Monday, February 16, 2009

Q & A on the need for Social Media Policies in Colleges and Universities

Are there any institutional risk for University staff or faculty using social media? if so what are they?

The risks are the same as for staff and faculty who have cell phones, email and Internet accounts, and are otherwise provided with opportunities to engage the general public. The good news is that most staff and faculty in higher education seem to feel they are in a gated community and don't reach out the public much. The bad news is that those who do have the tendency to forget they are representing the University and may even give indications of their personal biases that are in direct conflict with the purpose of the University, their academic department, and their co-workers.

How is the educational system using or not using social media to advance education?

Some departments (especially those involved in recruiting and placement) are finding ways to engage with the global residents that populate the world of social media. Unfortunately, those who don't are missing out, and so are their students. Individually, those responsible for the mind-stretching of today's students fall short in their understanding of how to reach them. This problem was seen long before social media, so it should not be too much of a shock.

Do you see Educational Institutions incorporating the use of social media policies? If so why?

I see some of them in the beginning stages, but with so few of the decision makers having a grasp on what social media is, their efforts are expected (by cynics like me) to miss the mark and either over-protect or under-protect the institution. For now, I think we could adapt the current policies on communication to the world of social media like the law has adapted controls on telecommunication designed for the telephone to the use of the Internet.

What are you seeing in terms of other Universities using social media? Do any of them have policies?

The Universities that have been forward-thinking are forward-thinking and those in Higher Education who have made a point to reach out to the community appear to be continuing that practice. If you look at social media like a location where prospective, current, and former students hang out (think mall or coffee shop) then you realize the effort it takes for some to reach the point where they 1) see the need to adjust and 2) make the effort to do so. There are the makings of social media policies in a small number of Universities. These should be wiki-like (not written in stone) so as to make use of the social media space without limiting opportunities for learning.

What impact will social media have on the educational process, the relationships between institutions and teachers, teachers and students, etc.

As I wrote in The Emergence of The Relationship Economy, "The Internet has served to circumvent (or reinvent) these imbalanced, power-based relationships by removing the restrictions and leveling the playing field for those who seek information." The piece of the Internet on which social media stakes its claim has uprooted the decades-long practice of information hoarding. Those in Higher Education who base their sense of authority on the control of information will see a rapid degradation of their power base. Those who intentionally and regularly share their knowledge (and happen to be compensated for it) will see an increase in the number of those listening and a duplication and multiplication of their power base.

What issues should Universities have covered in a social media policy?

I think that University policymakers need to examine their current policies and adapt them for this new location. For many, there will be a period of growth and the ongoing adjustment that will require allowing staff and faculty to make mistakes and learn from them.

Do all Universities have a need to address social media?

No, only those that plan to be in business past 2015. Ironically, the style and substance of social media is very similar to the interactive learning environment that online learning requires. This type of learning is growing, especially among non-traditional learners, and the for-profit and private institutions of higher education seem to be the thought leaders in this area. Those who don't plan to have a social media presence will be restricted to the old methods of communication and relationship building. That may work for a few who cater to the older Gen-X and some Baby Boomers, but for those who want to provide a real learning environment to the here and growing Gen-Y (also known as Millenials), yesterday was the right time to get it together.