Professor & Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University

Institutional use of Twitter: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

Posted on July 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. No Comments

The article below was originally published on The Conversation with the launch of their Canadian-focused site. The original article is on their site, but it is posted here for posterity.

Disconnected: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?

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Universities portray campus life as idyllic, but may be missing an opportunity to truly connect with students.
(Shutterstock)

George Veletsianos, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Royal Roads University

Universities fail to exploit social media’s most compelling features, tending to broadcast their brands instead of engaging students and the public online, new research suggests.

Visualise this: smiling students and successful faculty. In the background, beautiful buildings framed by blue skies.

These are the ways that Canadian universities choose to represent themselves on social media. This picture is somewhat accurate, but a tad misleading.

Social media are a staple of Canadian universities. Twitter — where one can quickly and easily share information, pictures and videos — is particularly used by nearly all Canadian universities. Researchers have generally found that universities use Twitter to broadcast information about themselves, both to potential students and to the wider public.

Twitter use by universities raises many questions for us as educators and researchers with an interest in social media. In our research, we have looked closely at exactly what universities are posting on Twitter, asking two important questions: What messages are universities conveying through their official Twitter accounts? How is university life depicted in their tweets? We examined over nine months’ worth of tweets from public universities in Canada, paying particular attention to the images and videos shared as well as the text accompanying them.

Positive branding

What we found was troubling. Based on the information shared from these official university accounts, one would likely conclude life in Canadian universities is universally gratifying, enjoyable and beautiful.

Students in images were nearly always smiling and happy. Faculty members — almost all middle-age white males — were shown giving speeches or conducting research. Campuses were always portrayed as attractive and sunny, boasting shiny buildings and new facilities. References to graduation ceremonies, groundbreaking research and sporting victories were all too common.

Teaching and learning received much less attention. This is not just a Canadian representation. We replicated our research using the Twitter feeds of more than 2,000 U.S. universities. The results were similar.

Institutional Twitter accounts seem to highlight and market an institutional brand — a positive ideal that they would like the public and potential students to hold. It’s understandable that universities, like individuals, want to present their ‘best self’ on social media. This makes sense from a marketing perspective.

Obscured reality

This carefully crafted and tightly controlled representation gives an incomplete and unrealistic portrayal of the people and activities of the university. There is little suggestion in this portrayal of the struggles students face in their studies, health and well-being, finances, and so forth. There is little mention of the day-to-day effort, difficulty and struggles of teaching and learning.

We are compelled to ask: What is it that drives universities to use social media as they do? In what ways have social, economic and political forces (such as the reduction in public funding and greater emphasis on competition) led universities to use these powerful social technologies in the service of branding and marketing?

We want to encourage Canadian universities to use Twitter, and other social media, in different ways — ways that would improve Canadian society.

Social media provide an opportunity not just to broadcast a message to the public, but to foster two-way engagement and communication between stakeholders. Universities could make more meaningful contributions to our broader society by using social media to summarise research findings for public use, connect alumni with students and provide educational opportunities to those outside the institution.

George Veletsianos, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Royal Roads University and Ashley Shaw, Researcher and Ph.D candidate, Royal Roads University

The Conversation

MA and PhD student research assistantships available

Posted on July 4th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, papers, Royal Roads University, scholarship. No Comments

We have two part-time research assistantships open for individuals to work with us (one for an MA and one for a PhD student).

PhD student: https://humanresources.royalroads.ca/job-posting/research-assistant-3-0

MA student: https://humanresources.royalroads.ca/job-posting/research-assistant-2-0

Successful applicants need to be legally able to work in Canada at the time of application, enrolled in a MA/PhD program. They do not need to be enrolled at a Canadian University.

Successful individuals will support an international team of researchers with research and knowledge mobilization activities pertaining to online harassment and faculty use of social media.

Thinking out loud about coding bootcamps, nanodegrees, & alternative credentials

Posted on June 29th, by George Veletsianos in scholarship. 2 comments

“The CanCode program will invest $50 million over two years, starting in 2017-18, to support initiatives providing educational opportunities for coding and digital skills development to Canadian youth from kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12).

The program aims to equip youth, including traditionally underrepresented groups, with the skills and study incentives they need to be prepared for the jobs of today and the future. Canada’s success in the digital economy depends on leveraging our diverse talent and providing opportunity for all to participate—investing in digital skills development will help to achieve this.”

The CanCode program is a new funding opportunity in Canada. Similar initiatives have occurred globally. The investment in coding to prepare youth and adults for the jobs of the future is an interesting phenomenon. In a past project for example, we worked with over fifty high schools and developed a dual enrolment course focused on computational thinking and the presence of computing in daily life. The ability to read, write, and tinker with code is one aspect of this course. Our course was about introducing students to computer science – and though coding is an aspect of it, computer science is not coding.

But, coding is a central feature of an ever-expanding market of emerging credentials. Badges. Nanodegrees. Certs. And so on. Providers offer these in many different ways, both in terms of modality (e.g.,  online courses vs. face-to-face coding bootcamps) and pacing (e.g., self-paced vs. cohort-based). Some highlight experiential components (e.g., industry partnerships) while others highlight the flexibility of adjusting to learner’s life circumstances.

In short, providers make a case that their credentials promise employment opportunities in a rapidly changing global economy where coding is in demand. This space seems to be an example of what certain aspects of unbundling may look like. The space configures alternative credentials, digital learning, for-profit education, skills training, and re-training in unique ways. I have a lot of questions around this space

  • What are learners’ experiences with coding bootcamps and nanodegrees?
  • Who enrols? Who succeeds?
    • To what extent do these programs broaden participation in computing?
    • To what degree and in what ways do these programs democratize learning and participation? Do they?
  • What do learners expect from these offerings and how do they judge the quality of their experience and credential?
  • What are the dominant pedagogical practices (within and across providers) in teaching people how to code?
  • What is the role of technology in these programs?
  • What do outcomes look like, and how do those align with providers’ promises? For instance, what proportion of participants find gainful employment and what does that employment look like?
  • What are instructors’ roles in these offerings? Who are they? What is their pedagogical background? Is this their main employment? Are there connections to the gig economy and precarious employment here?
  • How diverse are these offerings in terms of gender and race with respect to students (who enrols?), instructors (who teaches?) and content (are minorities represented in curricular materials? in what ways?)

I’ve been looking for some answers to my questions, but I’m not finding much.

Additional reading

http://hackeducation.com/2015/11/23/bootcamps-the-new-for-profit-higher-ed

https://www.wired.com/2017/02/programming-is-the-new-blue-collar-job

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/education/edlife/where-non-techies-computer-programming-coding.html

https://www.geekwire.com/2015/dear-geekwire-a-coding-bootcamp-is-not-a-replacement-for-a-computer-science-degree/

https://news.slashdot.org/story/16/08/22/0521230/four-code-bootcamps-are-now-eligible-for-government-financial-aid

http://www.chronicle.com/article/Coding-Boot-Camps-Come-Into/239673?cid=cp21

http://hackeducation.com/2011/10/28/codecademy-and-the-future-of-not-learning-to-code

Industry report: https://www.coursereport.com/reports/2016-coding-bootcamp-job-placement-demographics-report

Research Dissemination, Research Mobilization, and Reaching Broader Audiences

Posted on June 21st, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, engagement, my research, open, research shorts. No Comments

I gave an ignite talk at the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education in early June, sharing some of the lessons learned in creating whiteboard animation videos for mobilizing research and reaching broader audiences. We’ve now turned that talk into a whiteboard animation video. It’s all very meta. Here it is below: