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13.1 General considerations 

Institutions exhibit very different student profiles so it cannot be assumed there is a one size fits all set of guidance on providing student support.

Some students, particularly in the younger age group, may be a lot more social media savvy than institutional staff in terms of keeping up with the latest applications and incorporating them into their everyday lives, but that does not mean to say they have thought about how the tools can be applied to their personal and professional development or what might be the future consequences of some of their current activities. Other students may have had less access or exposure to such technologies for a variety of reasons and may need to gain confidence in using the tools before the social aspects can enhance their learning experience.

In section 10, When it goes wrong, we look at the duty of care the institution has to all users of its social media channels. Australian research (Rowe 2014) appears to show that staff are more likely than students to expect their institution to look out for their welfare and protect them from other users of social media, whereas students may resent institutional intervention in student network groups as an invasion of privacy. In sections 8, The right to have your say, and 9, Legal issues, we look at when and how an institution should formally intervene in the case of inappropriate behaviour on social media. There is however a general need to educate students about the risks of social media in the same way that institutions might exercise pastoral responsibilities in educating them about the risks of alcohol or drugs. In the case of social media however this can be put in the context of potential considerable benefits in creating a social media presence that will help them in their future lives.

It is clear from section 3, Delivering benefits, which looks at the benefits of social media in supporting student recruitment and transition into higher education, that most students generally see the advantages of using these tools to support their social integration prior to, and immediately upon arrival at, university. It cannot however be taken as read that they will necessarily expect to be using the tools for learning and teaching or personal development or that they will readily see the value in doing so. Many may indeed prefer to keep learning and social technologies separate.

There are thus three main aspects of student support in relation to social media:

  • Encouraging students to create the type of digital identity they are happy to carry with them into their future lives – this involves helping them see the benefits but also highlighting the risks both of disciplinary action for inappropriate behaviour and of ill-judged actions coming back to haunt them in later life.
  • Encouraging students to make the most of the affordances of social media to support learning and research. 
  • Pastoral care – providing guidance on esafety and using the social networks to look out for and support students at risk due to academic or personal issues.

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