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Watching Over the Shoulder

Social Media in Irish Education

Lumia TwitterBernie Goldbach in LSAD Clonmel | Twitter on my Nokia Lumia.

SINCE 2005, I HAVE WATCHED the development of social media in Irish education. While the speed and preferred services have changed, usage patterns remain predictable.

I've had a focus on social media in Irish education because I lecture at the first Irish third level institution that offered an academic module in social media as part of a Level 8 Honours Degree in Creative Multimedia. When we put the degree in front of an accreditation team from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC now QQI) in 2007, nobody on the accrediting team had heard about Twitter. One of the seven accreditors knew the word Facebook. All of them knew how short text messages could spread memes faster than the broadcast networks. Most of the visiting team lived inside their email queues and followed a printed calendar issued by management or personal assistants. During the past five years, I believe social media has made a greater positive impact on the Irish education landscape than any curriculum initiative outlined by the Irish Department of Education. You might say social media has become boring [1] since its use is very academic now. Speaking from my listening posts on Twitter, Google Analytics, Facebook, YouTube channel stats, Slideshare demographics, aggregated reach of our Creative Commons photographs, and the feedback we receive from students who get jobs as a result of the footprints they leave in the social media landscape, I know we have ploughed a row in the field of the smart economy that others may discover as this blog post percolates through social media channels.

Talking about Social Media

 

1. Texting is the first social media channel.

Before our new students arrive on campus, we see their chatter on screens they hold. From fourth class onwards, Irish teens connect through text (i.e., short message system or throwaway comments on social networking sites). By the age of 14, some savvy texters are reading and using text-based discussions such as Boards.ie. As they progress through their third level programmes, most of our students continue using text messaging as a primary form of communications. I've watched incessant texting through the years. The most remarkable thing I've observed is a speed-texting student who could text with her hand out of view under  a desk. She could also text while driving, never looking at her screen. In 2010, she sent more than 10,000 text messages.

As smartphones evolved, texting slowed down because it's harder to text fast without keys. That doesn't mean students want to abandon the texting channel completely. Some have converted their Facebook Messenger to their texting channel. On many phones, those Facebook messages arrive in the main messages folder, right next to regular text messages. Other students figure out how to leverage apps like Cabbage to get webtext on their pay-as-you-go phones.

I think text messaging is here to stay. It forms part of a crisis communications channel for many forward-looking organisations.

2. Facebook is the second social channel.

Mainly because Facebook imposes an age restriction, it's the second communications channel young students use. It's unusual to encounter a student in third level who has not used Facebook. However, at least one in every 40 students starting in our Honours Degree in Creative Multimedia does not like Facebook. There are privacy issues and often memories of cyberbullying that they want to leave behind. In order to complete our social media module, these students have to set up bogus Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

Facebook appeals to students who were schooled in short messaging. It lets you check into venues, upload photos (from Facebook or Instagram) and videos and to share experiences through Facebook apps. I may ask my next cohort of social media students to perform a time-motion study where they reveal the amount of time each day they spend on Facebook.

From experience, we know we can attract students onto our programme through advertising on Facebook. We target both school leavers and their parents through our Facebook advertising. We promote Facebook posts when promoting events, groups or initiatives.

3. Twitter is the third social channel.

We watch students change their vocabulary and increase their awareness of their international reach as they interact in hashtagged conversations, Twitter lists and event-related discussions. We can spot newcomers because they often use every txtspk shrtct n txtn. As the weeks develop, we show how illiterate pre-teen textspeak sounds when it's processed through a screen reader. We also explain how screen reader technology is fundamental to framing thoughts that can be found later in a search of Twitter's public timeline. 

We use lists, hashtags and promoted tweets to support events, activities or collaborative ventures.

4. Google is the fourth social channel.

From experience, we know people find our programme by searching for terms like "CAO Multimedia" and we know students find meaningful work placement as a result of their own work achieving standing with Google. We put a premium on what students can actually create so we assess electronic portfolios, photostreams, class work, video collections, audio playlists and online journals in different creative multimedia modules. Students know their curated portfolios will help land them meaningful employment. Consequently, we see marked improvements in creative portfolio work every year because being discoverable on Google always brings a positive result.

We also use Google Plus, and specifically Google Hangouts, to connect our creative academic space to artists, illustrators, designers, animators, journalists, and entrepreneurs. We are blessed with exceptionally fast campus broadband and with over-the-air 3G service from major Irish mobile operators. This means we can share high definition camera work across time zones. 

4a. Teens listen to music via Google.

Like American teens, Irish teens use YouTube to listen to music. They get their music via Google's service more than any other medium, according surveys from Nielsen.  [2] This is a big challenge for traditional record companies as they transition into the digital world. Teens treat YouTube as their  de facto free music service. Young people are less inclined than those 18 years old and up to listen to CDs or the radio.

5. LinkedIn is the fifth social channel.

Because students often don't get paid for their work, we hope they can get a thumbs-up from potential employers via a LinkedIn recommendation after successfully completing work experience. By the end of their second year, students know their CVs are not the first point of contact they normally get with prospective employers. We also know that some of our strongest alumni connections come as a result of LinkedIn because of it inherent social network effects. We get advice from major recruiters, start-up mentors, and business owners about skills needed in the smart economy. In one module, we alert students to specific terms they should use in their online profiles, in their LinkedIn status updates, and in the discussions they follow inside LinkedIn groups. 

We have succeeded in getting the attention of prospective employers through our use of LinkedIn. Some call months ahead to reserve the option to hire a student for summertime work. 

6. Bookmarking favourites is the sixth social channel.

The most common form of social bookmarking is merely marking a tweet as a favourite. You can see what appeals to someone on Twitter by viewing their favourites. Students also share favourite music tracks using several different applications. I love dozens of tracks I've heard on Last.fm along with favourite audio snippets on Audioboo.

I like to teach the value of sharing link lists, using social software such as Delicious, Pinboard, List.ly and Diigo.  However, I've discovered most students just save bookmarks to their local machines. 

I also believe it's important to share favourite SlideShare presentations because SlideShare is a remarkably powerful social network on its own. The entire field of higher education is moving into a blended and flexible dimension and can benefit from SlideShare. I revised nearly every lecture I present by flicking through favourites I've marked on SlideShare. 

I plan to dissect this blog post and upload it to SlideShare before the first lecture I present in January 2013 to a new cohort of social media students in the Limerick School of Art and Design. I'd like to include any comments you may have as well.

7. e-Mail Lags as a Viable Social Channel in Third Level Irish Education.

As much as I believe e-mail will outlast social networks like Twitter, in my experience it is the least viable of all social media channels for my current cohort of students. If I want to get an important piece of information passed around when I have to use e-mail, I normally make the email part of a Google Document for collaborative discussion. 

To me, it appears that e-mail does not translate well to the handheld lifestyles of students. Even though they can set up and access e-mail on their phones, using email is not as much fun so it's not used as often as a social media application. 

I think it's important for upper level management to realise this fact when setting up crisis communications systems. Sending a bulk email to alert people to a serious incident, to a cancellation of classes or to a matter of public health is much less effective than sending a scattershot of text messages or Facebook updates. 


Bernie Goldbach is @topgold on all major social networks and he monitors conversation by using handheld notifications. The topic of "Social Media in Irish Education" will feature in an Educasting episode and is part of workshops presented to Irish educators.

1. Chris Brogan -- "Social Media Isn't Dead. It's Boring" on his blog, November 12, 2012.

2. Ethan Smith -- "Forget CDs. Teens Are Tuning into YouTube" in Online Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2012.

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