashtagNYU has executed a selection of projects specifically for incoming students. Last summer, ProTips Live, an on-air Q&A forum, tackled common questions among the incoming class with answers from current students and recent alumni. Recently, HashtagNYU realeased its Real Talk video series, which offers the genuine student perspective by highlighting seven student stories. And as a new way for students to introduce themselves to theirs peers prior to their arrival, HashtagNYU runs an annual photo and video competition, One Word. One World., on its Facebook page.

To reduce the lack of visibility of global student experiences, our team started the THIS IS NYU blog, featuring global student voices, and showcases a selection of posts on HashtagNYU’s platforms every week. As one administrator noted, “Before their creation there really was no one way to connect the undergraduate experience. They are also an integral part in documenting the global story! Something that has been attempted before but did not work until HashtagNYU got involved.”

From one-time projects to daily content, HashtagNYU has weaved its way into the fabric of the University community. As another recent alumnus testified, "HashtagNYU has definitely impacted University life. For one, before HashtagNYU I would have gone to the grave saying there was no community at NYU. Now I see how wrong I was. HashtagNYU reminds us that we are all one university and tells us how to get out there and experience the community that exists.”

While part of HashtagNYU’s inception and its many projects were to solve specific problems, developing digital communications strategies to Student Affairs has proved itself effective in enhancing and improving how we communicate, engage, and interact with students. Between relying on students internally, documenting office priorities and values, and pursuing innovative ways to connect, such new strategies will soon become the standard for Student Affairs to keep up with students’ increasing use of social technologies and interactive media.

References

Lenhart, A. (2012). Teens, smartphones & texting. Pew Research Internet Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/03/19/teens-smartphones-texting/

Ring the bells: More smartphones in students’ hands ahead of back-to-school season. (2013). Nielsen. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2013/ring-the-bells-more-smartphones-in-students-hands-ahead-of-back.html

Yu, A. Y., Tian, S. W., Vogel, D., & Kwok, R. C. (2010). Can learning be virtually boosted?: An investigation of online social networking impacts. Computers & Education, 55, 1494-1503. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.06.015