Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Education in the Information Age: Universities Respond to Social Media

As we all know, or are rapidly coming to realize, digital information technology has far reaching implications for education.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of international education, as noted by a recent article in University World News.  Higher education institutions worldwide have responded to the growth of social media by creating facebook pages, blogs, interactive web platforms and Twitter accounts.  The article noted that social media are critical for international education and can be used to attract prospective students, manage students studying abroad, and keep alumni connected after graduating.  As one expert on international education put it, "The student is trying to minimize risk and get very authentic communication.  It is driven by peer-to-peer communication, by people who have experience with the product and the institution, so there is much higher credibility."  In contrast with the old internet model, characterized by centralized control, limited access, lack of flexibility and high cost, social media represent collaboration and a lack of hierarchy.
Examples of the new use of social media include the Web 2.0 project at Carleton University called GlobalU.  It is designed to help international education administrators manage and share information.  Twenty-five universities are currently using the open platform.
Another example is Eastern Illinois University's AbroadScout, a web platform aimed at empowering foreign exchange students, schools and providers with reliable information and tools to cross reference their needs with the experiences of students currently studying abroad.

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