Harvard Fellow Junco on Using Social Media to Retain Students

“Even when they’re just messing around, students use social media naturally for informal and implicit learning,” said Rey Junco, associate professor of education and human computer interaction at Iowa State University and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Junco conducted and reviewed research for his forthcoming book, Engaging Students through Social Media: Evidence Based Practices for Use in Student Affairs, that involved reaching out to, engaging, and supporting college students through social media. He found that it is particularly valuable in facilitating social and academic integration.

Among his findings: Using Facebook gives students a stronger sense of connection to their campus community. And first-year seminars with a Twitter component boost retention.

“The key is connecting with students,” said Junco, who described three case studies in which college administrators used “social media interventions” to go beyond one-way communication in promoting informal learning and helping students reach desired learning outcomes.

—A financial aid office monitored the words “financial aid” on social media channels, responded to students who tweeted about inferred needs (for example, “I hate being broke”), and publicly answered direct questions about financial aid when they could.

—A residence hall staff created Facebook groups for the RAs, the front desk clerks, and residents. Residents used it as an online lounge, and it brought online conversations offline.

—A career services office hosted an industry road trip and had student participants use Twitter during it so they could learn networking techniques with the people they met. It taught students how to maintain a professional online presence.

Junco said that in planning such social media interventions, it’s important to first ask planning questions about desired learning outcomes, whether social media is appropriate to use to reach these learning outcomes, and how to measure success.